Review of Mafia: Definitive Edition

Mafia: Definitive Edition is a remake of the iconic Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven, released in 2002. The studio Hangar 13 “assembled” a new game from scratch on the graphics engine of its Mafia 3, supplemented the original story and revised many gameplay mechanics, but left everything the same at the base. It turned out well, although I’m sure the remake will still get from someone for something. After all, making a remake of a game like Mafia is simply impossible to please everyone.

And it’s not that Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven is somehow unique or incredibly deep that makes it unique, not at all. There are enough problems in the original eighteen years ago, but it still has much more advantages. First of all – the plot and the incredible attention to detail: thanks to this, many people remember Mafia. And also the atmosphere – that is, a combination of different factors that are special for each player. For some, this atmosphere was “made” by music, for others – the setting and the era, for the third – the dialogues and characters, for the fourth – all this together.

That is why it is impossible to return that very “Mafia” with all the will. In 2020, The City of Lost Heaven, for those who played it 18 years ago, is an ephemeral cult based on an elusive atmosphere that everyone has their own, pleasant memories that for many years have supplanted all negative emotions from memory, and imaginary the belief that games were better before. These are not game mechanics or, say, genre features that can be rethought and modernized, as Capcom does in Resident Evil remakes. What fans of The City of Lost Heaven love this game to this day is almost impossible to repeat. Nevertheless, Hangar 13 tried – and, admittedly, achieved some success.

Mafia: Definitive Edition is an extremely cautious, almost verbatim remake that cannot be accused of being inconsistent with the original. Seriously, except for the logical changes in missions and the appearance of familiar characters different from the canon, there is nothing fundamentally new in the remake. There are many things that Hangar 13 improved and diversified, but the studio still did not dare to make serious changes.

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The new game takes us back to the fictional American city of Lost Haven, decommissioned from both New York and Chicago at the same time. 1930s, “Prohibition”, men wear strict suits and hats, women dress in beautiful dresses with or without reason, the front pages of newspapers from time to time tell about the next showdown of the Italian mafia. Day and night, the main character, Thomas Angelo, drives his yellow taxi through the city streets. He is not going to join the ranks of the mafiosi, but circumstances are such that he has to leave his old job and seek help from Don Salieri, one of those who run Lost Haven. And now Tommy is already off on business with a shotgun and a fedora.

Hangar 13 said more than once that she was going to expand the story of the original, but did not give specific examples, so one might think that it would come to new story missions and even additional activities in the open world. The latter was most feared by many, because one of the most serious problems of Mafia 3 was the grind tied to the capture of urban areas – fans clearly would not want to see something the same in a remake of their favorite game.

They will not even see: the story of Tom Angelo was indeed supplemented, but limited only to new plot cut-scenes and dialogues. In addition, Hangar 13 came up with two more ways to reveal all the events shown – through news in newspapers and radio in cars. Both are done competently. There are few newspapers, and no one forces them to read – they are needed in order to “highlight” the key elements of the plot: they contain notes about “Prohibition”, politicians and recent crimes committed by mafiosi. And on the radio, announcers usually broadcast about important events for the city: if, say, you rush to a racing track in a Fair Play mission, the presenter will first tell you about the upcoming races, and then turn on the music.

With the new cut scenes, things are a little more complicated. Mafia: Definitive Edition is exactly a remake, so Hangar 13, of course, “re-shot” absolutely all in-game videos. Much, however, left recognizable – say, the attack of Morello’s thugs on Tommy at the beginning of the game, conversations with Don Salieri, all the intermezzos with Angelo and Detective Norman, a scene in a multi-storey parking lot, and so on. And no less developers have added on their own – in almost every cut-scene there are changes designed to make the plot more logical and understandable. At the same time, many videos appeared that were not at all in the original – some are devoted to the relationship between Tom and his beloved Sarah, others reveal the character of Paulie and make it clear why he decided on the unfortunate bank robbery, some explain Sam’s motives, and the fourth just “close” the plot holes of the original Mafia.

In this sense, Hangar 13 has done a tremendous job – it preserved the most important elements of the original story, correctly supplemented it and, more importantly, gave a lot of references to what you could remember and love the 2002 game for. The studio was well aware of how the original worked and put a lot of effort into pleasing the fans.

Although, as I wrote above, it’s incredibly difficult to return absolutely everything that made The City of Lost Heaven a great game. The developers, for example, had to noticeably change the characters of the characters and their appearance: the first – for the sake of the general logic of the scenario, the second – because the games in 2020 are created differently in terms of technology (in the remakes of Resident Evil, the characters also do not look like themselves from the end 1990s). After watching a couple of trailers or streams, you might think that the new appearance of the characters “kills” the story, but this is not the case – within the framework of the plot told in the remake, these characters look great.

The same can be said about changes in some missions. There is nothing fundamentally new in them, but, for example, in the legendary mission Just For Relaxation, which became famous for the need to personally carry boxes of cigars to the truck, now … there is no need to carry boxes to the truck. In the remake, you must secretly sneak into the warehouse, find documents, use them to determine exactly where the necessary boxes are, and then give a signal to Paul and Sam, who will drive the truck. The boxes themselves, by the way, are not so many: the heroes will quickly throw them into the truck in the cut-scene and then try to get away from the police (yes, at some point everything does not go according to plan).

This is the only mission in the remake that Hangar 13 has changed so much – the rest are pretty close to the conventional canon, although, again – for the sake of the general logic of the plot, sometimes they depart from it – but not so much all the same.

The structure of the game itself did not change at all. As I already wrote in my first impressions of the preview version, the remake also divides the story into separate chapters and several intermezzos, which is why Mafia – both the original and the remake – is very difficult to call an open world game. In 2002, the Czech Illusion Softworks conceived it as a decoration that looks beautiful while you are driving on your next mission, but does not work at all outside the plot. And in 2020, Hangar 13 just once again embodied this idea in a remake.

Remember Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven?

There is nothing wrong with this approach to the open world in the case of Mafia, since every element of this game exists for the sake of the main plot. If you just want to drive around a city in which there are no activities at all (unless you drive cars to Luca Bertone’s garage and search for secrets with collectibles), you can do it – in the campaign or in the “Walk” mode. However, the main thing is the story of Tommy Angelo: it is in her that the city “comes to life”, traffic matters, and here and there on the street corners newspaper sellers shout the latest news at the top of their lungs. Outside the plot – nothing.

I admit that modern players who are used to big games in open worlds may consider this a lack of a remake. It seems to me myself that Hangar 13 could be a little bolder and give the open world of Mafia more meaning (especially when you consider that the vast countryside is now part of one huge location), but that’s okay too – no one knows what this courage turned around.

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A couple more points that made the original Mafia famous are the incredible complexity and physics of slow and clumsy, but insanely beautiful machines of the early 20th century.

The remake has three usual difficulty levels (low, medium and high) and one “classic” one, which will easily return your 2002 to you. At the usual difficulty levels, everything is as you might expect: the enemies feel sorry for you, the police don’t care if you violate traffic rules, and you can skip some episodes with trips around the city. True, if you do this, shame on you: the essence of the “Mafia” – in trips around the city.

But on the “classic” remake it is close to what was in the original: shootouts end if Tommy gets hit two or three times (and if the enemy with a shotgun, one shot is enough), traffic violations can lead to fines and arrest, and machine behavior becomes more realistic.

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I suspect they will argue about the physics of cars, but driving in Mafia: Definitive Edition is very cool, even if the cars feel much faster than in the original. Driving in the games of the Mafia series has always been one of the main gameplay moments, and the developers, realizing this, most of the tasks were built in such a way that the players spent time driving as much as on their feet.

A remake in this sense is no exception. And in the third “Mafia” with cars everything was fine, in the new game everything is even better: cars with a characteristic sound pick up speed, hardly enter turns, sway when braking and react plausibly to uneven roads. It is clear that this is still not a car simulator, but you can get a lot of pleasure from driving rare cars here.

A little less pleasure – from shootings, which since the third “Mafia”, it seems, has not changed at all. That is, it’s still just normal third-person action with cover and headshots are still lethal. The only thing is that the enemies still do not react to hits. I mean, they have a death animation, they bend and fall down when they take enough damage, but up to this point, they can take two or three hits to the stomach without changing their faces. It infuriates when you see how the enemy is already aiming at the main character with a shotgun, but you cannot “knock down” his animation with a return shot. This, however, is one moment for the whole mechanics, which really infuriates. The rest is a normal third-person action game.

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The remake of Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven is a success. It has enough inevitable innovations, which at first glance may seem to someone superfluous or “killing” some kind of atmosphere, but these innovations were necessary for the game. The original Mafia is one of my favorite games, I played it in the mid-2000s and I can’t count how many times, and for me this remake is almost the best thing that could have happened to the series.

For this reason, it’s very difficult for me to judge how good Mafia: Definitive Edition turned out on its own. Shootings in it sometimes enrage, the open world clearly does not meet modern standards, and so on. Does all this spoil the overall impression of Tommy Angelo’s story in 2020? Of course not – otherwise the original would never have become a cult.

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