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The streets of Lost Heaven are a lot busier than I remember. People fill the sidewalks, the roads are thick with cars and trams. I feel like Brooks Hatlen after he's paroled in The Shawshank Redemption: "I saw an automobile once when I was a kid, but now they're everywhere. The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry."
Mafia: Definitive Edition is a complete remake of the 2002 original. It recreates all of the original missions and the open-world city they took place in, and it's so much more than a remaster. If you load up the original Mafia you'll find empty streets, short draw distances, and sparse pavements. In this remake, there's activity everywhere.
Rather than feel like a departure from the original, this hustle and bustle feels like a realisation of the 2002 game. I haven't played Mafia in maybe ten years, but in my head it looked and played like this remake.
Built on the tech Hangar 13 developed for Mafia 3, this remake does play a lot more like a modern open-world game. You can have your character Tommy stick to cover and pop out to fire at his enemies, or blind fire if you're low on health. In the original, combat was less elegant.
One of the biggest changes is also one of the smallest - the game has checkpointing now. The original Mafia was a very hard game, not just because it was easy to get killed in gunfights, but a death meant having to replay most of a mission. You could be in the final leg of an objective, just driving back to base, where if you hit the curb wrong and flipped your car, you'd be forced to replay the whole mission over again. You can now also play the game with a gamepad, which is a welcome change from trying to steer these Prohibition-era cars with the arrow keys.
When the original Mafia released in 2002 it was hot on the tail of Grand Theft Auto 3, one of the first third-person open-world games. Rockstar's city was filled with humour, violence, and sex. Illusion Softworks found a different path. Mafia had gunfights and sex, too, but it felt like a lived-in world instead of a game. Set in the 1930s, its heavy cars were slow to accelerate and crashed hard: if you could get up to breaking the speed limit, the city police would pull you over to pay a fine. Alternatively, you could take the subway or hail a taxi.
That all returns in this remake and, oddly, it now makes Mafia feel more in line with a different Rockstar game - Red Dead Redemption. Now, don't set your expectations too high, as Hangar 13's remake has not added in the wealth of side-missions and activities that populate Rockstar's western epic. But the spirit of period authenticity is the same.
While Mafia: Definitive Edition follows the same story of the original game and features all the old missions, they've all been tweaked and updated. Though, some of these changes introduce weaknesses while also solving problems. For instance, the game's opening mission - 'An Offer You Can't Refuse' - sees two of Salieri's men, Sam and Paulie, burst into your life while being chased by their rival, Don Morello's, men. The two gangsters force you at gunpoint to become their getaway driver. Once you shake Morello's men, Sam directs you to Salieri's bar and this begins your journey into the crime family.
The original version was a surprisingly hard first mission. While you're only chased by one carload of Morello's men, they're on your tail immediately and driving in a faster car. Your sluggish taxi struggles to get to 30mph and the whole time you're being rammed and shot at - with both you and your passengers taking damage easily. It's also surprisingly easy to flip your car, a mistake that will mean instantly restarting the mission. When you do get away you have to navigate to Salieri's bar using just a compass and street signs. Sam and Paulie will be telling you to "Step on it" and calling you a bad driver while you're trying to find your way through a city at night that you've never seen before.
The new version of the mission changes a lot. You're now chased by four carloads of gangsters and you lose them not simply by getting away from the AI, but driving to obstacles marked on your mini-map. When you drive to the obstacle spot a short cutscene plays, showing you weaving between piles of construction material and one of Morello's cars crashing as they try to follow you. You now also jump a bridge over the river to lose the tail - it's all much more action-filled than the original version.
The remake of this opening mission is a much more welcoming experience. You're getting tooltips for the controls, the gangsters giving chase are more forgiving, and the addition of a mini-map and route mapper makes navigating the city much easier. But, in making the mission more action-packed it also loses something of the low-key nature of the original. Also, the short obstacle dodging cutscenes feel a little tacky compared to simply escaping the car by using your wits and driving skills, like in the original version.
Though, that's my only real criticism. I've played through the first five missions of the Mafia remake and I've loved being back in the city of Lost Heaven, driving the same cars, walking the same streets, and listening to the conversations between characters I feel I know like old friends. It's easy to forget how these cars never looked this good, the incidental conversations I'm hearing are new lines of dialogue, and world I'm playing in has been reordered to be an easier city to drive through and navigate. Largely this remake has been handled with a deft touch and I can't wait to play the full game.
Featured Image Credit: Hangar 13
Topics: 2K Games
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