FBT gets made. And made. And made again in the remastered mafia trilogy
As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster. Yet somehow I missed the Mafia Trilogy. Now it’s been remastered, time to see if I’m funny how? How am I funny?
Taxi-driving Tommy Angelo is forced to drive mobsters Paulie and Sam to safety after a botched hit. Enticed by their money and lifestyle in the midst of the Depression, Tommy joins the Salieri family as they battle the Morello Mob for control of the city.
Rebuilt pixel by pixel, this is both a remake and an extension of the original. I’ve not played the original, so I can judge this purely on its own merits, and what really strikes me about Mafia is we’re really just a bunch of thugs. We don’t get ‘Made’, don’t make our way up the ranks, don’t enjoy the spoils of war and there’s no glamour, it’s just a constant tit-for-tat battle to keep our corner of the city from Morello. When Tommy boasts to a cop he’s ratting to, you know he’s just trying to convince himself it was all worth it; all the talk about honour, loyalty and family is just crap they tell themselves. There’s little romanticism of life in the Mafia, and it’s more satisfying and realistic than some gangster wish-fulfilment.
What makes this so intense is it’s essentially linear. There’s Freeroam, but we’re focused on Tommy’s mobster life. If this had been made now, we’d have local gangs to take out, strongholds to raid, mini-bosses and side-mission filler, but this has made me miss linear gaming, where we get lost in the story not the city. And what a beautiful city it is. I can’t compare it to the original, but compared to recent games, this goes to the mattresses.
And you’ll end up on a mattress often. In the original the cops were unforgiving, and while that’s been softened here (‘Classic’ is the nightmare setting), both the gangsters and cops are incredible shots, perfect drivers, and bullet-proof. But it’s not a balancing issue, they react to what you’re doing and what’s going on, making the shoot-outs desperate and realistic. It’s brutally good, one of those games where you go ‘fair play’ after getting put down. Get into cover and spray everywhere with a Tommy Gun, that’s the Chicago way.
You can lose hours just marvelling at what they’ve achieved here – this is a living, breathing city from the 1930s. The NPCs are a masterclass in realism – they react believably to gunfire (and to if they get hit, one gave me the finger), to the environment, to each other (some have their own narratives) – meanwhile Tommy has tons of subtle animations and his cohorts react to your behaviour making the whole city feel real rather than scripted.
The cars (and now bikes), while a little loose in the back end (who knew drifting was a thing in the 30s), feel like they’re from the period without being impossible to control, making car chases just the right side of exciting. There’s an obvious mission-incoming moment when you help a Salieri-sponsored race car driver prepare; of course, he gets injured, so taxi-Tommy is in the driving seat. I expected that to be an unnecessary annoyance, but it’s one of the best races I’ve ever played. Scrappy and hectic with brilliant race commentary, I was actually gutted when I won, I would have done that again. Not sure how I won though.
Although it’s supposed to be expanded, some bits do feel underdeveloped, and occasionally its age does shine though. One mission has Tommy committing an assassination on a steamer then leaping overboard into a waiting speedboat. But will he just jump overboard? Nope, got to fight through the entire boat to reach the one point he’ll leap from. Some of the sneak missions seem unnecessary, and often you reach a particular point and realise the marker’s there to make your escape more difficult. Nowadays games give you options and let you prepare, but here you can see the problems coming before the cut-scene has ended.
If there is an annoyance, it’s the brawling. It’s just a timed block, timed hit and if you muck it up, Tommy has a glass jaw. But aside from that, this is a near perfect game. The characters are all recognisable without being cliché, and although Tommy becomes close to Sam and Paulie, you never quite trust them, or Salieri – you know you’re one mistake away from sleeping with the fishes.
I really regret not playing the original back in the day. I would have appreciated even more what’s been achieved here. But even as a new game, it’s fantastic. Its so good it should have a black and white noir mode like LA Noire did. Mafia is a brilliantly observed mob story and a near-perfect game; this is in my top ten all-time greats. Those are some big concrete overshoes Mafia II has to fit into.
Vito Scaletta returns from WWII and falls in with Mob Associate buddy Joe to find money to pay off his widowed mother and sister’s debts. As he and Joe make their way up the ranks and become Made, they realise it’s not the high-life fantasy they expected.
Main problem I have with Mafia II is Vito is the worst mobster in history. He has no ideas himself, just follows Joe, the second stupidest mobster of all time, no matter how moronic his idea is; every plan, scheme, heist, and hit is a failure. Somehow they get Made, and so immediately vouch for a police informer, get into debt with a loan shark, kill a Made Man and spark a war with the Triads after getting involved in the forbidden drug trade… they screw up everything; Vito even goes along with Joe’s plan to blow up an entire floor of a hotel - and they still miss the target. This is like Abbot and Costello meet The Irishman.
Mafia II tries to deep dive into the classic Goodfellas trope instead of carving its own story within those expectations like the original did – fast cars, fast women, fast success, and then it all spirals, but we never get to enjoy the exhilaration of it, we either see montages of Vito doing it without us, or we’re doing jobs that go wrong. We should be seduced by it, get angry it’s all falling apart, but instead you kinda think the pair of clowns deserved it.
Still, it’s a beautiful world to mob about in. The first third is set in the harsh winter of a post-war 40s which makes cars slide and NPCs slip over in the snow. After a brief stint in prison, Vito returns to an optimistic 1950s with Hot Rod cars and rock n roll, ripe for Mafia exploitation – which they don’t. Vito can visit clothing stores, garages, turn over stolen cars, frequent/hold up stores and stripclubs, and collect a nice array of vehicles which you can personalise and upgrade - but there’s not much to Freeroam really, and way too much pointless driving within missions, which is fraught because cops are unforgiving and NPC’s suicidal. It’s almost impossible to get between missions without getting into suicide by cop situation. I don’t think I ever arrived at a mission marker in the same car I left in.
And there’s signs of “that’ll do” within the game. You get booted out of a cut-scene into a gunfight where everyone’s already shooting at you, or a car-chase where you’re parked the wrong way, and Joe often gets stuck or disappears. The brawling is worse than Mafia because it becomes a story element. In jail, Vito’s picked as the Italian boxer, although he’s no Stallion. It’s even more basic block/punch than the first one, but this time we just go through prize fight after prize fight, for about an hour. And then we’re out of prison and carry on. Why couldn’t it have montaged that and let us muck about with the strippers?
The gunfights by comparison are insanely good, if heavily in the bad guy’s favour – Vito can manage two maybe three shots before he’s dead, while they can take two or three hits to the face before they’re staggered. But they’re all set in classic gangster shootout spots – bars, Chinese restaurants, sewers and meat factories, car parks and construction sites and are awesome, even if we’re there because of whatever daft situation Vito got embroiled in.
Ultimately Mafia II is trying to be a crowd pleaser, a bombastic, cinematic mafia experience as opposed to the original’s grimy feel. There are a few escapes and chases that work really well, and the missions are often exciting, if ridiculous. The final scenes - and ending - are affecting, it does bring home that those are just double-crossing, self-serving criminals who hide behind ceremony, but it’s just generic and nowhere near as impactful as Tommy’s story.
While I enjoyed the more familiar Mafia experience, it’s a pretty shallow follow up. If Mafia I was The Godfather, Mafia II is Godfather Part III. So where does that leave Mafia III? Surely it can’t be Godfather Part II?
In the Mafia, breaking omertà is the worst thing you can do. Fellow PW.com writer TheMorty hated Mafia III so much he rage quit it – twice. I respect his opinions, so even playing MIII feels like a betrayal; and liking it makes me out to be a rat…
Returning from Vietnam in ‘68, ‘Black Mob’ enforcer Lincoln Clay discovers the gang is now under the cosh of the mafia. Pressured into leading a bank heist for them, Clay is betrayed and left for dead while the rest of his gang is murdered. Surviving, Clay teams up with an old ‘Nam CIA buddy to dismantle the Mob, taking over their rackets and building his own empire.
Mafia III should be commended for including institutionalised racism in a way I’ve not experienced so viscerally in gaming; At first I’m disgusted and take huge pleasure in melee’ing to death any character who calls Clay an N-word but after a while, I just kinda get used to it, which is even more unpleasant. It slips out of the passing NPCs mouths too, creating this oppressive world - where I take pleasure in melee’ing NPCs too.
Some bits, like taking out the Dixie Mafia or a KKK meeting are obvious and a bit Tarantino, but other, more subtle moments really bring home the casual, socially acceptable, everyday racism - like when you commit a crime in a black area, the police dispatcher all but tells the cops not to bother. But if you do it in an affluent White area, she’s demanding the entire cop shop descend on you. Walking the streets, a female NPC said hi to a white NPC then veered off as I passed by, clutching her purse. But, while I’m up for a game exploring racism, I’m here for a Mafia game, and Mafia III isn’t one.
This is GTA meets Far Cry, all we do is take out strongholds and outposts, then take over a mini-boss’ hood – I mean, their ‘racket’. It’s the ‘break this, steal that, find a…, stop the…’ routine, then kill the underboss as we make our way to the Don who caused all this. It’s incredibly generic and infuriatingly repetitive – there’s 10 districts, 18-odd racket-bosses, 8 underbosses plus the Don, and all of them are all the same. There are fantastic, action-filled set-pieces, usually around the underboss takedowns, but to reach them it’s a mind-numbing slog of the same missions over and over. And why am I, the boss, doing all this?
Clay establishes three capos – Haitian Cassandra who runs the Bayou, Irish (aka perma-Drunk) mobster Burke, and Vito Scaletta, who was sent here as punishment for what happened in Mafia II. And where do we find him? Locked in a freezer by his own men. We can assign rackets to each capo, and once the underboss is down, give them their territory. Why can’t one of their crews go around smashing up slot machines?
Assigning rackets and territory unlocks benefits but soon they get antsy about how much power the others are getting. That’s a nice touch, but what’s frustrating is they take away the perks if you give away territory; it becomes a perk management mini-game – but rather than them vying for power, suggesting plans you align with, you just pick Vito because he provides better health, throw Cassandra a racket because she gives more ammo, keep Burke drunk so you get car deliveries. You can unlock more background to those capos via stupefyingly boring, dated side-missions (kill or fetch) but there’s no true relationship building or investment in them, and doing their chores doesn’t help keep them in line as you divvy up the city. They don’t contribute to the story, just your playstyle.
Mafia III’s saving grace is the city its set in. It oozes New Orleans and the sixties; I hate the freeroam but love the freedom to take it all in; it’s a beautiful place to drive through, passing by the French Quarter, the misty bayou with its ‘gators, driving highways at sunset or day break, through rain storms, and there’s a staggering amount of detail and subtle references to it. Its also more than a little buggy, even in this version.
While I didn’t meet any of the game-quitting bugs that TheMorty did, I regularly had to quit game to trigger missions or reset NPCs, faced random graphic glitches, and lost items. One time my car ended up on its roof after I drove over a dropped umbrella. Enemy NPCs have that ‘what was that… nothing’ intelligence that makes sneaking all too easy, and street NPCs panic at your speeding and leap off the sidewalk - into the road in front of you. One cut scene triggered mid firefight and when it ended, cop bodies and cars crashed down around me. And, it's not a bug but what TF is with Clay getting taxed half his cash after dying? Who's he paying? Having to call in a fence and bank your money before a shootout is just an unnecessary chore. Like the rest of the game.
This is everything I was glad Mafia wasn’t. Mafia III is a terrible Mafia game. It’s been flipped, a standard revenge game against the Mob instead of us experiencing what Mob life is like. The open world dilutes the experience; instead of taking in its themes, we’re distracted by collectables and doing rackets so I can get more grenades. The pure focus is what made Mafia work – that, and that we were in the Mafia.
The sixties was a period of change for the Mafia – they’d been fully exposed in the late fifties, were being squeezed out of Las Vegas, RFK had created the Organized Crime Strike Force, the RICO Act was in-coming and several Mob Bosses had turned rat. Exploring that period of change for the Mob, to see them manage the swinging sixties against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and Civil Unrest would have been much more interesting as a Mafia game. Not to say Clay’s story isn’t compelling but it should have existed in its own right. It should have been linear for starters, but it’s a disservice to reduce his story to a Mafia sequel. It should be at spin-off if not a standalone, anything but just Mafia III.
Its own ending is bad enough, but Mafia III even undermines the only pathos Mafia II had by revealing what happened after that game ended. Mafia III’s ending is depressingly a good/moderate/bad choice like everything Clay experienced can be reduced to me making a moral choice. Even worse, there’s a mid-credits set-up for Mafia IV which implies a continuation of this playstyle – it’s as if Mafia III is this series’ Assassin’s Creed III, a subtle reboot of the series’ from tight open world to RPG Freeroam.
So that’s my journey from Hoodlum to Godfather. As Mafia games, I’d say they go in order – Mafia I is the Definitive Mafia game… and that’s about it. If I were to make you an offer you can’t refuse, I’d say buy Mafia I without hesitation, and pick up Mafia III in the sales and skip the opening credits, pretend it’s called something else. And avoid Mafia II unless you really want to play a Mafia character that’s less Dean Martin and more Jerry Lewis.
Read TheMorty's take on Mafia III here ...