I still remember playing Mafia on my mate’s PC. Revelling in the mobster lifestyle, marvelling at the cops chasing you if you broke the speed limit, giggling at the janky-ass sex scene and absolutely raging at the near-impossible racing mission.
When Mafia II was released, it fulfilled so much of the potential of the first game, fixed many of the issues and was far more accessible. However, Mafia is and always will be my favourite in the series.
The story of cabbie-cum-mafioso, Tommy Angelo, prohibition-era USA, murder, vengeance and violence is so perfectly told, so rich with character and such a classic tale it’s difficult to top. While the latter two games in the franchise did an admirable job, Mafia is the Godfather, Mafia II is Goodfellas and Mafia III is Godfather III…
Ok, maybe it’s not that bad, but you tell me a more infamous bad mobster movie.
Mafia: Definitive Edition Preview
It’s clear from the moment you begin a new game that Hangar 13 has made its ground-up rebuild of Mafia as cinematic as possible. Sweeping shots of Lost Heaven and its citizens going about daily life are shown as the opening credits play. Vistas and views of this melding of New York and Chicago show just how much work has been done to bring the 2002 game to life in 2020. The visuals are stunning and it only gets better when you get down to ground level. Buildings, roads, traffic, NPCs, trees…everything in Lost Heaven looks spectacular. It’s like stepping out of a time machine into the 1930s.
Massive props to Hangar 13 for having built such a spectacle.
The cinematic nature of Mafia: Definitive Edition doesn’t stop there though. Cutscenes look as though they’ve been directed by Scorcese himself. Sure, this plot is far more Godfather than Goodfellas, but the style of camera work and the visual language is pure Scorcese, not Coppola. The characters too would be more at home in the former’s films. Wisecracking tough guys who mask their fragility and emotions with toxic-masculinity. They have a code but they’d break that code in a second if it meant getting ahead. That being said, they’re loyal to each other and may not be brothers by blood, they may as well be.
Tommy, as the player’s window into this world, is a man, like Walter White, who gets caught up in the excitement, drama and riches of a life of crime. The difference is, Tommy clings to his conscience and morality while Walter White succumbed to his most base instincts.
The few hours I had with Mafia: Definitive Edition begins with the opening of the game and a few early missions/chapters before skipping ahead to the Trip to the Country mission shown in the gameplay reveal. This selection of missions provides a great example of the different kinds of gameplay experiences, tones and moods included in Mafia: Definitive Edition.
Opting to play on Classic difficulty, things were certainly not easy but they were familiar. The cars drive as though they’re boats on wheels with massive weight, unstoppable inertia and turning circles wider than the Grand Canyon. They’re not responsive, these ancient beasts, but they do feel “right.” As soon as I took off in Tommy’s cab, trying to save Sam and Paulie’s life, I was right back in 2002. You can, of course, change the difficulty to something a little less demanding, something I did during the racing car mission, but if you want Mafia: Definitive Edition to play like you remember while looking like you always wished it did, set it to Classic.
Combat is much improved from the original, even on Classic. Tommy can take cover, pop up or out to shoot enemies and move between different objects to remain hidden and relatively safe. That being said, on Classic, you only need to take a couple of hits before you’re dead. I relish this kind of difficulty but if you’d rather storm through the missions and play like an action-hero, you can.
The melee system in Mafia: Definitive Edition takes its cues from the subsequent two games in the series and feels pretty great. Punching up rival goons and using a brutal finisher when they’re stunned really hammers home the violent nature of Mafia life. The game romanticises it somewhat, but watching Tommy and Pauly kick the ever-loving shit out of someone really takes the shine off them as heroic figures.
They’re flawed, criminals just trying to get by.
Bringing them to life is the flawless casting and voice acting in Mafia: Definitive Edition. Without real, believable performances, Mafia: Definitive Edition would be just another open-world crime game. Thankfully, it’s not. Tommy is close-mouthed, hesitant and always questioning while Paulie and Sam, mafia veterans are desensitised to their world and laugh about their escapades before shifting instantaneously into explosive rage. It only works because the voice acting is so spot-on and the animation is flawless.
Watching these characters have a conversation, the subtle looks, body language and expressions bring the performance to life. Where Tommy, Paulie and Sam used to be a stack of triangles with flat textures, they’re now very real, very scary fellas.
There have been a lot of videogames that purport to let players live that gangster life. Many have succeeded, though no game has ever felt so authentic as the original Mafia. Now, Mafia: Definitive Edition looks to be taking that crown. It’s gorgeous, dangerous and tells a story you can’t help but be drawn in by.
Tommy is a charismatic protagonist, he’s layered and certainly not what you’d call a good guy. But, in the world of Mafia’s Lost Heaven, there are only degrees of bad and Tommy’s a few shades lighter than his comrades.
From what I’ve seen so far, buckle up because Mafia: Definitive Edition is going to blow you away.
Mafia: Definitive Edition was previewed on PC using digital code provided by the publisher.