How does the remake compare to the original and is it worth the money?
It’s strange to look back at a title you played in your youth and see it was released in 2002. It’s then doubly hard to accept that this was the best part of twenty years ago.
While it’s easy to see that nostalgia is a powerful drug, actually sitting down and replaying a game can show you a number of things. Maybe you want to put a positive spin on it and enjoy how far graphics and game engines have come. Or maybe you want to gaze in horror at what you once considered the very cutting-edge and pinnacle of game development.
Remasters and remakes seem to be very much in vogue over the past few years and the motivations that drive these companies is sometimes up for debate. Thankfully, the shameless cash grabs to squeeze another few pounds out of the old audience seem to be few and far between. Most are loving re-imaginings of a classic that the team clearly care about.
Before we even get fully into the reasons why, I can assure you right from the start that Mafia : Definitive Edition is very much the latter and hopefully I can help you understand why.
Developed by a predominantly Czech team and released in 2002, the original game was a masterclass in how to draw a player in. The storylines are engaging, the feel is authentic and the soundtrack is phenomenal. Prohibition-era swing style track were the backing track to all of your exploits.
The vehicles handled maybe a little too believably and had top speeds to match – it felt as though you were sliding a tank around for most of the time – but the main appeal of the game was arguably the story. You play the part of Tommy Angelo, a cabbie who finds himself involved with the mob after picking up two made men one evening and seeking them out again the following day to avoid retribution from an opposing outfit. As you become more accustomed to the life, you fall deeper into the day to day activities of a gangster with all the expected boxes ticked – car chases, gun fights, boring routines that never go to plan – and it all hurtles at breakneck speed towards a conclusion inside of the city of Lost Heaven.
While this is an extremely succinct recap, what we are really here to look at is the modern remake, but hopefully this is enough to give you a flavour of the gameplay and feel that led to this game being a resounding financial and critical success, spawning two sequels in the following years.
Now we jump the best part of two decades (as hard as that is to accept for this writer) to the remake that was released towards the tail end of 2020. As I stated right from the outset, there is a lot to love here and not much to fault, so we may as well get the small niggles out of the way.
As we have come to expect with modern games and the huge advancements in technology, the graphics and details are miles ahead of where the source material was. Anything less than this would be pretty appalling. The city now re-imagined with small changes to place names and tweaks here and there. Most of which serve as a nod to returning players rather than jarring corrections that throw you off.
However, especially during the cut-scenes, there are some strange choices in terms of animation style that don’t seem to fit with the technical capabilities that a game of this stature clearly has. It’s not an easy complaint to really nail down. Some combination of artistic choice and technical implementation lead to either a slightly dated look to these awkward interactions or just an area that was rushed through. In terms of overall game enjoyment however, this is absolutely a nit-pick and shows just how good the rest of the experience really is.
Where the graphics and engine really shine is with the motor vehicles that you can acquire, steal or drive in missions: – The number available is far expanded from the original. New types such as motorbikes have been added, giving the player far more choices and extra incentive to explore the massive map.
The gameplay has adjustable difficulty settings to suit any skill level. After storming through it on normal to get my nostalgia fix, I cranked it up to “classic” difficulty which emulated the tough-as-nails experience of the original. And the memories soon came flooding back.
Smart use of the cover system is an absolute requirement if you are to have any hope of surviving a lot of these missions on the higher difficulty, as is weapon and ammunition management. On this difficulty, if you reload a clip with ten bullets still in it, guess what? You’ve lost them now. While realistic, it does take a bit to break the habit of reloading before you have to in the hopes that you can squeeze by with just enough bullets left to see off the enemies.
Some of the driving missions that caused great difficulty were still as brutally difficult here. The two missions around the racetrack (involving stealing the car ahead of time to alter and then winning the race) are still white-knuckle one-mistake-and-you’re-done-for experiences and it does border on being too challenging at points, but the satisfaction when you finally see them off is well worth it.
(For any returning players hoping to cheese the race with a nifty re-spawn glitch that featured in the original game. I’m afraid you’re out of luck. There is now no other way to win except grinding out attempts.)
The city of Lost Heaven and surrounding areas where the gameplay takes places is truly enormous. Outside of the story mode, you can explore it at your leisure using the “Free Ride” option. There are plenty of secrets to unlock around the map as well as many collectibles. These exist inside and outwith missions and add a longevity to the gameplay to such and extent that I very much doubt anyone would be able to snag them all without a guide.
As well as opportunities to explore, there are special free-ride missions that can be completed. They are a little quirkier and exist as stand alone experiences to enjoy. With experiences such as alien invasions and a car that requires you to refill it at every single petrol station (which function in this game) it feels as though Hanger 13 – the remake developers – were having fun in this mode and it is every bit as enjoyable as the main game.
While the story is once again the main appeal here and not much of it has changed, it is worth noting that almost every element within this remake is implemented perfectly and gives you reason enough by themselves to play this game. From the police stopping you and letting you off with a fine for minor traffic offences to the sometimes mundane chores of an otherwise hardcore gangster, everything about Mafia : Definitive Edition draws you in and makes you feel as though you are really experiencing the life of Tommy.
A second shout out to the soundtrack may seem excessive but it really can’t be overstated how good it is. Any fans of electro-swing will probably find the original tracks that have been remade somewhere on the radio here. Fans of The Godfather and Goodfellas will get a sense of familiarity with the interactions between characters and the storyline elements while players who enjoy the GTA series will recognise the appeal of the open world freedom that free ride offers.
All in all, this remake is a beautifully implemented and perfectly imagined effort that far exceeds even the highest expectations that any returning players could have had.
Hats off to Hanger 13. A very solid recommendation for all.
If you enjoyed our review then leave a comment below or leave your own rating.
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