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Mafia (2020): A refreshing crime caper that earns the Definitive subtitle.

So what is this game?

It's a third-person crime-sim set in a 30's city of Lost Heaven, based on Chicago. There are car chases, shootouts with tommy guns, and a spot of the old stealth.

The story is about Tommy Angelo, a cabbie who gets sick of his crummy job so he throws his dapper hat in with the Salieri mafia family. Tommy is an ace driver, shooter, and thief because he's controlled by yours truly, the player. However in time the gangster lifestyle sours on Tommy and he has to make a deal with the feds. The entire game occurs as a flashback as Tommy recounts his criminal career to a detective in a cafe.

Is this an old game or a new game?

The original Mafia came out in 2002, 10 months after another game called GTA III. Thus, it took no inspiration from that title and approached the crime-sim genre from a completely different angle.

What I can say about Mafia 2002 is that the story and presentation is praised. But the gameplay? Aged as bad as every other 3D open-world game from the PS2 era. Checkpoints are few and far between and in combat your character has to do a weird squat if he wants to aim.

Mafia 2020 is a full-blown remake of the original. It uses the engine of the critically mixed Mafia III and recasts the entire voice line-up. The script is rewritten, and several characters are expanded upon. Tommy had a wife in the original game who straight up disappears after her debut. Here she is a relevant presence throughout. The only omissions from the original are a minor NPC and a rather silly looking sex-scene.

The game is a solid mid-tier AA title sold at 40 bucks, so don't expect a massive ground-breaking experience fueled by the blood of polish cyberpunk people and adorned with the flayed hides of Rockstar staff.

Is this like GTA?

Despite some surface-level similarities this is not GTA. The main campaign is a story-heavy 20 missions that occur sequentially. You only free-roam in a separate game-mode. There is no upgrade-system or RPG elements, nor any kind of economy. It's pretty old-school.

GTA III had a mute-protagonist who goes on random adventures that crib heavily from Scorsese, Mann, and The Sopranos. A standard GTA plot starts with your character being betrayed, only for him to spend the next 20 hours doing odd jobs for random people, then for him to circle back and kill that treacherous dickhead from the beginning which he could have done at any time. Basically, the plot was rubbish and disposable, but the open-world gameplay was revolutionary.

Mafia has a much richer and structured story that has a beginning, middle, and end. We follow Tommy and his rise and fall in the Salieri family. We have a consistent cast of characters, most of whom end up in the ground but all figure big on the screen before then. Tommy is the likable but cold-blooded crook. Paulie is the hot-headed muscle. Sam is the grump. Salieri is the affable don. Morello is the less-affable don who beats a man to death with a tire-iron in public.

Every aspect of the game is in service to the setting and the story. The entire experience is on-rails, and I had no issue with that, because this is not meant to be a free-form explode-athon.

What's this about a racing level?

Okay, so like in the original there comes a point early on where you have to substitute for a racing champion. You have to compete against a dozen other guys and, despite having no rally training whatsoever, you must come in first place to progress the plot. The car you drive handles like a guy, who could stand to lose a few pounds, balanced on a single roller-skate atop an oil-slick at an ice-rink.

This section blows since no level before or after is like this. Know that if you're frustrated you're not alone, and you can just drop down to Easy Mode for this one bit.

So what's great about this game?

Technically there's nothing outstanding about any one part of the game. Every part of it you will have seen elsewhere. There are driving-sections and car-chases. You have cover-shooting. You have stealth. But it's all put together so well. No one section drags and the game is as easy or as hard as you want it to be. The pacing is perfect, as soon as one chapter is down you'll be raring to start the next one.

You want a simple and arcadey feel to the driving? That's an option. Do you want to observe 1930's traffic laws and risk getting ticketed for speeding? Also an option. There's a lot of tools to tinker with in the game-options to make the experience as coarse or as smooth as you want to.

The 1930's setting is a delight and I love any videogame that let's us explore a not quite so obvious historical place. The fashion, the posters, the billboards, the architecture, the vehicles, it's all there.

The Irish cop who talks to Tommy during the framing-device is voiced by Dameon Clarke, e.g. Handsome Jack. As an Irish person I appreciate any Irish accent that isn't Wild Mountain Thyme, fucking hell.

The character of Paulie is a highlight. The first time you see him he's just a hood with a hilarious frog-like voice. But as you get to know him better you realise what a tragic character he is. He's a man pushing forty with no personal-life and no job-prospects outside of the mafia, and he's seen as dumb-muscle who gradually slips behind his associates as an earner. This gnawing inadequacy drives him to take drastic action later on in the game.

A character called William Gates appears in one mission and at no point to they wink at the audience because of his name, nor does he jump out a window at any point.

I absolutely fucking hated GTA V with its acidic cast of bores, its aimless plot, and it's juvenile South Park sense of humour that was already dated in 2013. Mafia is straight-forward and economical in its presentation. It never tells a mean joke at the audience's expense it keeps the story reined in. It's classic, timeless, and will age well.

What's not so great?

You see the seams of the game-engine whenever you take out any enemy with a melee attack or try mantling over a ledge. It looks and feels janky though it's not game-breaking.

The collectables can be finicky to find. Some are exclusive to missions while others are found in the overworld. There's no in-game way to find them, like a treasure-map or an area checklist. The comic books and pulp magazines have neat art, while the 50 (!) stuffed fox don't do anything nor reward you beyond an achievement. The game already has unlockable costumes and weapons anyway so it could have implemented further goodies.

This game doesn't have much side-content in its Free Ride mode, just races and time-trials, so it would have been a good idea to signpost where it is. I had to alt-tab to Map-Genie half the time to find this stuff.

I had to drop the difficulty during the notorious race, and during an action set-piece where you have to shoot out the propellers of a plane.

Conclusion

Get this game on this sale and have a great 10 hour game, and however long you want to fool around in Free Ride mode. You won't regret stepping into the shoes of Tommy Angelo, but you will think twice about doing lawn-work without a kevlar jacket.

P.S. If you're playing on Steam make sure to access the game from its Exe file to skip the dreadful 2K launcher. That shit will eat into your performance because 2K hates you.

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