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As I drive over Lost Heaven's great red suspension bridge, taking me to the city's central island, I'm listening to a radio broadcast of a Roosevelt speech about the plague of organised crime sweeping the US. Painted onto the side of a building in giant letters is a sign saying 'Lost Heaven Voted Dry'. The original Mafia, released in 2002, was always set in the time of prohibition and the rise of organised crime, but in this remake, the Definitive Edition, what was below the surface now bubbles up and enriches the world.
Mafia's 20-mission campaign is full of moments like the above where, threaded around the main action of the game, are environmental details that embed the fictional city of Lost Heaven and the crime families fighting over it into the wider context of American history. Protesters on the streets, shanty towns full of people left destitute from the 1928 financial crash, and evidence of the ties between police, politicians, and the mob.
The story is the same as the original game. You play a cabby, Tommy Angelo, who one night is forced at gunpoint to help two members of the Salieri crime family escape from their rival Morello's men. This starts a set of missions that draw you into the mob and see you rise in the ranks, becoming one of Don Salieri's most trusted men. You'll transport booze, silence witnesses, and take the fight to Morello to secure Lost Heaven for your new family. If you like gangster stories, this lovingly cribs from the best of them.
If you played the original Mafia you'll find every mission has been recreated. Each follows the same beats as the original, but they've been tweaked and updated. For instance, there's a mission called 'Fairplay' where you're trying to fix a race so your boss's driver wins and he and his friends make a mint on their bets. You steal the favourite's race car and sabotage it so that it fails on the starting line, giving a better chance to your own team's driver. In the original mission you went to the race track, stole the car, drove it across town without damaging it, dropped it off at a garage where they fiddled with the engine and then got it back to the track.
You do the same in the remake, but now when you're driving back, the car's engine will break if you push it too hard, and the accelerator and axles are broken so as you're driving the car weaves and shudders over the road, making it harder to control. It's not a huge change but it is an improvement over the original mission.
One major change in how the new game plays over the old is it is now a cover shooter, with Tommy able to duck behind crates and press up against walls to keep out of sight from his enemies. It means combat encounters are often now a case of getting into cover, popping out to headshot anyone who's trying to get a shot on you, and picking your moment to push forward and flank the AI. Everything works as it should, but the gunplay is where Mafia feels least special. Combat encounters are repetitive and straightforward. So long as you use cover well and make sure to conserve your ammo then you'll come out on top.
Back in 2002, it wasn't clear that Grand Theft Auto would become the genre-defining success it is today, and Mafia offered a different proposition. Yes, it was also an open-world shooter, but its story was more straight-faced, focused, and it played a little closer to a simulator than its rival. You could get tickets for speeding, the vehicles handled like the heavy steel boxes that cars in the '30s were, and the guns were much more deadly than those in GTA. In fact, while GTA stayed in the vein of an open-world game packed with jokes and bombast, in Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar looked to be following the Mafia model - trying to tell a serious story in a world that aimed for semi-realism.
Hangar 13 has kept the structure of the original game intact. You can freely explore the city, but it's in a separate Free Ride mode, while the game's main mode is a linear campaign of story missions. While it could have been good to see the two modes combined, much as we'd see in most modern open-world games, with members of the Salieri family appearing on the world map offering up missions to you, it's actually refreshing to play a game that is so much more straightforward.
The last open-world game I reviewed was Ghost of Tsushima, a game set in a beautiful world but bogged down with travel and an overwhelming amount of busywork. In contrast, Mafia: Definitive Edition feels lean, focused, and the story has much more impact as a result. It took me about 40 hours to get through Ghost of Tsushima's campaign, often because I would get distracted by things in the world map; whereas in Mafia it took me around 12 hours to play through all its missions. And with Tsushima I left the game wanting it to end, but with Mafia I left satisfied.
If you're a fan of the original Mafia then you should give this remake a try. It captures the spirit of the game while also making it a thoroughly modern shooter. If you never played Mafia, then this doesn't feel like a nostalgia project but a new game. The split structure of the story mode and open world may be unusual when lined up against its current competitors, but if you find yourself lost in large open worlds like Assassin's Creed and are looking for something that has more respect for your time, Mafia may be for you.
Pros: An open-world shooter that won't take 100 hours to complete
Cons: The shooting could have more impact
For fans of: Mafia, Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption
Mafia: Definitive Edition is released on September 25th for PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and PC. PC review code was provided by 2K Games. Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scoring system here.
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