When the original Mafia game came out in 2002 I was just getting out of high school and looking forward to GTA: Vice City much more as the superior “mafia” game, with its neon twinge of 80’s cocaine fueled nostalgia. I don’t think I even remember seeing the original Mafia game until much later on, and when I did, it left such a little impression on me, that I totally forgot about it. When Mafia 2 came out, again, it was at a time in my life that I just wasn’t looking for a italian mob game. It wasn’t until Mafia 3 that came out in 2016 that I actually paid attention to the series.
While Mafia 3’s protagonist, Lincoln Clay was pretty well written, had a great backstory, being part of the Vietnam Vet era, as well as dealing with racial 1960 Louisiana, it was far from a “Mafia” game other than it following some of the same “go here, do this” type of open world gameplay that was and still is typical even to this day within the genre. If I’m gonna play a Mafia game, I want mobsters in suits talking about wacking a guy because he disrespected “the family”.
With Hangar 13’s “Mafia: Definitive Edition” you’d assume it was just a repackaging of the original game with the DLC added in, but DLC didn’t exist back in 2002. Maybe it’s an uprezed 4K texture release? Nope. This is a full blown remake of the original Mafia game done in the Mafia 3 engine. And it’s one of the most impressive remakes I’ve seen.
Even back in 2002, Mafia isn’t some new mob story you’ve never heard of. It still contains lots of tropes and cliches of the genre of “mob” movies and even it’s ending is predictable to say the least. But with that being said, I’m so unbelievably impressed with what this game is, and how it keeps the heart and soul of the original game while making it a brand new game at the same time.
The main character’s name is Tommy, he was just a cabbie driver who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, after he helps a couple of mobsters out of a jam, he soon decides that it’d be safer to just join the mob instead. He soon rises up among the ranks and becomes one of the right hand men to Don Salieri, the head of a mob family. He pulls jobs here and there and the whole game is told in a series of flashbacks. The main core of the narrative is that in the future, Tommy is talking to a Federal Agent so that he can get immunity for his family, and get his Don behind bars. So the timeline jumps back and forth between past and present, with all the gameplay being done in the past.
Everything about this remake is impressive. After finishing the game, I pulled up a playthrough of the original game, and I’m glad that I never actually loaded it up. While the game and the story remain the same, with all the major characters and story beats, it is so completely different than this new remake. The game feels so much more fuller and grander in scale. For the time, I’m sure it was fairly impressive, but the remake just blows it out of the water.
Each part of the game is dripping with that retrostalgic feeling that only period pieces can give you. Since the game is placed in 1930’s prohibition America, every car is lovingly crafted as a still fairly new piece of technology. The game puts you in the driver seat of classic mob type cars with suicide doors, and even at one point gives you control of a classic early racecar that looks like the bullet version of the Batmobile from Batman Returns. As I was a huge fan of the series Boardwalk Empire on HBO back in 2010-2014, this game feels like it was basically made just for me. Made Men in fancy suits, carrying around Tommy Guns and running rackets all while trying to get the dirty cops to look the other way.
Even though the game has a huge open world map, it isn’t really free-roam, more linear in nature and places you strategically in certain areas in the map at specific times of day in specific weather conditions. One mission has you meet up with one of your gang members at an old abandoned farm on the outskirts of town to smuggle booze. Of course it’s at night, and it just happens to be in the middle of a huge storm. The radio does a great job of giving a resemblance of a living world through radio programs scattered in between driving missions, as the mission before has the radio DJ inform the listener about a storm moving in, while recapping the news of what the president says about prohibition.
The levels themselves are fairly long in some cases, with having you play the driver, but also step in and be the muscle more and more as the game goes one. Shootouts are fun and frantic, but never frustrating. Learning how the cars handle is key when playing on harder difficulties as getting away from cops and escaping them can be much more difficult if you're stuck with a clunker of a vehicle. Each car handles differently, and it’s interesting to try a new car each time to see which one fits the mission objective more appropriately.
One of the things that jumped out at me was the sound, which is something that doesn’t stand out much in most games, but with Mafia every part of the sound design is just pitch perfect. The cutscenes are filled with foley effects that normally are absent in game cutscenes. The clanging of wooden bats together on a table seems realistic and not faked. Getting into a car and having the radio be tuned to classic 1930’s era music is expected but always a nice touch. The voice acting is leaps and bounds better than the original, and the scored soundtrack highlights emotional moments so well, that at times, I felt as if I was watching a very well produced Hollywood movie or TV show.
The gameplay is mostly linear with the driving parts between missions dropping you into a gorgeously fleshed out open world city called Lost Heaven. It resembles Chicago with it’s large industrial buildings, and train system. While the main story never really gives you an opportunity to fully explore the huge map, there is a free ride mode that gives you the chance to drive around, pick up any missed collectables, and also find some easter eggs as well. It’s just so beautifully created, and with the classic cars in the game as well, it sets itself apart from the other handful of openworld games made every year.
Since the year 2020 has seen so little in the way of large developer games, I picked up Mafia on a whim since there was just nothing else really that I wanted to play. I’m so glad I did, because this is not just an amazing technical remake, but it’s just a solid game that is actually right up my alley. I love period piece games, and being set in the 1930’s, during the era of Prohibition, and dealing with the mob, it essentially is like a Boardwalk Empire video game way before the show Boardwalk Empire ever existed.
There really is nothing bad that I can say about the game other than it is a 2002 game in it’s mission style and narrative story. The dialogue has been rewritten a bit, to make it feel more modern, and so have the gameplay mechanics. The cars feel like huge heavy metal beasts that take much longer to get up to a manageable speed, and the design of the cars bring back the timeless style of the depression era. Although the name doesn’t do it justice, it really is the Definitive way to play the original Mafia game.