Mafia: Definitive Edition is a fascinating time pill that not just lets gamers experience Tommy Angelo’s increase in an ersatz ‘30s-period Chicago called Lost Heaven, however will likely influence higher gratitude for how far the market has actually come given that 2002. Hangar 13 has actually restored the almost 20-year-old video game, bringing the visuals approximately modern requirements and including a couple of quality-of-life improvements while eventually appreciating the original’s core style. It’s an exceptional method, however then you need to really play the damned thing.
The early Mafia video games utilized their open worlds in a different way than their rivals, with cities that aren’t actually interactive play grounds, however are more comparable to movie soundstages. You’re totally free to remove from the next story beat and check out side road and back roadways, however don’t anticipate to discover much in the method of optional activities or fascinating tricks. Instead, the narrative relentlessly drives you forward, with the end of one chapter propelling you right into the start of the next. Need to catch your breath? Too bad! It’s an fascinating approach, and one that I’d probably enjoy more if the story was more engaging. Unfortunately, Angelo’s tale is disjointed and boring, with time skips that undermine how you’re supposed to feel about the relationships that he apparently builds over the years.
Angelo’s story is told in flashbacks as he’s going over his past with an investigator. He starts his rise as a taxi driver pulled into the mob by happenstance, then becomes the victim (and participant) in all the intrigue, backstabbing, and capers you’d expect. There’s a fascinating tale in here somewhere, but the timeline moves so erratically that I never felt connected with Angelo’s plight as a man caught between loyalties. We meet his eventual wife and are told that they love each other, but their interactions are so lifeless and sparse that Angelo’s eventual speech about the importance of family feels hollow and unearned. The newly recorded voice performances are solid, but inconsistent. Some characters, like Angelo and Don Ennio Salieri, give understated, naturalistic performances. It’s jarring to hear them interact with characters like Paulie, who gives his lines a livelier (and occasionally hammy) read. Sometimes, it felt like these characters had been yanked from different stories.
Nearly every mission predictably ends in a hail of gunfire; it’s a gangster story, after all. In addition to tossing molotovs and filling the air with bullets, I also hurled a consistent stream of profanity at my television. The gunplay is simply terrible, with weapons that feel sluggish and underpowered. It’s not uncommon to dial in several headshots before an enemy registers the damage, flopping to the ground in a dramatic ragdoll flop. Rival gangsters glide between cover points like Fred Astaire on ice skates, or pop in and out of safety in suicidal frenzies. Melee combat is even worse, with successful button-mashing rewarding you with canned finishing-move animations that look like hokey fight choreography from a middle-school production of West Side Story. And woe to those who trigger one of these unskippable animations in the middle of a battle. Enemies may be able to shrug off your bullets, but you’re not so lucky.
Ultimately, it’s difficult to shake the very real feeling that you’re playing a relic from a bygone era. There are some set-piece moments, such as busting down a warehouse door with a rail car or escaping an abandoned prison, but the thrills that they may have once offered are brought down by the subpar gameplay you’re stuck with once the smoke clears. The worst examples are the times when you’re forced into stealth sequences. There are only a few of these sections, thankfully, but the “raise the alarm means game over” failure stakes make them more about frustration than in building tension.
The original Mafia was well-received at its release, and I’m sure a lot of people remember it fondly. For me, it’s something that’s most likely best seen as a foundational statement in a series that got better over time and subsequent entries. As part of the Mafia trilogy, it’s a fascinating footnote on what came prior to. As a standalone video game that can hold its own versus contemporary titles in the open-world category? Fugetaboutit.