The ‘Mafia’ Remake Draws New Life From Modern Games And Films
The original Mafia was released back in 2002. Just a year after Grand Theft Auto 3, it was a third-person open world game when the genre was still new. But whereas Rockstar Games had built a sandbox of silly, joyous violence, Mafia was a darker, more serious game that leaned into cinema and realism.
Pulling its story for classic mobster movies and the history of prohibition era America, you played a taxi driver pulled into the Salieri crime family and its war with the Morellos, the mob that controlled the other half of the Lost Heaven City.
Earlier this year 2K announced that it was remastering Mafia 2 and releasing a definitive edition of Mafia 3, but for the beloved original game it was going to completely remake it for modern consoles. Now remakes are a different beast to remasters, and it's never clear what will be changed and what will remain of a classic game as its developers strive to modernise it. Though, in the case of Mafia, it sounds like the team has found an excellent balance between recreating the original game's story and eccentricities and only changing it to enrich its world.
After work wrapped up on Mafia 3, the game's director Haden Blackman began looking for new projects while the bulk of the team worked on DLC. Rather than continue the series, Blackman settled on the idea of bringing the whole of the series onto modern consoles. "That was the impetus for the project," lead producer Devin Hitch says, but rather than remaster the old game the team realised it "would need to remake it from the ground up."
Though, the team wasn't starting entirely from scratch. The remake "presented a lot of opportunities for us to leverage the work that we had done on Mafia 3," Hitch explains. The open world streaming technology, cover shooting systems, destructible scenery, and AI. "We might be able to marry those things with the wonderful story, characters, and rich setting of Lost Heaven to reimagine the game for modern audiences. Maybe even add a little bit more for modern taste in terms of playstyle, while maintaining all the things that made the original so beloved."
The guiding principle while making the decisions of what to keep and what to change comes back to what is "core essence" of Mafia, Hitch says. For him, that means the time period, the characters, and the city. "It's a classic prohibition mobster setting and it's very, very exciting to be in," Hitch says.
As in the original, the game will open with you playing Tommy Angelo, a cab driver in Lost Heaven, who by chance gives a ride to two members of the Salieri crime family. "From the moment that Tommy is running with Paulie and Sam at the beginning you start to feel the allure of the mob," Hitch says. "It's not just the allure of being a criminal or having money or power. It's that feeling of belonging that he has with this new family, right?"
You'll quickly meet Don Salieri, head of the family, his right-hand man Frank Colletti, and their soldiers and associates. Each of them have their own loyalties and weaknesses. "For all their eccentricities and foibles, each of the characters has something that really appeals to players," Hitch says, "some aspect of their personality that they can identify with." You'll play through the same missions you did in the original game, so you'll go through that journey of getting in deep with the family and starting to run into more of its problems.
While all the missions and characters return, and it all takes in the same city, there are changes. For start, while the city's landmarks will appear the road layout has been changed "to improve driveability". The team has also learned from Mafia 2 and Mafia 3, so there will be more incidental story relayed to you outside of the missions, like news reports about the growing war between the Salieri and Morello crime families.
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Missions, like A Trip To The Country, where you travel out of the city to collect a shipment of whisky, have been redesigned to adopt the lessons learned in the years since Mafia's release. For a start, because the game now has the cover shooter systems from Mafia 3, combat spaces have been redesigned with that in mind. You'll need to advance through the dark country farm, using hay bales and farm equipment as cover. Added dialogue and cutscenes expand on the story, fleshing out details that don't change the story but give it new colour.
The cover system and gunplay might be based on tech from Mafia 3, but Hitch explains that it's been adapted to better fit the character of Tommy. "[Mafia 3's protagonist] Lincoln Clay's a trained soldier who has been to Vietnam and back, that really comes across in the over the top, frenetic gun fights. They have bigger, faster guns that hold more ammo. Whereas when we go back to the prohibition era America the arsenal that the Salieri gang has is much more... I don't know if intimate is the right word but you have revolvers, long rifles, shotguns, and, of course, you have the iconic tommy gun, but we wanted to make the combat feel more measured. Every bullet counts. Tommy's not a training soldier, he's not going to be able to run into a big wide open combat space without a plan, you have to be more careful about what cover you're going to take; the enemies are going to try to flank you or push you out of that cover."
The original Mafia was one of the first 3D open world games, coming out a year after Grand Theft Auto 3, and had a lot of eccentricities that made it unique. For instance, while not a simulator, it leaned more into authenticity than arcade - it's weapons were deadly, its cars hard to drive, and you needed to navigate the world with caution because the police were unforgiving. All of that is returning in the remake.
"We have both standard and simulation driving," Hitch says. "You can enable the manual gear shifting, you can even fill up on gas for some fuel efficiency. There's the speed limiter, for folks that want to make sure that they aren't breaking any of the rules that will trigger the simulation version of the police system."
Those police have different modes, too, depending how you'd like to play. In simulation mode they'll chase you for "infractions like speeding, illegal turns, things like that." But, if you stop your car you can pay a ticket to stop the chase. "If you're rolling around with Paulie and all of a sudden, you've run through a red light, you have to make the call on whether or not you're gonna stop and pay the fine or you're gonna go," Hitch says. "A lot of it depends on what car you're in and what district of the city and that type of thing."
One aspect that's excellent to see is that the remake has been influenced by the films that have come out since the game's release. The original Mafia was full of nods to classic mobster films, such as The Godfather and Once Upon A Time In America. But one film that was released in months of Mafia's launch was Road To Perdition, a stylish mob story with Tom Hanks and Paul Newman. It had atmospheric cinematography that conveys the dark desperation of prohibition era America. That's now been incorporated into the game.
Also incorporated into the Mafia remake are nods to the later games that tie their worlds together - "for the hardcore fans to seed connections between the two," Hitch says. For instance, there are brands from the later games that are now in the original. The art department "created our version of what those brands would have been 40 years prior, right."
On paper it sounds like Hangar 13 has been making all the right choices for the remake, keeping what works and using this opportunity to improve or renovate what will be showing its age after 18 years. What will be really interesting is seeing how an old style open world, held together around a linear campaign and not padded with collectibles and side missions, compares to modern releases like Ghost of Tsushima.
Featured Image Credit: Hangar 13