Mafia 3 was one of the bigger challenges I faced in gaming. It is easy to judge a game that is either clearly very bad or outstanding. There are a few more problems with mediocre ones, but even they eventually show true face. Meanwhile, the debut of Hangar 13 turned out a bizarre mix of all those things. It was an unbelievably uneven game, in which strikes of genius mingled at every step with botchery and mediocrity. A worthy successor to the cult series and a black sheep at the same time.
With such ambivalent feelings about the debut of the Californian studio, I approached their next game with caution, especially since this time, they were stepping on sacred ground, approaching to remake the original Mafia. On top of that, the remake of Mafia 2, released a few months ago, was rather underwhelming in technical terms. Hangar 13 weren't involved in that remaster, but the sheer fact the game was released in such technical condition seemed to indicate 2K Games hasn't really learned any lessons.
Hence, my main motivation for checking out the reedition of Mafia was not hopes that it will be grand, but rather just curiosity – whether it's a flop or not. And, to be honest, the few hours spent with the game didn't really dispel my doubts. On the positive side – the creators seem to have taken a few notes, and most of the flaws of the third Mafia don't exist here. On the other hand, this remaster suffers some entirely new problems, including in areas that the third entry in the series actually managed to shine.
The version of the game I played included the entire map, the first five story missions (including the infamous race), and the tenth mission, with a trip to the countryside. Free riding was blocked, but I soon got the opportunity to deviate for a while and explore a little.
Although the new Lost Heaven has a few changes to the original version, most of the main roads or locations bring back the memories of years and years ago. Very wide streets with modest traffic, littered alleyways, ubiquitous brick buildings and the music from the period coming from the radio are enough to create a powerful The Godfather vibe, which was so impressive two decades ago. Some neighborhoods, such as Chinatown, have gained much more distinctive spirit and details setting them apart from the original.
The most significant changes were made to the suburbia. In the original Mafia, the only roads out of the city were empty and short, leading to particular locations, like the airport or motel. In the remake, the northern part of the map was greatly expanded and features a few of scenic routes. In addition to the villages known for their original, there are numerous houses, lakes, mountain areas – there's quite a bit to explore. Unfortunately, mostly by car, as most routes are barred with walls or bushes.
The new-old city wasn't disappointing, though it's not jaw-dropping either – the remake runs on the same engine as Mafia 3 and presents roughly the same level of visual performance. Aside from a few serious technical shortcomings and botching the general impression with things like the hilariously bad rear-view mirror (here, thankfully, abandoned), the then New Bordeaux could be a delight. The modern take is generally similar, and the city of Lost Heaven is just ok.
The old Tommy Angelo sleeps with the fish
One of the more troubling questions about the remake was the structure of the campaign – whether Hangar 13 would stay true to the linear design of the original, or whether it would again bring a slew of fillers, so popular in today's games (and so poorly executed in Mafia 3).
I have good news – in this respect the preview version fully corresponded to what we got 18 years ago. Though the city in Mafia: Definitive Edition is open, there are no side activities (save for some collectibles), and the main fun boils down to following the main story.
The story mostly faithfully recreates the events of the original, with the creators making numerous, minor adjustments. The dialogues have been re-written and, in my opinion, better outline the characters of the individuals and more clearly show the distribution of power in the underworld of Lost Heaven. The most ardent fans of the original may need a while to get used to the new character looks; the authors didn't even try to bring the old models up to date, instead creating them anew, and some of them look a lot different than in 2002. In my case, the hardest part was getting used to the new Tommy Angelo, the protagonist.
Missions have been improved, as seen already in the first playable sequence. Previously, it was a simple car chase – we had to lose the tail. In the remake, we also escape the thugs chasing us, but this time the map has been filled with all sorts of special locations, such as roadwork. We can drive into these to trigger short, spectacular sequences of road chaos and gain some advantage. This change made the task much more thrilling.
Another example is part of mission two, when we carry passengers – they have gained personalities, and during the course, Tommy chats with them. The "targeting" stage at the end of the tenth mission was also greatly expanded. In the original, sitting in the back of a truck, all we had to do was destroy a few vehicles chasing us; in the new version, the whole thing is heavily scripted, divided into sequences resembling those from the Uncharted series.
I think that the part of the game I tested shows quite well the vision of Hangar 13 – it small improvements of certain elements, large enough to be easily noticed, but not large enough to alter the feeling of the original. I like that. The problem, unfortunately, is the implementation of the various components of gameplay mechanics.
The hardships of gangster life
The game offers four levels of difficulty – in addition to the standard easy, medium and difficult, there's also a classic mode, providing an experience closest to the original Mafia. That's what I opted for and... Well, I quickly appreciated the ability to change the difficulty on the fly.
In simulation mode, all the distinctive elements of the original Mafia return, with police responding to minor offenses such as speeding or traffic lights violation. The famous race, in all its infamous glory, has been taken very seriously – harnessing our car is extremely difficult, let alone flawlessly completing three laps of a winding track with opponents. To be honest – I didn't really make it. After several attempts, I reduced the difficulty, gave up the simulation driving mode and only then was I able to win.
With the settings I selected, Mafia: Definitive Edition quickly ceased to be an easy game and became an actual challenge – even despite modern assistances such as a minimap and GPS arrows. Aside from that unfortunate race, I also struggled in the lead-up to it, I also had some problems with one of the gunfights.
In turn, the aforementioned "uncharted-ish" sequence from the end of mission 10 seemed pretty much broken – in this case, even the reduction of the difficulty level to "easy" did not help much, and only after I gave up playing with a gamepad in favor of aiming with the mouse, I managed to complete it. By the skin of my teeth. It's an element that's begging to be improved – on the other hand, my colleague had no problems completing this stage, perhaps because he was playing with mouse and keyboard.
The original Mafia offered a very distinctive driving model, allowing you to see empirically how different modern cars are from their grandparents. The vehicles were stiff, the worst cars seemed to barely have enough power to roll forward, and even in the best ones reaching 50 miles per hour was pretty much a death wish. In simulation mode, the remake quite nicely recreates the original stiffness and lack of grip, but fails in replicating the crawling slowness of cars.
Although the in-game speed-o-meter often indicates small values, for some reason, 30 mph in Mafia: Definitive Edition feels completely different than 30 mph felt in the original. Even the slowest vehicles seem to be moving around the city at a fairly high speed, and when you get to drive the fastest, it feels more like Forza than the early 20th century. However, all of the above criticism is based on the simulator mode. In the arcade variant, the ride no longer has anything to do with realism.
Despite these "unrealistic" speeds, driving in the new Mafia was the single element I enjoyed most. Driving classic vehicles is a pleasure, and the city is diverse enough to encourage travel. It's a bit worse if we leave the car.
The motorcycles are new in the Lost Heaven. Without the weight of comparisons to the original, driving them is quite pleasant and makes travel more varied. The missions available in the preview don't require using this type of vehicle.
Mafia 3 had many issues, but shooting model wasn't among them. The gunfights could become a little bit bland over time, but in general, the AI was solid, and individual weapons had enough of a kick. Thus it was all the more surprising that Hangar 13 actually seems to have flunked this element in the remake. Guns don't feel that powerful anymore. Enemies act very schematically, and for the most part I just ducked down in one corner and waited for all the enemies to walk into my fire. In addition, hand-to-hand combat feels crude and artificial. Well, it's not good.
The sneaking sequences don't fare much better – enemies are silly and predictable, so coming from behind and activating ugly execution animations doesn't cause much trouble. The only difficulty is that, unlike in Mafia 3, here, we can't see their positions through the walls, so we have to be a little more careful.
On the up side, we have to count the very good technical condition of the game. The preview version performed better not only than Mafia 3, but also than most contemporary releases. I didn't see any freezes, in never kicked me to the desktop. There weren't any glitches, bugs or weird weather effects. In addition, it was solidly optimized and ran on high details on my, not the most modern, PC. Actually, I did encounter one freeze, when I was... setting the brightness. Besides, there were no major hiccups. Given the misdeeds of the previous installment in the series, the condition of the remake is laudable.
An offer you can't refuse? Definitely worth considering
That's what Mafia: The Definitive Edition is, at least in the preview version. It's true to the original in the most important elements, but at the same time it's not afraid to make both major and minor improvements as required. Visually unassuming, but also not ugly and – importantly – polished technically. Eliminating most of the sins of Mafia 3, but adding a lot of new ones as well. Slightly deviating from modern standards in terms of mechanics.
I was hoping that after a few hours of fun my doubts would be dispelled, but unfortunately, it didn't really happen. At the moment, however, I believe that Hangar 13 is on the right track to actually rising to the occasion. That we won't get a technical abomination this time, which will only start to look right after months of patching.
I have doubts, however, that it will feel like a genuine, modern game. Attempts to modernise the gameplay will amount to nothing if the basic gameplay elements like shooting and sneaking won't be compelling. For the moment, Mafia: Definitive Edition promises to be far better than Mafia 3, but there's still a lot of room for improvements.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Being a huge fan of The Godfather (both the films and the books), I have huge respect for Mafia. I think the first part is a timeless classic, the second was underestimated because it remained true to the original, and even in the third part, although very problematic, was, at least for me, an overall positive experience – especially today, when the worst technical problems were eliminated, and the free DLC added fun side quests, which that installment desperately needed.
In order to reduce the impact of nostalgia on my reception of the Definitive Edition, in the last few days, I have refreshed some of the first missions of Illusion Softworks' classic, and returned to Mafia 3 to complete the DLC missions.
Last update: 2020-09-04
Michael Grygorcewicz | Gamepressure.com