This review contains mild spoilers!
On Sept. 25, Mafia: Definitive Edition was released, finally completing the trilogy of 2K Games’s re-released Mafia franchise. The fact this game was released last is ironic because chronologically it is the first installment of this series.
Mafia: Definitive Edition was originally slated to be released on Aug. 28, however, it was pushed back due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Originally, Mafia was released in August 2002 for the PC, only to be later ported to the Playstation 2 and Xbox by 2004. This means the game did not just require a few tweaks and new textures – it entirely needed to be rebuilt from the ground up.
I played Mafia when I was about ten years old, it was a game in my step-father’s stash that I wound up playing on his Playstation 2. But even with this said, there are literally no fond memories I have of playing the original game. Ultimately, the mechanics of driving were too hard for me to even complete the first mission before I gave up.
However, in 2015 I played Mafia II only to complete it within a matter of days. Around this time, Mafia III was on the verge of being released which I also played and enjoyed. Therefore, to learn that the first installment was being released and entirely redone was one of the happiest bits of news I heard in 2020.
As the game begins, viewers are treated to an utterly beautiful rendition of a fictitious take on Chicago (a city now called Lost Heaven) The viewpoint sweeps from the sea to the countryside to the inner city where the protagonist, Tommy Angelo, is shown having a secret meeting with a police officer. He tells the officer his story in hopes that he and his family can be protected and relocated.
Needless to say, the storytelling within this game is absolutely cinematic.
Before Tommy was a part of the mafia, he was merely a cab driver who, on one fateful night, encountered two injured mobsters that needed his assistance.
Rather than parting ways and continuing to lead a straight and narrow life, Tommy keeps in contact with these men and finds himself enthralled by the frivolous pleasures organized crime can give. At least, until he has the realization that he hates the corrupted, violent life he is leading.
In no matter of time, I became endeared to Tommy as a character which was a problem because he’s a dead man walking.
The epilogue of the game shows how the gang life Tommy strived to get away from inevitably catches up to him, as he is murdered on his front lawn during his elderly years. Not only that, but there is literally a level in Mafia II in which the objective is to murder him in a timely fashion. Having completed Mafia II so early on is exactly what caused me to know how Tommy’s story was going to end.
But nonetheless, Tommy Angelo stands out to me as being distinctly different than the two other protagonists of the Mafia series. Unlike the other main characters, Tommy was never involved with gang activity prior to his chance encounter nor did he have any close family members involved with organized crime. At his core, Tommy was merely an average civilian who was in need of money to survive.
He thinks that intimidating and harming others will come naturally to him as it does with his newfound friends. Ultimately, while Tommy can put up an excellent tough guy front, there are multiple times when he slips, such as hesitating to shoot an enemy on the verge of death and wanting to protect civilians from harm.
Paulie is Tommy’s best friend upon being initiated into the world of crime. Just one look at him in the first mission had me know that he was a character that was going to be relevant to the plot.
Paulie is interesting because on one hand, he serves as comic relief yet on the other hand, it is incredibly clear that he is a very sad, melancholic man who isn’t exactly at peace with his lifestyle. I came to enjoy his presence, as his nearly constant sorrow showed the players that this wasn’t going to be a happy game about participating in organized crime.
Similarly, the third party of this trio – Sam, carries that same sense of burden Paulie does in regard to his unwavering loyalty to the mafia. However, he is more level-headed and even shown to be a bit detached from Tommy, Paulie and arguably his own feelings, as well.
As early as the third mission in the game, Paulie describes Sam as being, “a lone wolf,” which isn’t simply a throwaway line. It is something important to remember by the story’s greatest turning point.
Tommy, Paulie, and Sam are led by Don Salieri who initially comes across as a noble with his first appearance in the game
Something I found immediately interesting is that Don Salieri’s voice actor does not possess a gruff, accented voice that someone may stereotypically link to a crime boss. It’s a soft, smooth – virtually accentless voice that I would associate with benevolent characters.
It is as though the game tried to establish him bearing a decent persona, despite being at the highest rank in the criminal underworld. During Tommy’s initiation, Don Salieri simultaneously asks for loyalty, just as he asks for Tommy to refrain from using profanity on the premises.
Not only this, Don Salieri’s conduct is the opposite of the other antagonist of the series, Don Morello. Don Morello is hot-headed and violent, and in a cutscene was willing to release his frustrations on a man who actually had not wronged him. Such details brought one to think Don Salieri led his organization like Don Vito Corleone of “The Godfather” franchise.
But, in the end, the image of Don Salieri is a ruse and his true nature is revealed to be ruthless and sociopathic.
Given this game’s genre, it should not come as a shock that there is abundant violence included. Sometimes to a shocking degree. For instance, my favorite level pertains to Tommy accidentally crashing an enemy’s funeral and consequently having a shootout inside the church much to the priest’s horror. Shortly after, there is an implication that Sam will murder the priest if he doesn’t stay silent about the situation.
Then, there is more grounded horror through other moments, like a powerful chilling scene where Tommy laces an automobile with a bomb – only to see the wrong person enter the vehicle. Or, where after Tommy kills a man, Don Salieri wants to ensure that their enemy is dead by repeatedly stomping on his face. Interestingly, the camera pans away before gore can be seen, as if sparing the viewer from the excessive brutality.
The gameplay is limited in terms of its structure, yet it doesn’t detract from its enjoyability. Players should not start the game with the hopes to shop and earn money for Tommy, because the story is linear.
Furthermore, going with this linear structure means that there are very specific ways you must complete levels. When given tasks that seem like taking advantage of an open world wouldn’t matter as long as the objective is done, you ultimately cannot get creative and wander. Otherwise, you will receive a warning that you are ‘abandoning the mission.’
However, the game never gets boring because the tasks vary mission by mission. Sometimes Tommy has to engage in a regular shootout, but other times he may be sneaking and taking out enemies in a stealthy fashion – and in one terrible, almost constantly panned mission, you have to engage in a race and come out in 1st place.
Something I noticed was that the cars in this game are not exactly smooth to navigate as opposed to modern vehicles in other video games. I believed this to be a realistic, if not somewhat annoying, feature.
There is an unlocked form of gameplay called, Free Ride that can be assessed through the main screen. In Free Ride, players can explore the city of Lost Heaven with ease and wreak havoc yet – there’s still nothing to do.
There are apparently a series of races implemented which can award you with new clothes and cars, however, on a personal level, this did not seem interesting.
The concept of family is always a theme within mafia-centric films and of course, this game touches on the importance of it. However, it is not in the way one may think. It shows that the beauty of organized crime is a façade, it shows that seemingly unbreakable friendships can fade and it shows that at the end of the day, one is better focused on improving themselves and finding strength in your real family.
Mafia: Definitive Edition is not a game that glamorizes organized crime in the least. It is gritty, heartbreaking while still being incredibly exciting to play due to its wonderfully crafted story. It’s not too long, it’s not too short, either. It’s just right.
Mafia: Definitive Edition – as well as its corresponding sequels, are all available for Xbox, PC, Switch and PlayStation 4.