“Christ, I don’t know how everything got so balled up.”
“No one ever sees the hairpin until it’s too late. But you didn’t get handed a heater in the nursery, did you?”
“No. I was cab driver, back in ’30…”
In hiding, former mafia soldato Tommy Angelo (Andrew Bongiorno) meets with Detective Norman (Dameon Clarke) in 1938, hoping to gain immunity and protection for his family. To gain Norman’s trust, Tommy recounts his life of crime spanning the years from 1930 to 1938, as he rises from lowly cab driver to feared enforcer for the Salieri crime family against the Morello mob, leaving behind a trail of destruction and death across the city of Lost Heaven.
Coming from Hanger 13, “Mafia: Definitive Edition” is a full-on remake of 2002’s Czech cult classic, “Mafia.” Garnering acclaim for its story and cinematic presentation, “Mafia” spawned two sequels, “Mafia II” and “Mafia III,” the former being vindicated in recent years for its own strong story, while “III” caught flak for focusing more on repetitive side activities and having little in the way of mission variety.
After the polarizing reception for “III,” the folks at Hanger 13 have gone back to the franchise’s roots — a stripped-back, open-world and refocused approach to a gripping narrative campaign.
After years of period-piece open-world games largely being overrun with side activities and collectibles, “Mafia: Definitive Edition” feels like a breath of fresh air. Hanger 13’s stylish vision of 1930s not-Chicago combines with a character-driven story to deliver one of the best single-player experiences of the year.
First, combat comes through mostly well, with Hanger 13 tweaking the combat from “III” to reflect Tommy’s lack of military experience, meaning players will have to carefully control their fire, be it a Colt .45 automatic or a Tommy gun. Cover is also important, with Tommy being somewhat fragile even on the lower difficulties, though there is some clunkiness with how the game decides which cover he’ll stick to. Expect minor frustration at one or two points under heavy gunfire.
Still, higher-skilled players will have Tommy blasting and spraying with even the toughest of other protagonists, and it’s fun sliding into cover and then popping out to blast a Morello goon in the face with a shotgun.
Players may have some trouble adapting to the driving, however. While the cars control pretty well for the most part, they drive how one would expect them to given the time period — big metal boxes with tiny wheels and not much in the way to assist steering. These cars have weight, and sending them flying down the Lost Heaven streets will kick up sparks and damage them. These are roaring metal beasts, not smooth serpents.
However, the strongest aspect of “Mafia” is by far the story. While this may be a remake, this is still an impressively told story all the same. Largely presented through in-engine cutscene, the facial and character animations are incredible, with every actor lending strong performances. Lighting and direction is also strong, with heavy shadows and timed music oozing atmosphere.
Bongiorno goes all in as Tommy, providing this seeming everyman with a more charismatic and aggressive edge. While it’s hard to sympathize with him at some points, Bongiorno’s acting keeps him grounded and engaged as a central protagonist.
Characters also get some much-needed expansion — Paulie and Sam have more personality and feel more like original characters, while Sarah (Bella Popa), the love interest who originally popped up in exactly one mission, appears throughout the story to provide more emotional gravitas to her and Tommy’s romance. More characters are fleshed out in their interactions with Tommy, helping give this story its own identity.
This character focus is also assisted by the pacing — you won’t go very many missions without action, but the story knows exactly to take a breather and change up objections. One mission has you collecting protection, one has you partaking in a very difficult race, one has you fighting through a bootlegging job gone wrong and two times you’ll just be walking with another character, soaking in Lost Heaven’s atmosphere.
The music, consisting of licensed tracks and an excellent original score by Jesse Harlin, is also top-notch. Against the neat ’30s hits, Harlin’s orchestral score powerfully informs the game’s stylish but brooding atmosphere. There’s enough decadence with an underlying sinister tone to it, heightening the settings of the 1930s underworld.
Still, even with such a powerhouse presentation, this high-def remake ain’t without faults.
Admittedly, the open world, while gorgeous and excellently realized, feels sparse by today’s standards. Aside from breaking into cars, finding collectibles and getting into trouble with the law, there’s not much to do outside of the story in Lost Heaven other than sightseeing. While I welcome a complete lack of side-quest overflow, there is an argument for the world being more akin to an expensive stage as opposed to an explorable universe.
Animations are also somewhat stiff outside of cutscenes, which resulted in Tommy’s movements becoming wonky occasionally. This also extends to some minor characters’ mouths not moving, voice lines going from calm to suddenly angry, etc. Combat, while mostly well-done, isn’t much of a cut above average and pales in comparison to recent games like “The Last of Us Part II” and “Resident Evil 3.”
On PCs, there’s also the use of Denuvo Anti-Cheat, a user-unfriendly DRM meant to tackle piracy, which can tank the frame rate during gameplay. While it didn’t destroy my experience, it still knocked my FPS under 30, and I am sick as hell of publishers trying to justify piracy protection at the expense of players everywhere.
Regardless, “Mafia: Definitive Edition” is one of this year’s best single-players games and an excellent remake of a rough gem. While it may lack much to do in its open world, Tommy Angelo’s saga of crime stands on its own as both an awesome homage to mob movies and a fantastic addition on its own to the genre.
My rating: 3.75/5
Featured image: Courtesy Hangar 13