Fancy becoming a made man back in the 1930s in America? Mafia: Definitive Edition (DE) will give you a glimpse of what that would have been like.
The game is is a complete, ground up remake of the original Mafia released in 2002. Just like the original, Mafia DE is a story-driven, third-person action game that focuses on driving, shooting and stealth.
The original game was superb with its strong story, sophisticated cinematography and unforgettable soundtrack, although it did suffer from poor user interface and clunky controls.
Mafia DE stayed faithful to the story, with the same missions but expanded on some cinematic cutscenes and also developed more on the characters.
But the biggest improvement is the graphics – with the improved motion capture technology of today, as well as high definition graphics, the city of Lost Heaven and all the characters look so much better compared to the original.
Mafia DE makes the characters more engaging and real, both in terms of the graphics as well as the portrayal of their personalities.
I played a copy of Mafia DE on my Windows 10 PC with mouse and keyboard, and I thought it was an excellent remake of an already great but old game without changing too much of what I loved in the original.
A mobster’s life
You play Tommy Angelo, an ordinary cab driver in the fictional, Chicago-inspired city of Lost Heaven in the 1930s during the Prohibition, when gangsters rule the city.
By a chance event, he finds himself drawn into a mobster’s life, and starts doing the bidding of Don Salieri. But as he falls in love and has his own family, the life of a wiseguy begins to lose its appeal and the danger soon becomes too real.
Just like the original Mafia, the game is heavily story driven, with 20 action-packed story missions that took me around 14 hours to complete.
The various missions are worked really well into the story, and offer a good mix of driving, stealth, assassination and investigation, which keeps the game from feeling stale.
The locations for the story missions also leave a deep impression, including a creepy abandoned prison inhabited by aggressive hobos, an art gallery, and a grand cruise ship.
The game does a good job of creating the right atmosphere during the uncertain 1930s through radio and newspaper reports, as well as conversations of people on the street.
At that time, America was in the midst of the Great Depression. The Prohibition led to mobs profiteering and blatantly disregarding the law, and developments in Europe just prior to World War II created even more uncertainty.
As the Prohibition was lifted, the mobs lost their lucrative liquor smuggling business and the struggle for power and control caused rivalries among the gangs. With this backdrop, Mafia’s story is A-list movie material, with themes of friendship, love, family, betrayal, revenge and violence.
Once you are in, there’s no getting out
The story campaign does not play as a fully open world game, unlike others such as Grand Theft Auto, where you can lose yourself in exploration, side missions and other silly projects in between story missions.
Instead, the missions are linearly structured, and you go from one chapter to the next without a real break.
Although you can do some limited exploration during missions, there are no side missions from other characters.
There is a mechanic who has some rare cars that need stealing, but it feels like you shouldn’t be doing it in Story mode since the mission objectives and waypoints are already set which cannot be changed. Thankfully, Mafia: DE has other game modes to enjoy – more on that later.
One of the more enjoyable aspects of Mafia DE is driving the beautiful vintage cars around Lost Heaven. Not only are the cars a treat for the eyes, the driving mechanics have improved drastically over the original.
Although some of the cars available earlier in the game do not drive well since they are slow and have terrible torque, some of the later cars do go quite fast and handle pretty well.
Once you break into or drive a new car, it will be available for Tommy to use in garages, so it’s good to break into as many different types of cars as possible!
However, citizens of Lost Heaven are vigilant and call the cops at the slightest transgression, not unlike some overzealous online vigilantes in the real world.
I merely had Tommy punch a guy with a smart mouth and immediately, an eyewitness went into the phone booth to call the cops. Tommy had to drive off and escape the cops before continuing on his mission. Likewise, breaking into cars is a reportable offence, so be prepared to flee!
Apart from cops and overzealous vigilantes, Tommy has to deal with rival gang members and other mean folks.
Thankfully, he has a wide selection of weapons to employ, such as pistols, revolvers, shotguns, tommy guns, rifles, baseball bats and knives, and even Molotov cocktails and grenades for throwing at enemies hiding behind cover.
The choice of weapons for me is dependent on the amount of available ammo and shooting range – there were situations where I ran out of ammo, so I had to desperately backpedal and pick up weapons and ammo from the fallen in areas that I had cleared before.
Enemies can typically take a few hits unless you do a direct headshot, which is the most efficient way to kill and save ammo.
Also, unlike the original where enemies like to roll around, those in Mafia DE move more realistically — crouching down, taking cover behind objects, and shooting without poking their heads out.
There is also minimal health regeneration, so take care not to let Tommy get shot too many times. Shooting behind cover is a good tactic although covers can degrade if they are not made of tough material.
Past and present tense
Seeing the opening sequence rendered in such beautiful graphics and hearing the familiar orchestral theme in Mafia: DE makes me misty-eyed with nostalgia.
To refresh my memory of the original, I watched some videos of the 2002 game and clearly, the graphics back then were painful for the eyes in 2020, with their flat, 2D textures and vacant expressions on the characters’ faces.
But now, with Mafia DE’s beautifully detailed graphics, with well-animated faces full of expression, as well as varied day and night, rain and fair weather scenarios, Lost Heaven with its traffic and its people never looked better.
There is one memorable mission where you have to drive at night in a heavy downpour, which really shows off Mafia DE’s complex lighting and reflections on wet roads, slick cars and headlights of oncoming cars shining through the rain.
Another huge improvement is the graphical quality of cinematic cutscenes. The game is worth playing through just to enjoy the masterfully directed and well-acted cutscenes.
Both the facial and body motion capture and voice acting have improved vastly over the original. Mafia DE also expands the backstory for some characters, and also alters certain parts, which help to tell the story better and create more empathy with the characters.
However, Mafia DE does retain some of the original’s iconic blockbuster-quality cinematography — which stands the test of time and looks even better with HD graphics.
Despite the improved visuals of Mafia DE, I still have a lot of affection for the 2002 original.
Think about the unforgettable soundtrack on the car radio, heavy with Django Reinhardt’s swing music, an interactive environment and more exploration such as a ride on public transport, and the cinematic cutscene of the ending that I still cannot forget.
The remake does expand and change some of the cutscenes, and there are some especially memorable ones that I would have preferred to have been kept. Yes, the original feels more impactful.
For a modern remaster, Mafia DE has come a long way in overcoming the problems of user interface, driving and shooting. However, the game still feels somewhat clunky and awkward in terms of the controls.
I actually had trouble getting Tommy through some doorways during intense chases – somehow when he is sprinting, he tends to have problems fitting into a narrow doorway.
And although shooting is more sophisticated, with Tommy being able to take cover around corners, having him aim around the corners can be rather frustrating.
For instance, Tommy can be aiming his weapon around the corner at an enemy clearly in firing range but the game still seems to think Tommy is blocked and prevents him from shooting.
With a modern user interface, it is easier now to select weapons as well as projectiles such as Molotov cocktails and grenades for Tommy to use. Gone are the laughably dated user interface with dropdowns to select actions and inventory.
As for the game’s performance on a PC, I did have some serious stuttering issues when playing at first, but after Googling the problem and changing the Texture Filtering Quality setting to Performance on the Radeon software for my AMD graphics card, the game worked out fine.
Live your life, be free
Apart from the main story campaign, Mafia: DE also has a Free Ride mode that offers some replayability, just like the original. This gives you a chance to enjoy the city a lot more rather than rushing from one mission to the next.
You can drive around and explore the city, annoy members of the public and incur the wrath of cops, steal rare cars for a shady mechanic, and find various collectibles.
But if the adrenaline junkie in you still craves a challenge, there are side quests in Free Ride that you can do. These are found by reading letters left behind by mysterious individuals that point you to certain locations to pick up calls at phone booths and start the quests.
Some of these quests are really quite challenging, such as a Speed-inspired quest where you need to keep a bus running above a certain speed to avoid being blown up. That means driving a car that is leaking fuel while trying to beat the clock.
Rewards for these challenging quests include unique (and occasionally laughable) costumes, weapons and vehicles, which do add some element of silliness and fun to a pretty serious game.
Yet, unlike the original game which has Free Ride and Free Ride Extreme side quests that offer a lot more to accomplish, Mafia DE’s Free Ride feels much less substantial.
In Free Ride, Tommy has access to his wardrobe, so he can change his clothes (and appear even his older self), access all unlocked vehicles through various garages, select a range of weapons from the armoury and even change the weather in Salieri’s study to give the environment a bit more variety.
Unfortunately, if it’s pure exploration you are after, Free Ride can feel a little static with all the interiors to buildings closed, no access to public transport unlike in the original game, and no night and day cycles.
Plus, our dear protagonist dies instantly when in contact with water, so there is no swimming at all for Tommy.
Once, I was trying to get back on a cruise ship where I hadn’t managed to collect a pulp magazine during an intense story mission. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to access it in Free Ride.
It seems such a pity that the city is designed with such loving detail yet has so many roadblocks to exploration.
For collectors and completists, Mafia: DE offers a bunch of collectibles including character cigarette cards, pulp magazines and comics, as well as mystery fox figurines – these are found in the vicinity of a fox graffiti.
However, there are some collectibles in locations that are not accessible during Free Ride, so it is best to collect everything during story missions.
Of course, this is easier said than done especially when Tommy is under heavy gunfire and badly wounded during missions – is it worth it to risk being killed and be forced to restart a mission just to get a piece of pulp fiction or sleazy comic to satisfy the completist in you?
On top of that, there is also a Carcyclopedia that lets you test drive cars that you have unlocked at the race tracks. It’s a good place to brush up on driving skills and experience the different vehicles in the game.
Everything has its price
Let’s talk money! Mafia: Definitive Edition is part of a bigger Mafia Trilogy. The sequel, Mafia II: Definitive Edition, features ultra HD remastered graphics and all bonus content, and was released earlier in May 2020.
The Mafia Trilogy also includes Mafia III: Definitive Edition that includes all DLCs and bonus content, but since the four-year old game is relatively new, don’t expect any major enhancements.
The whole Mafia Trilogy is available on Steam at S$85.90. You can also purchase the three games individually.
The remastered Mafia: Definitive Edition costs S$59.90, the graphically enhanced Mafia II: Definitive Edition goes for S$39.90 and Mafia III: Definitive Edition will set you back S$39.90. The Mafia Trilogy is also available for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One platforms.
Mafia: DE is a superbly written game with great characters and a blockbuster-worthy story. The cinematography is also first rate, as was the original back in 2002.
For those who loved the original, this is a worthy remake in high definition graphics with added content, improved voice recordings, and hugely improved gameplay.
But as a fan of the original soundtrack, I felt that it was a shame they didn’t get the licences for the original driving music.
And I might be nitpicking here since I am so fond of the original, but I didn’t like some of the amended cutscenes. This is especially so when you compare the new with with the old. The original was more memorable and poignant, despite the less pretty graphics.
The limited exploration and replay value might also put off those open world fans who are used to having loads to explore, collect and do.
So if you enjoy exploring, doing crazy stunts, looting and spending money rather than playing through a good Mafia movie, Mafia DE might not be the right game for you.
But if you are a fan of The Godfather and Goodfellas films, and Mafia literature by Mario Puzo, you will enjoy Mafia DE.