Back in 2002, Mafia offered players a chance to explore the criminal underground that took a grip of America during the prohibition. Now players can go back, with everything getting a fresh coat of paint and better visuals.
Mafia Definitive Edition plays and looks like an open-world game, but what Mafia does so differently from all these other titles is it keeps focused on the story at hand. Sure you can drive around the city of Lost Heaven, but you won’t find much to do except enjoy a drive in a 30s muscle car.
You play as Thomas “Tommy” Angelo, a taxi driver who finds himself suddenly driving a pair of goons around after their car crashes. So begins a long, often improbable sounding journey as you go from cabbie to mafia hitman.
You never forget your cabbie roots though, and a lot of your time is spent driving around the city, taking people to an objective or driving away from cops. Get ready to spend a lot of time behind the wheel, taking in the sights of Lost Heaven and enjoying your radio.
Thankfully, the radio is an absolute pleasure for these drives. A lot of the story is told by the news broadcasters, who outline the political climate, the crimes that the two major families have a hand in and the like. It sets the mood so well, and gives you a lot of information while you focus on driving properly and not attracting the attention of the cops. If only the other people on the road wouldn’t react like I am breaking the law all of the time.
Back in the 30s there weren’t many traffic lights and it seems like most major intersections were just a four-way stop. But sometimes it feels like the AI messes up and cars start driving at the same time from different sides, leading to very close shaves. Getting through an intersection without breaking the law felt challenging, as almost without fail someone would hoot, flash their lights at me or shout at me for not knowing how to drive.
Thankfully there are difficulty options that can make the cops a little less eagle-eyed as to you breaking the laws of the road, because I never really worked out when it was my turn to use an intersection, or why everyone has to stop when a tram stops in the middle of the road.
Even with all the effort of making Lost Heaven look good, there are still many elements that just scream older game as you play it. One of these is the melee combat, which feels clunky and unfulfilling as you only have a dodge button and a punch button. Moving into and out of cover can be sticky, and I died too many times to grenades that I couldn’t move away from fast enough because getting out of cover and away from the explosion is just too much to do in the small amount of time you have.
The game also has a habit of forcing you do to very certain things without explaining them completely, and ending the mission if you don’t follow instructions. On one mission I was tailing someone and told to park out of sight. So I drove to the marker and parked there and the mission failed, forcing me into a long load and replaying from the last checkpoint Turns out I had to drive through the checkpoint into between two barriers to trigger the cutscene before the next part of the mission started.
One small addition that I did enjoy was adding a ramming button to the driving. You end up in a lot of car chases in this game, and the ram button gives you a small boost of speed and fine control of your car, letting you smack someone into oncoming traffic or off the road. It lets you take a much more aggressive approach to dealing with other vehicles, instead of just driving fast and finding the various spots on the map that will help you lose your tail.
One of the more interesting parts of Mafia is the structure of the story. The game starts with you talking to the police in a dingy diner, making a deal. Then the story jumps back eight years to show your early days of joining Don Salieri’s crew and the friends you end up making. The game jumps between the diner and Tommy’s retelling of the story, and you spend a lot of time wondering what it is that caused him to go to the cops. It is a clever way to add tension and has you watching carefully as the various movers and players enter Tommy’s life and the various situations that lead him from lowly cabbie to one of the don’s big players.
Mafia won’t give you a wide open-world to explore and do a bunch of side missions in, but the trade-off is that you get to enjoy a story about family, friends, the mafia and how prohibition allowed a few very shrewd individuals to take over some of America. The main campaign takes around 10 hours to complete and after some of the bigger, busier open-world games of the last decade, getting a full story experience in a fraction of the time.