Video game remakes have become something of a recent trend in the industry. Whether it’s one of the litany of last generation games receiving touched up remasters for the current generation or beloved classics being completely remade for a modern audience, these nostalgic callbacks have proven immensely popular. Hangar 13’s Mafia: Definitive Edition is one of the most recent examples, and provides an excellent example as to how a remake can not only update an older game, but also expand upon it in logical ways.
The Mafia series has been through quite a few changes in its almost twenty year old existence. The very first game, Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven, released back in 2002 and immediately aimed to provide a grounded, relatable tale as opposed to other contemporary titles like Grand Theft Auto 3, which acted as a playground for players to cause chaos. As a series, it has never quite reached the heights of popularity shared by similar franchises, but the series remains well liked and respected nonetheless.
Illusion Softworks’ (who would later become 2K Czech) original game was followed up in 2010 with Mafia II, which continued its predeccesors trend of making the story the highest priority over open-world highjinks. Like Lost Heaven before it, Empire Bay served as a backdrop to Vito Scalleta’s tale, a setting in which one could immerse themselves rather than a playground to be let loose in. However, this philosphy seemed to change with Hangar 13’s 2016 debut Mafia III. While the story was as engaging as ever, the gameplay required to hit each story beat consisted of repetetive and monotonous district takeover missions done to death by other games, such as Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, already.
All of that brings us to Mafia: Definitive Edition, a complete remake of the 2002 original. Once again developed by Hangar 13 with the story penned by III’s Haden Blackman, Mafia follows cab driver Tommy Angelo as he falls in with the Salieri mob during the Prohibition era. Despite the shortcomings from Mafia III, it is clear here that Hangar 13 have taken feedback on board for this game’s development. The original game is used more as a framework rather than gospel, allowing the developers to expand and modernise Lost Heaven into something that plays like a game from 2020 instead of 2002. The overall gameplay has been mostly lifted from III, making the game a serviceable, if not particularly outstanding, modern third-person shooter. However, the linear, chapter based story means you often find yourself in unique encounters compared to III’s overabundance of open-world strongholds for you to take down. I found the game at its most enjoyable on its Classic difficulty setting, where gunfights became truly lethal and the police relentless in tracking you for every infringement, forcing me to approach every situation with thought and caution. Besides the narrative, Mafia III’s strength was its setting. New Bordeaux was an immersive version of 60’s New Orleans that captured the feel of the era near perfectly thanks to its varied locations and inhabitants. The developers have captured that same magic here in 30’s Lost Heaven, which is mostly inspired by Chicago.
The original Mafia’s Lost Heaven map was used as a template to redesign the city, adding more diversity to the city and making neighbourhoods distinct from each other. While the original’s city blocks may have blended together somewhat, here great detail has been put into every alleyway and street corner to better reflect the era. The poorer areas, like Little Italy, are crowded with the unemployed and homeless thanks to the Great Depression, as posters advertising cheap labour line almost every wall. As the story and the decade progress, billboards that once proudly announced that ‘Lost Heaven votes dry’ will be replaced by whiskey advertisements thanks to the end of Prohibition. Towards the end of the game, newspapers and radio broadcasts will begin to report on Hitler’s rise to power in Germany. All these details, which may seem fairly minor, still help to ground Tommy Angelo’s tale in a very real place in history.
Speaking of Tommy, his story has been expanded upon as well. It does not differ from the original in any way besides some minor details, but certain areas have been tweaked and changed a little to provide more context to his actions and to flesh out his character better. This is helped along by Andrew Bongiorno’s admirable performance. While the original Tommy (Michael Sorvino) had the persona of a mild mannered everyman, Bongiorno’s Tommy has something of a rougher edge to him right from the start, which makes his spiral into the world of organized crime a little more believable. Meanwhile, his love interest Sarah gets far more screen time than the single mission she had in the original. Here, she acts as the proverbial angel on Tommy’s shoulder — “don’t do nothin’ you don’t wanna be remembered for,” she reminds him at one point — which helps the player to better understand when Tommy eventually offers to sell out his former comrades to keep her and his daughter safe.
Recent video game remakes like Resident Evil 2 and Final Fantasy VIII have proven that there is a huge audience for these reimagined classics, and Mafia: Definitive Edition is no exception to the rule. Hangar 13 have done an exemplary job of bringing Illusion Softworks’ original title almost two decades into the present day to round out the entire Mafia trilogy on current generation hardware. Extra credit has to go to writer Haden Blackman for staying true to Tommy Angelo’s story, while expanding upon it in ways that only improve its resonance with audiences. After the lukewarm reception to Mafia III, this Definitive Edition has proven, at least to me, that Hangar 13 have the skills needed to realise immersive worlds and tell engaging stories through this medium.