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Letters from the Front

The original Mafia launched all the way back in 2002 for PC, and released on the original Xbox and was ported to the Playstation 2 two years later in 2004. When it released, it commanded all heaps of praise for its gritty and realistic take on the formula provided by Grand Theft Auto III in 2001, which by contrast seemed goofy and less serious. Mafia felt like it emerged from the best minds within Hollywood in the early 2000’s, it was by far a Czech-made homage to American Gangster crime fiction. I’m happy that this game that I never played due to my age at that time has returned with modern day upgrades to elevate a grail of early 2000’s gaming. Due to its age, a simple remaster wouldn’t be able to cut it so 2K and Hanger 13 opted for a full remake of the original cult classic, painstakingly recreating the city of Lost Heaven and its characters from the ground up to create a daring experience that brings Depression-era America to life.

Set in the 1930s at the height of the Great Depression and the closing days of Prohibition, the age of Prohibition has come and gone and the lucrative business of bootlegging that provided so many with riches is now legal, Mafia follows Tommy Angelo, a Lost Heaven cab driver who, by chance, winds up helping the mob with a getaway now enters the Mob and begins a life that so few enter. The allure of riches, a higher-paid job seduces Tommy fast, who accepts the Salieri crime family’s invitation to join them as a driver for Don Salieri, hitman, and eventually a capo. He rapidly gets acquainted with big money, and even bigger violence as the Salieri family goes from underdog to one of the biggest crime families by the end of the decade.

The plot is familiar for anyone who has seen a good Mob movie: a romanticized vision of noble thieves, belonging to something that is greater than yourself, subverting the system for a chance at a better life but like all things, it comes at a price. The early 1930s and the Prohibition era created a perfect storm for organized crime across America, and like so many others, the Salieri crime family seized at that opportunity but by the beginning of the decade, the family is small and rusty due to the Morello crime family seizing every business opportunity and expanding their family across Lost Heaven. Like many other American Gangster films and true to the real life organization, the risks taken are too great to ignore and the problems become bigger, not smaller. As income grows, more risks are taken and Tommy is surrounded by more violence which engulfs him and his young family.

The way the story is handled is like a very good HBO 8 to 10 episode mini-series, it is truly top-tier and something that is expected out of a studio like Rockstar. In videogames, it is all too often that there’s a disconnect between the story being written and the story is presented on screen. Characters do what they’re intended to do and there is no disconnect between their actions and the story that is presented to us onscreen. Thankfully, Mafia sidesteps this and throughout its 15 hour experience, it’s like a very good TV series that has the potential to win an Emmy or a good flick that has a chance to win an Oscar for Best Movie solely based on the story.

Lost Heaven is a town filled with corruption and home to some of the most powerful crime bosses in the American Midwest and perhaps in the country, it features a variety of locations that makes it feel like a real city. The world isn’t designed to be an open world sandbox, as opposed to the likes of San Andreas in Grand Theft Auto or New Bordeaux in Mafia III, it is designed to serve as a backdrop to the overall story and relevant experiences like radio broadcasts, music, and conversations for immersion purposes and context. You won’t be running around the city doing side-quests, gathering cash and spending it at shops, or playing golf. This is a one-shot, extremely tight, choreographed experience. Lost Heaven is very detailed, though, complete with immersive lighting and reflections alongside immersive experiences like music from the era and radio shows from this particular time that makes the city come to life and transport you into the 1930s. I often found myself stopping before the mission checkpoint to listen to this great music that propelled such artists like Glenn Miller and Louis Prima to skyrocket in popularity in the next decade.

In terms of gameplay, Mafia leaves a lot to be desired. Mafia’s strengths isn’t here.

While most of Mafia is tight and a closed experience with an extremely satisfying story and ending, the gameplay isn’t there. While I do think Hanger 13 should have done more to open up Lost City and allow you to do things, especially after building such a gorgeous world that happens to be wasted due to the game itself and the way it’s designed to be. The game is very old-school and reminiscent of games from the early 2000s where you have a mission structure, where you’ll go from point A to point B where you’ll trigger a set-piece mission which you complete and go on to the next with a variety of different mission play styles that refreshes the experience, but, I wish there was a lot more to do with this great setting. Each of these are done well, but, those looking for bang for your buck, you might be disappointed.

Mafia’s gunplay is standard, although, it is stepped into realism with weapons swaying from side to side with the recoil being quite considerable, especially on Classic mode, which allows you to play the game as if you were playing the original Mafia. The gunplay is clunky and a variation of the gunplay seen in Mafia III which makes it kind of lazy in my opinion. The cover system isn’t the best either with Tommy coming out of cover every time you get shot which shows the combat may have been an afterthought while developing the game, which is understandable, as you’re playing for this narrative and not to feel good while shooting other mobsters. Additionally, Mafia suffers from 2000’s era game design where checkpoints were atrocious; this game has terrible checkpoints, where the game will save you at an disadvantage and you might have to replay a few sections. Also, fuck the racing mission.

While Mafia’s gameplay and gunplay doesn’t reinvent the wheel or reinvent anything at all, it doesn’t really matter as the story and characters alongside its immersion is the main point of this entire game. Mafia is a rare experience, we don’t get games like this anymore in the modern day, stuff like this is reserved for the likes of Red Dead Redemption or Uncharted. Mafia presents its story with untold authenticity and immersion, if you’re a fan of games like these, give Mafia a go around the carousal. You won’t be disappointed.

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