Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
Genre: A remake of a story-focused GTA 3 clone that isn’t really a blatant copy

The 2002 action game Mafia borrowed a few open world bits here and there from Grand Theft Auto 3 back in that particular post-2000 heyday, but became a cult favourite because its focus was on its gripping tale of one Tommy Angelo who tried to make a living being a hired goon during the final years of Prohibition in the 1930s set in a fictional facsimile of Los Angeles. While revolutionary at the time and championed storytelling and narrative in games (machinima) alongside titles like Half-Life and the first StarCraft, its tropes and design did not age well over time. No checkpoints, strict health system, even worse law enforcement curbing if you so much as drive above 40mph; this gameplay will not stand in a decade filled with advancements from titles like Witcher 3 and the subsequent Grand Theft Auto sequels.

Developer Hangar 13, who are obvious fans of the franchise thanks to their past two offerings, decided to remake the first game for this year’s generation of gamers. However, they’re equipped with the common sense to axe what didn’t work back in the early 2000s, meaning this remake feels like a brand new game to many. For the most parts, this remake succeeds in entertaining action game fans who want to go back to the bygone 30s era of lawlessness and machismo.

Once Upon A Time In America

The plot for 2020’s Mafia remake is about the same: it’s still the rise and (sorta) fall of Tommy Angelo as he works for Lost Heaven’s Salieri family, knee-deep in a turf war against the Morello family as it escalates beyond just shipping out alcohol in speakeasies. You’ll start out driving and wrecking cars in rival gangs, to even pulling off a hit in a gentleman’s club, and the game looks gorgeous doing so.

While the daytime scenes and open-world meandering bits are just passé, the game’s aesthetics truly shine when you’re in the main locations of the mission. The aforementioned gentleman’s club, the old-school ship featuring a private party of an important figure you’re killing, and even a farmhouse with outpouring constant rain: all of them ooze both a timely decor of its period and a sense of authenticity.

The plot beats are almost identical to the 2002 game (which you can get a wiki summary online), but fleshed out with better voice acting, cutscenes, and new dialogue to make it more believable and serious. In your 10-hour journey to mafiadom, you’ll remember Tommy’s words of wisdom, mafia goons Paulie and Sam’s shenanigans and banter, and even side characters like the tough love interest Sarah and the hot-headed villain Don Morello.

Gangs West Of Not New York

The game itself consist of a lot of shooting, punching, and driving, all of them handled adequately. If you’ve played any third-person cover-based shooter where your main character’s can sorta regenerate and all guns hit super-hard, you’ll be right at home here. Your arsenal consists of tommy guns, shotguns, revolvers, and molotovs; simple but sweet. The challenge lies in you surviving mafia goons, scavenging weapons when you’re only left with a pistol for most situations, and surviving. It’s not exactly mind-blowing, but it’s challenging and works within the context of the narrative flow.

What I truly love about this remake is that Hangar 13 does not waste your time razzling and dazzling you with its mix of gameplay and narrative. Adding some car-chasing and hunting time just to liven up the pace, the main campaign will only take up 10 hours of your time. The missions are varied and updated from the original; one moment you’re driving in a Hearst out of the cop’s way in a thrilling assassination mission, the next you’re playing a defense mission in a farmhouse where you’re supposed to be getting Canadian whiskey from new suppliers.

There’s even an abandoned prison maze where you have to climb up, kill a guy with a high-powered sniper rifle, and then get out before the cops overwhelm you. New missions include you hunting down Don Morello’s right-hand man in a series of car chases and gun fights; while not exactly a big leap in innovation, it’s still a welcome mission to keep the game’s runtime at a moderate pace. Oh, and you get motorbikes to ride on too. They’re fast and handle as you would expect, but with faster cars that take a good amount of damage available, why would you willingly hijack one? To each their own, I guess.

The design and pacing of these missions are fun, provided all you’re looking for is some sweet cover-based third person shooting action with some chase sequences in-between. Hangar 13 basically fixed the problem of Mafia III, which had a great story but tiring gameplay, by cutting out the fat and just focusing on the story. And also comes equipped with a great RM129 price to boot.

Of course, if you really want to explore the 1930s at your own time, you can play the game’s Free Ride mode and get to hunting cars down for your collection. You can also use the race track option and beat your own times on the derby course. No need to drive from point A to B getting to these; just quit to main menu and select the option at the start.

Speaking of skipping driving sequences, you can do just that in the story campaigns; at least the bits where they’re non-essential. You may want to stick around for a bit to hear additional context and story from the folks you’re driving with, or hearing news of your latest crime, but after a few minutes, you’re fine skipping them. You still need to drive in mandatory bits, but the checkpoint system is very generous at its default difficulty.

Charleston Chewed-Out

As fun as reliving the 1930s era is in video game form, Mafia is filled with a number of immersion-breaking bugs. So far, I’ve encountered cars phasing through Tommy’s cab during key cutscenes, my Hearst flying from a hill and suspended in the air during a chase scene, and the screen blanking out on me mid-gameplay. My experience has been smooth barring these bits, though your mileage may vary. I also notice these bugs cropping up the longer I play this game past the 5-hour mark, so do keep that in mind.

Also, it’s clear that Mafia is made for the consoles, because keyboard mappings for the keyboard & mouse setup are terrible. Who the hell uses awkwardly-placed mappings for sneaking and meleeing in an action game? This just made me say “screw it” and just plugged my Xbox One controller; everything went smooth sailing after that.

Challenge-wise, the game mixes modern and 2000s action design and tropes, for better or worse. It’s way easier to escape from the cops than last time. Enemies can take more than two headshots. Explosions from inflammable props have bigger hitboxes than you would think and they instant-kill you. In certain chase sequences, even when you caught up with your target and shot him, the game proceeds to the next cutscene where your target is alive and well, breaking all sorts of immersion if you’re hoping to end that segment quick. It doesn’t feel consistent at times, but the overall action entertains with its setpieces and challenge.

Protip: if you want a decade-old level of challenge, play classic mode and turn off aim assist. Just try it once. Then go back to playing the remake to remind you that it’s better to let the devs balance the difficulty so that it isn’t cheap, unfair, and time-wasting.

The Mafia remake makes the original 2002 title obsolete by improving and upgrading everything, which is the whole point. Archaic gameplay, tropes, and controls are refurbished to make the new game and its cast all the better while preserving the core of Tommy’s rise and subsequent fall in the game’s thrilling narrative. Seeing as there aren’t any period piece games set during the prohibition era that isn’t turn-based and paced horribly, this Mafia title is the way to go to get those jollies sated.

Hopefully this redemption arc is enough to warrant the studio to take another shot in an actual Mafia sequel.

Pros

  • Great story & production values.
  • Good action & driving segments.
  • Optional open-world features.
  • Much-needed quality-of-life options like skip drive mode.
  • Aesthetics are mostly polished…

Cons

  • …though some weird bugs crop up.
  • Default keyboard controls are terrible.
  • Some 2000s gameplay & mechanics can be exploited.

Final Score: 80/100

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