The Mafia games have been around for a solid decade now across three different console generations, so one might think that it would be an exercise in frustrating consumer driven tedium to actually get to play them all in 2020, but the crime-loving souls over at 2K have bestowed upon the world the Mafia Trilogy, a fancy bundle of games with all the organized crime you could hope for on modern consoles. This consists of an extended edition of Mafia 3, a remaster of Mafia 2, and a complete remake of the original Mafia, plus loads of expansion packs and other goodies. It’s certainly a value proposition, but the games are of varying quality to say the very least.
If we want to be technical, and I always do, both Mafia Definitive Edition and Mafia 2 Definitive Edition are the most recent releases both having come out in 2020. However, I still feel like Mafia 3 is the best looking with the remake of the original coming in a pretty close second and Mafia 2 trailing well behind its brethren. It’s a bit weird considering how recent this remaster was, but Mafia 2 looks passable most of the time and downright bad at points. With these games largely being about tough men doing tough things, you get a lot of scenes with people smoking like a chimney. There’s a scene early on in Mafia 2 like this and I have no idea what it was that guy was puffing on but it only had the loosest resemblance to a cigarette and vaping was definitely not a thing in the ‘40s.
It really is a shame that Mafia 2 does not share the same level of polish that the other two games in this pack show off. The Mafia remake looks great; cutscenes are slick, in-game graphics are spot on, and it looks all shiny and new, rather than a remake of a 10 year old game. In contrast, everything about the user interface screams Xbox 360, from the onscreen button prompts to the hollow, lifeless monsters acting in the cinematics. A little research tells me that a different studio was responsible for the remaster, and it shows, especially when played right beside its more attractive sibilings, as one might do if they were purchased in some sort of trilogy bundle.
The gameplay is a sadly similar story. While these games appear to be in the same vein as the drive-y crime-y GTA series, all three of these feel much more action oriented, with a focus on combat, something the aforementioned kooky crime caper has always struggled with. Mafia 3 is a wide open romp with districts to conquer and ratchets to infiltrate, while the remake of the original seems to have removed most open free roaming for a more tightly driven narrative experience. I kept wondering when the mission structure was going to open up, but I was right back in another mission brief, and I wasn’t really that upset by it. The more structured experience felt concise and enjoyable without being weighed down by meaningless mechanics. All three games do sport some pretty rough driving mechanics, with the 1930’s era auto’s hurtling around like drunken sailboats and the later vehicles handling marginally better. They become fun after a while, but it’s a steep learning curve.
The Mafia 2 Definitive Edition plays like a 2000’s era cover-based shooter. The actual shooting mechanics are fine, nothing to write home about, but fun enough, but everything else feels either too loose or over designed. Moving around the world is imprecise and at odds with the camera, and melee combat is the always tired quick attack, strong attack, three button combo strings that were over done when it came out the first time.
If these games wanted you to know anything about them, it’s that they’re very very serious. They tell serious stories in serious ways and don’t have time any of those silly diversions that those other popular crime dramas have. They deal with topics like racism, so they can get away with liberally tossing out racial slurs without any repercussions. Glibness aside, the story in the first game’s remake is probably my favourite of the bunch, even if the voice acting is often suspect. The other stories are fine, Lincoln Clay’s dogged quest for revenge after returning home from the horrors of Vietnam is enthralling, and Vito Scaletta’s descent into the cynical nihilism of the 1940’s underground as he skirts responsibility for all his crimes and failings were all enjoyable, the former more so than the latter, but Tommy Angelo’s journey from cabbie to made man felt like a fuller story with some actual character development thrown into the mix. Not much, but some.
The Mafia Trilogy is, at the very least, two pretty good games and one not very good game for the price of one game. It’s certainly got a lot of content for the price, and there is plenty of fun to be had, if you’re into the very specific thing that they’re selling. I may be being too harsh to the second game here, but it certainly doesn’t help that the company it keeps make it look so much worse by comparison.