Mafia: Definitive Edition review – a generous remake that still shows some age

September 24, 2020
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Wailing jazz on the radio. Sumptuous, glossy cars on the road. Opportunity in Tommy Angelo’s eyes. There are times, in Mafia: Definitive Edition, where you might wonder if the Great Depression was really so bad after all. Such is the luxury and imbalance of Hangar 13’s remake, a top-to-bottom effort that is at times gorgeous – to look at, to listen to, to be in, occasionally to play – but more often muddy, never quite knowing what it is, or really getting the more dated of Mafia 2002’s ideas out of its own way. The result is a compellingly awkward, sort of doubly-effective flashback to another time.

Much of the original Mafia has changed. Lost Haven, Illinois, the definitely-not-Chicago in which Mafia’s set, has been drastically reimagined. Headline changes include taller skyscrapers to be more true-to-era; re-directed roads to vary up your journeys; re-designed districts like Chinatown and an entirely new, rural region to the north of the city. And it’s a devilishly pretty thing, when it wants to be: neon signs refracting across its storm-washed streets at night, sunlight off the glistening chrome of those good ol’ classic automobiles, beings of themselves, all roaring, phallic engines, screeching tires and erotic curves.

And I could talk forever about that radio. A wondrous device, carrying the weight of this game’s world on its back and jabbing at the heart of the decade’s contradictions, the carnalism of the ’30s that rubbed against the puritannical. Mafia’s is a world built on hypocrisy, built through the Weimar-esque bursts of mid-depression creativity that were swing and dancing jazz that blare, between imperious political decrees and preaching reports, from police chiefs, governors, presidents, lecturing on citizens’ own responsibility for rising crime. We talk of world-building often, but it’s rarely done like this. Rare that you sink into a world solely through its actual, environmental sounds, and again so rare that it’s through these sounds, the crooners over the car’s speakers and arooogas of their horns. Even then, you hear swing and jazz in a video game and think ‘apocalypse’, dead worlds and rotten cultures, thanks to Fallout or Bioshock or the like. Mafia’s sounds give life.

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