Mafia: Definitive Edition feels more like a Director’s Cut than cinematic remake. One of the good ones too, like Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now Redux and not some weird alternate universe jam where aliens show up like in James Cameron’s extended version of The Abyss. That statement is a fairly loaded one, and a little ambiguous-slash-misleading.
The simple fact is that as time goes on visual fidelity seen across videogame assets, effects, lighting, and other cinematic presentation-y goodness keeps getting better. To the point where faithful built-from-the-ground-up remakes, ala Capcom’s Resident Evil 2 and now Hangar 13’s Mafia: Definitive Edition, can feel
like Director’s Cuts. In the sense that they present that original vision in a more, well, definitive and detailed light. Technology is catching up to the Lucas-like vision of their creators, but in a good way.
Here the studio big wigs cut out all the good bits back in the day on the account of said big wigs coming in the form of limited PC hardware. Bit of silicon unable to render the quality material that makes up Don Salieri’s fine Italian suit. And by that token, the threads of the extended Salieri family.
Built-from-the-ground-up remakes, ala Capcom’s Resident Evil 2 and now Hangar 13’s Mafia: Definitive Edition, feel like Director’s Cuts. In the sense that they present that original vision in a more, well, definitive and detailed light.
Of which, the original Mafia centres on - in a sprawling cinematic tale spanning several years as you take on the role of cab driver turned mafioso, Tommy Angelo. Now, throwing the word cinematic around over and over is repetitive, but Mafia: Definitive Edition is exactly that sort of focused single-player game. If it weren’t for the collectibles strewn throughout each Chapter, it’d have the vintage feel of one of the old-timey cars you get to drive.
Which is a compliment, on the account of the vehicles all looking gorgeous in this remake. Even the real 1920s-style wind-up sh*t boxes. Thanks to some excellent sound design and physics, they’re a joy to drive too.
Okay, confession time – and in all honesty I probably should have opened with this. The 1930s metropolitan setting, across all fiction, is one I love and am endlessly fascinated by. A feeling that extends to the music from the era, the jazz, the fashion, the vehicles, the lingo, and whatever dudes put in their hair
to make it all so slick. Above all though it’s the undercurrent of turmoil, the darkness that lies beneath the surface, the depression era strife, the rise of fascism. All that slowly simmering underneath a layer of beauty.
Beauty that has an otherworldly quality. The era before television, a long time ago in a galaxy without videogames. Personally, it’s an era I’d love to visit but not one I’d like to live in – I’d also rather drive a modern car over a classic Ford Model T or what have you.
First released back in 2002, Mafia’s story is set during prohibition and post-prohibition 1930s America, in a fictional city modelled after Chicago called Lost Heaven. Ambitious in its day, the original Mafia drew inspiration from the likes of The Godfather and Goodfellas to tell a videogame version of the sort of crime epics that film fans had enjoyed for decades. In some cases it was a facsimile and nowhere near on par with either, but the sheer interactivity of it brought the idea of a digital crime epic to a whole new level.
Using the best technology it had at its disposal, developer Illusion Softworks managed to create a memorable experience that lingered in the minds of players in terms of both narrative and gameplay.
The vehicles all looking gorgeous in this remake. Even the real 1920s-style wind-up sh*t boxes. Thanks to some excellent sound design and physics, they’re a joy to drive too.
Unlike Grand Theft auto 3, which released around the same time, Mafia’s open-world was there as a backdrop – to recreate the experience of driving to and from jobs, to break up the action, and to let the city of Lost Heaven become an unspoken character in the tale being told. With the addition of patrolling cops and having to obey road rules and speed limits, it felt quite unlike anything else. It also was tough as nails, with a notoriously frustrating race-car sequence.
Mafia: Definitive Edition retains the structure and feel of the original, so all that past tense talk over the past few paragraphs applies here too. You’ve got the same number of missions, the same entry-level mob jobs, the same heists, the same number of intermissions where Tommy tells Detective Norman his story. To explain why he’s willing to turn his back on a life of crime, to forsake one family to save another.
Played on the higher difficulty settings Mafia: Definitive Edition is as demanding as the original. That said, the new third-person cover-to-cover shooting feels like a step in the right direction, the right cinematic decision to make. Even if the animation and fluidity of movement is a little robotic and spotty at times.
With this Definitive Edition the framework is like-for-like, in some cases certain set pieces are just about shot-for-shot. But the brand-new visuals, the new technology, the new actors bringing the expanded story to life - it all brings so much weight to the checkered-cloth adorned table as to make the original feel like an important precursor. But a precursor nonetheless.
Above all though, in 2020, Mafia finally has the look to match its original vision.
It’s without a doubt stunning to look at, dripping in era-specific atmosphere, from the cars to the fashion to the buildings, the signs, the advertisements, to the way kitchens are arranged or how alleys and roadways intersect in a way where you can still see remnants of that transition from horse and carriage to automobile.
Stunning to look at, dripping in era-specific atmosphere, from the cars to the fashion to the buildings, the signs, the advertisements, to the way kitchens are arranged or how alleys and roadways intersect in a way where you can still see remnants of that transition from horse and carriage to automobile.
More importantly by focusing on a story that deals with crime, and the ramifications and senseless violence that has many era-specific historical reference points (but still feels very videogame-y in the sheer number of people Tommy ends up plugging), there’s a darkness to it all. Underneath the beauty, there’s a morality tale that slowly unfolds amid the sometimes overblown spectacle. An element that was present in the original but feels more prevalent and potent here. The ending packs an even bigger gut punch this time around.
Lost Heaven is still, at its core, a backdrop. There aren’t side-quests or little pockets of environmental storytelling to find. Outside of an okay but not amazing Free Ride mode that unlocks after you complete the first chapter, the first and now build-from-the-ground-up Mafia remake is a straight to the point crime epic that more than lives up to the original. It surpasses it. And if nothing else, I could drive around Lost Heaven for hours simply listening to the radio.