A Gorgeous 1930s Rethrowback

Mafia: Definitive Edition

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Mafa: Definitive Edition is a remake of the 2002 videogame of the same name, developed by Mafa 3 developers Hangar 13. Back then, it was one of the first games to adapt the GTA formula and actually take its story seriously.

In the final years of America’s Prohibition era, taxi driver Tommy Angelo gets held at gunpoint by two members of the Salieri crime family - Paulie and Sam. After being forced to drive them to safety, members of the rival Morello family assault Tommy, which leads him back to Salieri for revenge. Salieri promises him payback, and once the taxi driver gets the smallest taste of what this crime family can give him - he’s in.

Now, it’s been 18 years since this story was first told, and it hasn’t aged well enough to set it apart from its contemporaries. I wound up not feeling invested in much of the main cast besides Tommy’s wife Sarah - who has an expanded role in this remake. Part of that is due to some truly generic voice acting. Tommy’s cohorts Paulie and Sam both sound strangely similar, but Paulie’s VO is especially grating in a performance akin to Chris Griffin from Family Guy. 

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Tommy’s often just on official Salieri business - collecting money or racing cars.

The first half of Mafa: Definitive Edition takes far too long to get going, and you’ll find yourself doing a whole lot of dull busywork as Tommy ingratiates himself with the mafia. The second half is much more eventful, but still lacks impact due to weak characters and lukewarm plot twists. Honestly, it’s not the story that makes Mafa: Definitive Edition special - it’s the way it’s brought to life.

Atmosphere is everything. The Chicago-esque city of Lost Heaven is jaw-droppingly realised in this remake, miles ahead of what Illusion Softworks attempted in the original Mafa (2002). It’s a truly gorgeous throwback to the 30s, with old-timey cars, radios blaring baseball commentaries, newspaper hawkers and endless gentrification.

Textures and resolution have clearly been given a huge upgrade from Mafa 3, and the result of this work can be seen everywhere - from the polished sheen of Tommy’s cars to the fabric of his suit. Facial animation is ultimately inconsistent, but character animation is really great - so the former ends up feeling like more of a nitpick than an egregious flaw. 

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Combat isn’t fun or interesting, just a whole lot of diving behind cover and using the same weaponry over and over again. 

I’m in awe at what Hangar 13 has achieved with this game’s lighting, as well. One mission in particular had Tommy walk into an ambush at the edge of the city, in a barn during thunderous rain. Lightning flashed, reflected on the muddy puddles under Tommy’s shoes. A beaten-down truck’s headlights shone through pouring rain in the night, resulting in some incredibly tense mise-en-scène. It’s all utterly, utterly beautiful.

These visuals bring an otherwise unremarkable story campaign to life. So much of this game stayed with me not because of the writing, but the way it’s all put together visually.

One last thing I’d like to touch on is that this game’s combat is really…bad. It reminds me a lot of Red Dead Redemption 2, another game that had astonishing visuals, a cinematic story and an outrageous number of shooting galleries. While Mafia: Definitive Edition doesn’t have as much combat, it did start wearing me down around the halfway point.

Gunplay is extremely unsatisfying and melee combat is even worse. All you have to do is hit the counter button when you’re prompted, then button-mash the melee button. When the next bad guy arrives, you do the same thing again. It’s brainless.

Mafia: Definitive Edition might not be as well-rounded as I wanted it to be, but it’s still one of my favourite games of 2020. It’s an absolute visual feast, with a fantastic level of atmosphere accompanying every single mission. Even driving around as a taxi driver taking fares in Lost Heaven feels great, when old-timey music plays on the radio and passengers complain about the Great Depression.

I only wish that it had a tighter story, less abrupt ending and better combat. But hey, I’ll take those hopes into Mafa 4 whenever that gets made. This remake was clearly made with a lot of love, and fans of the original are bound to appreciate what Hangar 13 has done here. 

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GENRE Action, Adventure



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