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The original Mafia had a famously difficult mission, Fair Play. It had multiple parts: first you stole a 1930s racing car, drove it across town without damaging it at all, and dropped it off at a mechanic's shop. He'd then sabotage the vehicle and you'd have to return it to the race track, again, without damaging it or being caught by the police. Even though you'd take out the car of the top racer, you'd then need to compete in the race yourself, only completing the mission when you'd won first place.
Fair Play was fraught with challenges, from avoiding damage in the first half in the game, to turning into a racing game in the second half - in a game that, while featured driving, wasn't pitched to racing game players. If you were bad at racing you could spend all day replaying that mission until you got it right. That's what happened to Mafia: Definitive Edition's game director, Alex Cox.
"I remember a very frustrating afternoon trying to beat the game," Cox says. "It was one of the first things that I did when I started working on Mafia 2 in 2007. My first assignment was to play the original Mafia and get familiar with the IP. It took me the best part of an afternoon to complete the race."
Cox admits that the level was deliberately frustrating, but that was very much the style of the time. "It was at that turning point from the 1980s and 1990s, [games had] more punishing design sensibilities. More modern game design rewards players and tries to support them with their overall experience, rather than trying to beat them." That shift is something that the team at Hangar 13 "were trying to address in the remake".
Every mission from the original Mafia has been remade in the Definitive Edition and, while they maintain the original flavour and key moments, have in some cases changed significantly. Fair Play is a great example of this, because stealing the car, sabotaging it, and the race itself all remain, but a lot of the frustrating moments have been smoothed out.
As you might expect, the first step in designing the remake was replaying the original game. The team "played the original game and called out the strengths and weaknesses of every mission". For Fair Play, that meant the extreme difficulty of the race, but also one the positive side, also the memorable moments and cinematics that make up the mission.
It's an important mission in terms of plot and game flow, Cox explains. "It's the first time jump in the game - the first four missions occur in 1930. And then this is a jump forward a couple of years into [your character] Tommy's criminal career. We wanted to show Tommy had developed as a gangster, that he's now an established member of the Salieri crime family. You know that he's now a trusted member, he can be given an important mission of his own. It's also an opportunity to interact with the other characters, show that he's built up a relationship with them."
The mission now closes on a scene where you're walking through the post-race celebration, trying to track down your drunk friend. You can talk to each member of the gang ostensibly to find out if they've seen Paulie, but you also hear how your win has helped them. "Giving the player the opportunity to talk to characters or interact with them in other ways, just wasn't possible or done in the original game," Cox says.
One of the biggest changes is actually easy to miss - despite being a long mission with lots of parts, it's much shorter than the original. "When we went back there were a lot of examples of redundant drives," Cox explains. "In 2002, Mafia was primarily a driving game. Just driving around in the city was cool and constituted gameplay, but that kind of 10 minutes of driving from A to B, watching a cutscene, and then driving to C, from a pacing perspective, wasn't really working so well when we revisited it." In the old game, you had to drive home after sabotaging the car, drive to the track the next morning. These have been cut out completely.
Another frustration in the original mission was that you had to avoid damaging the race car on the drive to and from the mechanic. This was the first time in the game you'd driven a car so fast, the ones you'd tried before were extremely slow to accelerate and heavy to handle. The speed of this race car was hard to control, meaning loads of restarts after clipping a lamp post or running into the back of another car on the road. "it was incredibly frustrating and challenging," Cox admits. "Also you're already restricted from damaging the car, it was already quite delicate. There wasn't really a need to put a bar on it as it was in the original."
The changes weren't only to make the mission less frustrating, the team also used it as an opportunity to add in new gameplay moments. For instance, after sabotaging the car in the original you just drove it back to the track trying not to hit anything. In the remake, the car's acceleration stutters, its axles are bent and swivel - the car's been sabotaged after all. "We tried a lot of different ways of creating a clown car. We did things like reversing the controls but most people hated it immediately." The car also has a gauge that shows your engine temperature - if you push the car too hard its engine will die. A change that adds a lot of tension if you get into a police chase...
Every mission has been streamlined, barriers have been lowered and new gameplay has been stitched in. Though, Cox does make clear that if you play Mafia: Definitive Edition on classic difficulty you will find the new missions to be similarly challenging.
Where the remake really sings though are in the tweaks to the game's story. In the original there's a mission called Lucky Bastard. You're trying to kill the brother of Don Morello, head of the city's other crime family. You make multiple attempts on his life, in one case bringing in out of town hitmen who try to ram the brother's car in front of a train. It's a great cutscene, reminiscent of the moment in The Godfather when Sonny Corleone is murdered. In the remake, though, it's been changed. Instead of out of town hitmen, the car is driven by Vincenzo and Sam, two members of the Salieri family. And they don't ram him onto the tracks, but are in the middle of a car chase when Sergio Morello jumps the tracks in front of the train.
"We wanted to keep that moment in there, where he evades a moving train" Cox says. "It's a reference to the original content, but we did it with different characters because one of the things we tried to do across the game was take characters that didn't have a lot of screen time in the original [and give them new scenes]. Sam, one of the trio of gangsters that hang around with Tommy, and plays a big role at the end of the story, almost disappears in the second half of the original game. So we found ways to include him and make him feel like more of the gang."
The same was true for Vincenzo, the weapons expert. "In the original game he sits in his little cupboard waiting for us to turn up and get the guns from him and pops up in a couple of cinematics," Alex explains. "We wanted to make it feel like this was a real, close associate of the family. That he does leave the Salieri Bar, and does other things on behalf of the crime family. You might not see them as a player, he might not be your wingman, but Vincenzo lives in the world, a dangerous gangster in his own right."
As I said in my review, playing through Mafia: Definitive Edition's campaign was a joy because so many of the changes are invisible but the game feels tighter for them. And the changes you can see, like the effect on the sabotaged car or the new story beats for the old characters, all make for a richer game. In a time when we're seeing so many remasters, it's exciting to see developers are able to return to games and improve them beyond simply their graphics.
Featured Image Credit: Hangar 13
Topics: 2K Games
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