[Don’t] “forget about it!”
Strong storytelling within video games has become a staple for an extremely long time with the medium pushing the boundaries of what we see in movies and tv shows but back in 2002, trying to portray a strong and impactful story (compared to what we get now) was something that was quite rare to the genre. Along came Illusion Softworks with the release of Mafia and in turn, a title that changed that perception with strong and mature storytelling.
18 years on from the release of the original game, developer Hangar 13 has bought the title back in its newest and more modern form thanks to modern hardware and better technology to bring the game up-to-scratch in today’s market. We’ve seen remakes and remasters of titles over years (some good, others not so good), but both 2K and Hangar 13 decided to go with a remake and build Mafia: Definitive Edition from the ground up on as a remake and going down this route was 100% the right decision.
Mafia: Definitive Edition’s story (no significant spoilers) takes place in 1930’s during the Great Depression in which you play as taxi driver, Tommy Angelo. After two members of the Salieri crime family – Paulie Lombardo and Sam Trapani get into a spot of bother involving members of the Morello crime family, Tommy helps them after an ambush. Although he is compensated for his help, Tommy loses his job and cab the following day when the Morello family target him in an act of revenge which then leads Tommy into joining the Salieri Mafia after stating that he wouldn’t do so. Although Hangar 13 have added little pieces here and there into the story to modernise it a little and to make the pieces fit in place better, the story almost identically follows that from the original release in 2002.
The story within Mafia: Definitive Edition is fantastic and this is no surprise considering how incredibly good it was in the original release too. Not only is it a strong and hard-hitting story, but the pacing is perfectly executed as well. Over the course of the 12 hours it took me to complete, it builds up gradually at the beginning and then hits you full in the face like what I imagine a Mafia baseball bat would by the time you’re nearer the end of the story. A lot of story-driven action-adventure titles seem to stumble with their story perspective, but Mafia: Definitive Edition nails the beats of a strong story down right from the start. Add to that, the voice acting cast do an incredible job at portraying their characters in such a believable way, that it makes it feel like you’re part of a movie set. Standout performances go to Andrew Bongiorno who captures Tommy’s character perfectly and Jeremy Luke who portrays the over-the-top Paulie amazingly but each voice actor does an amazing job with the characters that they are portraying in the world that they feature in.
The first thing you notice when first booting up the game is just how much care has been put into the world of Lost Heaven (Hangar 13’s version of the real-life city, Chicago) to bring it to life. The city looks beautiful with its 1930’s aesthetics thanks to signage, vehicles and buildings all being fantastically detailed to fit the period that the game is set in. Add to that, the game has an array of radio stations that feature within the time period that includes Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington to name but a few which fit the narrative brilliantly well. Another reason why the world looks so beautiful is down to the fabulous lighting. Be it during the day when the sun is blowing out the end of a tunnel or when the neon of local business signage glows as you speed past during the middle of the night or when the rain is crashing down on the tarmac and leaving puddles of water shining with ambient lighting, the world looks incredible and you can see just how much craft has gone into creating a world that looks beautifully detailed. It’s the same with the cinematic side of the game as well, with cutscenes looking crisp and detailed and showing off various camera angles to give it a ‘movie-like’ production trait. Whilst the world for the most part looks absolutely beautiful, it’s not perfect. Sometimes you’ll see strange pop-in occur (on the console version at least) and I experienced a few weird graphical bugs where a few characters would get stuck within the walls of a building, faces looking odd in certain lighting conditions and also a mechanic bug where the accelerator on the car I was in wouldn’t work for a few seconds before finally kicking in and working like it should. Thankfully, these issues don’t really effect the game per se and over time they will be patched, but it does take you out of it albeit slightly. One downside I’ve seen people bring up with the stunning world of Lost Heaven is that outside of the the main missions once they are completed, there isn’t a great deal to do besides trying to find a few collectibles.
Mafia has always been a story-driven focused title and not one that can be compared to say a GTA which is a mix of story and exploration. The city is there to serve its purpose of the story and nothing more and it does that perfectly. Mafia has never been about side-missions and various sets of collectibles or hidden secrets. It’s all about the story. Don’t get me wrong, Lost Heaven is an incredible place to take in and to explore whilst driving, but its main purpose is to serve as a perfect backdrop for what the story is trying to portray and it does just that. Once you finish the story, you have the option of free ride where you can drive around the city in any vehicle or fire any weapon, visit your garage, check out Vincenzo’s armoury or search the city for any collectibles, but this isn’t the main focus of what makes Mafia so special.
The gameplay within Mafia: Definitive Edition is what we’ve come to expect from a third-person action-adventure and for the most part, it’s done very well. The game features a cover system that is snappy and works when it’s supposed to. Not once did I have an issue where the game didn’t detect my input to go into cover. It’s no Gears of War cover system, but it does the job very well. Shooting feels solid with different weapons acting differently with recoil and various ranges depending on the weapon you choose. Sometimes though, the shooting does have a tendency to feel a little ’light’ depending on the situation, but generally, it feels satisfying and rewarding. Character and camera movement did struggle a few times whilst in enclosed spaces, but apart from a few instances of that happening, it felt great and very responsive. For those that prefer to have aim-assist off (like myself), you have the option to toggle these gameplay settings within the menus to tailor them to your taste.
One of my biggest loves of this game (besides from the fantastically written story) is the driving. It feels great drifting around corners or pelting it at high-speed. The vehicles feel great to drive and with the game featuring two driving options (regular and simulation), there is something there for everyone. One highlight when driving to a mission is the way the waypoints are visualised. In most open-world titles a huge line on the road is used to indicate where you need to go, but in Mafia: Definitive Edition, it uses road signs to tell you where to go which is a small thing in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a super cool touch nevertheless and one that doesn’t ruin the cinematic feel of the game like so many other waypoint systems do when plastering the screen with gnarly markers for example.