Mafia 4 should use a retro ’90s and early ’00s aesthetic as inspired by TV hit The Sopranos – just like GTA: Vice City and its 1986-style Miami worked for Rockstar and Grand Theft Auto back in 2002.
The Mafia series has already worked through the staples of the gangster genre, beginning with the Prohibition era 1930s in the original game, through the post-war opportunism of the 1950s in Mafia 2, and the stylish, freewheeling 1960s in Mafia 3. For the now-confirmed Mafia 4, the obvious choice would be the 1970s. Using films like The French Connection, Mean Streets, and Serpico, developer Hangar 13 have a solid visual basis for a rainy, grey New York City that could serve as the ideal backdrop for the next Mafia game. Cruising around in a chunky muscle car, wearing a wing-collar suit and aviators, it’s easy to imagine yourself playing through a story about the mob’s descent into drug dealing and in-fighting.
But that’s the obvious choice, and a visual style that’s already been touched on by games like Driver, and the – admittedly forgotten – 2006 crime sim Made Man. Especially looking at horror games right now, there’s a growing fascination with the 1990s. Game-makers like Puppet Combo have carved a significant niche with PS1-style blocky graphics and world design, and though I’m loath to admit it lest I crumble into dust at my keyboard, the ’90s were now long enough ago to be considered authentically retro. When GTA: Vice City launched in 2002, its 1986 version of a fictionalised Miami was retro by a mere 16 years. 1995, meanwhile, was 27 years ago. If Mafia wants to stay attached to the past, there’s no harm in setting Mafia 4 during the era of Spice Girls, Tamagotchis, and dial-up internet.
It’s one of the things that makes The Sopranos so visually distinctive. Those bulky mobile phones, Reebok tracksuits, and stylish BMW M5s make David Chase’s definitive TV opus stand out even today. It’s something we haven’t seen in videogames before, and it could pave the way for a very different mob story. Rather than following the Cosa Nostra through its various heydays, either in the days of prohibition, or the height of its political power in the ’50s, placing Mafia 4 in the 1990s would let us experience the mafia’s autumn years and gradual decline.
I’m reminded of the sombre, impending doom that suffuses both Grand Theft Auto 4 and Red Dead Redemption 2, this feeling that you’re – to paraphrase Tony Soprano during his first meeting with Dr. Melfi – coming into something “at the end”. Like Mafia 3 subverted expectations by having you fight against rather than alongside the mob, in a story charged by the racial politics of the American deep south, a ’90s-set Mafia 4 could turn the tables on the typical rags-to-riches dynamic of an open-world game.
And think of the music. Radiohead. Nirvana. Tupac. Destiny’s Child. Mafia 4 could have a jukebox soundtrack to rival Vice City. The ingredients are all there, and I’m seriously hoping 2K doesn’t fall back on something more expected and rote, like the ’70s or even ’80s, just because they have an arguably more proven track record. Mafia 4 in the ’90s could be an open-world gangster game like we haven’t seen before, a journey to the bottom, where we see the era of Mafia impunity come to an end, rather than the by-now familiar rise-to-power narrative that the genre often delivers. Given how the series was reinvented for Mafia 3, I want to see that same drive for originality permeate a sequel.
While it has been officially confirmed, Mafia 4 is apparently still a couple of years away, and “Mafia 4” is still, in fact, a provisional title. Whlie we wait for more information, we recommend you check out some of the best sandbox games and best crime games on PC. There’s also the – apparently impending – arrival of GTA 6, so be sure to take a look at everything we know about the GTA 6 release date, facts, and speculation, as Rockstar supposedly gears up for a return to Vice City.