I remember Mafia fondly. The emulated Chicago city sites, the story, and the mission structure were so much different to how they are now in your typical open world adventure, but I enjoyed it a lot. They were simpler times. Times when you weren’t swamped with myriad side missions and collectables, rather a dense story with a real focus on character progression and big story moments. Mafia: Definitive Edition turns its attention to how big games were back then, however, it adds a brand new sheen and some subtle new features that make it a must play amongst all the noise of the current-gen. Rebuilding it from the ground up was the best approach to take by Hangar 13, and these improvements are obvious from the start.
You play as Tommy Angelo, a cab driver who was in the wrong place at the right time. When two mobsters get Tommy to escape from a rival gang, it sets in motion a story that sees him go from a nobody to a Somebody. The mafia has always been intriguing to me. From The Sopranos to The Godfather, liking the characters always felt wrong, but it was hard not to. These gangsters were never seen as clinically insane or serial killers, but what they often did would straddle these boundaries. They would throttle a guy in a trailer park, cut up a body in a bath, or ply bodies with hundreds of bullets, then return home to a cooked meal with their families.
This curiosity had me hooked from the start of Mafia: Definitive Edition. Tommy is a likeable guy, and so to are the rest of the Salieri family. Vincenzo sorts out your firepower, but he’s a funny guy. Sam is the suave ladykiller, but he’s fiercely loyal. Paulie is a loose cannon, Ralph is the mechanic who just needs a hug, and The Don is a domineering figure who you respect, but would never cross. The family has a strong bond, and you walk into the middle of a war with a fellow gang, the Morellos. As the story progresses, Tommy gets in over his head, and whilst trying to juggle his relationship with Sarah and the pressures of being a gangster, it all gets out of hand.
Hangar 13 has added new story beats for a fair few characters, including Luigi’s daughter, Sarah. Originally a character that wasn’t really a focus has become fleshed out, and her relationship with Tommy is sweet. It offers a brief reprieve from the violence and brutality, allowing moments of charm and humour to disarm you from the threats of the Morello family. Whilst much of the overarching story has remained the same, there are characters who get given more time, helping to build the narrative beyond what was seen in the original.
The city of Lost Heaven isn’t dense with NPCs, and the streets aren’t bustling with life as they may be in Los Santos, but it was a different time in the 1930’s. Alcohol is the focus of prohibition laws, and the cops are around every corner. This constricted feeling always keeps you on edge, and even though it looks gorgeous, you are always looking over your shoulder. There are tons of cars to drive, and once you hijack a new one, it is added to your garage. It’s difficult to find a balance between high speeds and driving cautiously, as your average cars weren’t built for tazzing around the streets back then, however, Hangar 13 has nailed it.
To make sure you don’t break the law, you can press the Touch Pad to limit your speed, and with the fact that law enforcement are lurking around every corner, the need to be careful is a constant. When you do get into a high speed chase, pressing your foot down on the pedal often results in a satisfying race around the city streets, although it can take a while to get to grips with turning corners whilst driving fast. Mafia: Definitive Edition doesn’t have expert handling like in other games, but it does put a lot of emphasis on smart driving, slowing down going into a corner, and using the handbrake to transition smoothly between streets.
The first police chase I had took me a while to evade the law, but there’re icons on the map that you can head to, and these include ramps that once driven over will help to lose them or force them to crash. Driving isn’t all that exciting, more of a means to an end, but you aren’t supposed to be driving like a mad man, you are supposed to be driving like a made man. Motorbikes are a new addition, and they are a lot of fun to drive, especially when you are in the middle of a pursuit. Obviously, the handling varies, but once you’re used to the differences they can be a helpful option when you aren’t getting the speed you require.
When it comes to walking the streets or taking on a mission indoors, the controls could do with being a bit tighter. Climbing over crates and fences doesn’t flow as it should. When you are being chased, one wrong move can end in your death. The majority of missions when on foot offer a nice balance of stealth and all-out action. The cover system works great. A mission involving a shootout in a barn becomes a test of mixing up your cover whilst trying to take out waves of gangsters and police pushes you to utilise walls and hay bails to avoid being gunned down. Another mission that makes a great use of the cover system takes place in St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Avoiding gunfire whilst trying to blow away the enemy becomes a fast-paced cat and mouse jaunt where you need to shoot multiple gangsters whilst trying to hunt down one of the Morellos. These missions are tense, action-packed, and a test of your ability to both hide and shoot. Throughout Mafia: Definitive Edition, you’re always pushed to use these mechanics, and I enjoyed it every time. The story shines throughout the missions, and the cutscenes that precede and follow are excellent. The acting by everyone helps to make it believable, and that likeable charm of the mafia is always there; however, you also feel cautious and aware that these are very dangerous men.
Mafia: Definitive Edition oozes style and substance, harking back to a time when story was everything. The gameplay can be a little clumsy, but entwined with these awkward moments come excitement, with every mission feeling different from the last. I fell in love with Tommy and the Salieri family, but the way the story leads you through tense corridors littered with violence and intrigue keeps you hooked all the way through. Having the story told through flashbacks gives you a sense that maybe Tommy is safe, but not being entirely sure about what may wait in store once his chat with Detective Norman comes to a close leaves you on the edge of your seat.
Story is excellent
Lost Heaven looks stunning
Missions offer variety and tense encounters
Running and climbing can be clumsy
Driving isn't particularly satisfying