If you know me, then you likely know how much I adore the Mafia games despite how rough around the edges all three entries in the series are. They feel unique in the AAA space and especially in the third-person open-world game genre. I’ve long been wanting to write a big essay on the series as a whole, but I figured it might be more interesting to turn it into a series of 500–700 word essays as I replay through all three Mafia games. Let’s see how it goes.
The Mafia milieu, much like the real-life version of organized crime, uses violence as a tool. An awful means to an end. Mafia: Definitive Edition is no different (albeit the violence is heightened for video game purposes, for better and worse). By the time the game’s over, you’ve run Lost Heaven red with blood.
But the violence in Mafia: Definitive Edition, in many ways, feels apart from the sort of violence we usually see in video games—in shooters, specifically. It is loose, frenetic, and pretty confrontational. Tommy Angelo, the game’s main character, started as a cab driver who fell headfirst into the mafia life of the Salieri Family. He isn’t a trained killer by any stretch of the imagination. Controlling him during combat is stressful. The reticle with which we aim his gun(s) feels more like an object of best intentions rather than a laser-focused penpoint. He misses many shots and controlling automatic firearms sees his accuracy run wild. The wall behind an enemy might be riddled with fresh bullet holes while the rival mafioso in front of said wall remains standing and firing back at Tommy. Tommy's (and the player’s) best bet is to take a more direct, blunt approach to combat. Get close, put more bullets into an enemy than you probably need to. Make sure you stay alive.
One of the first missions in Mafia: Definitive Edition sees Tommy and one of his close Mafia pals, Paulie, are sent to kill two individuals. One, the son of some rich businessman or senator, dies, but the other lives. The one who lives was only shot once. Later, Don Salieri chastises both Tommy and Paulie for not putting a few extra shots into the guy’s head. And even later, Tommy tracks him down and is assisting in finally gunning him down in a church (mid-funeral of someone else while a priest watches) by Sam—another close friend of Tommy’s and a soldier in the Salieri family. The violence in Mafia: Definitive Edition always goes wrong. Tommy accidentally kills a target's wife instead of the target with a car bomb not meant for a civilian, her daughter screams and cries while pointing at the gnarled, flaming wreck that was once a car. This shakes Tommy. He starts to rethink his life choices, too little too late.
Gunplay in Mafia: Definitive Edition is, while unwieldy, also horrifying. Pulling a trigger is one of the most, if not most, common player verbs in games. This game makes you feel and think through the cosmic, ruining power of that choice. Bodies writhe, moan, leak, and scream long after any other game would just have the NPC’s body blip from the game’s reality. Tommy slinks, takes cover, and fights through the carnage he and the player create. People beg for mercy, for God, and for their parents before finally dying. Violence is a horrible, horrible thing. Mafia: Definitive Edition seeks to condemn it through its portrayal and through Tommy’s story. But it is what you spend 90% of the game doing. Too little, too late.