Read Stuart’s column every week in The Scottish Sun, where he shares his reviews, news and podcasts with the 99.3% of the World’s population not fortunate enough to be able to buy a physical copy of the paper. The following appeared originally in The Scottish Sun on Sunday 11th October 2020.
Mafia: Definitive Edition (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £34.99)
MAFIA has made a killing in the remastering stakes. Some games get a polish. Others get tweaks. And then there are a few that are totally rebuilt. Hanger 13 have gone for serving up a game that is the definitive way to do a remaster. The third game technically has got all its DLC content for free while the second has been polished and the first has been rebuilt. Mafia: Definitive Edition is easily the highlight. It has taken the open-world mobster feat from Illusion Softworks’ — now known as 2K Czech 2002 — and given it the care and attention it deserved. For some the Mafia series may be viewed as a Grand Theft Auto clone but that is giving it a huge disservice. GTA let you off the leash to do what you want where you want, but Mafia has always had a laser-like focus on delivering a grand story.
That tale of warring crime families, moonshine running, betrayal and, ultimately, hope of redemption gets you hooked from the start. You play as Tommy Angelo, a cabbie who was in the wrong place at the wrong time as he gets caught up with the Salieri family and the Don gives him a job. The tale is told through a number of flashbacks as Tommy tries to cut a deal with the law to protect his family if he rats out Salieri and his organisation. The game tracks Tommy’s rise up the family ranks as he does jobs with Paulie and Sam as they bid to take control of Lost Heaven. He soon finds that he’ll have to get his hands dirty and that being a mobster is a life sentence for him and his wife and daughter. There are themes that we have seen before in gangster flicks but that doesn’t stop this being well worth your time. The script has been rewritten and revoiced for the Definitive Edition.
The tale leads you to some cracking set-pieces such as shootouts at an airport or a bid to flee from the cops with a truck-load of hooch after a deal goes wrong. And the infamous car racing mission returns — although it is easier than a younger me remembers. The game visually hits the mark a lot of the time but we did get a few glitches. Lost Heaven feels like a living, breathing place and when you add an era-friendly jazz-fuelled soundtrack then you are on a winner. This shows what you can do with a remaster — it builds on the original without losing what made the core game buzz. It is the same with the new script. The only gripe was wanting more to do outside the main mission in Lost Heaven. Maybe in the future?
Polishing the Past
GAME producer Devin Hitch reckons advances in modern technology have given developers the chance to revolutionise their products. The Hangar 13 lead man reckons they have proved that point by bringing all the Mafia series under one remastered roof in a crime family feast of excitement. Devin said:
“Right away you can look at the characters in the game and see how far things have come in the last 18 years. For Mafia: Definitive Edition our cinematics team developed an in-house character scanning rig that allowed us to capture 3D models of the entire cast. They then created incredible cinematics using facial capture data from our mocap stage. The result is cinematics with character performances that are much more detailed, realistic and nuanced. This really allows the actor’s performance to come through in a way that was just not possible in 2002 and, for a narrative- driven cinematic experience like Mafia: Definitive Edition, that was very important.”
It was also vital to stick to the game’s DNA. Devin added:
“All the missions from the original are there with all the major story beats and characters. Our hope is that fans of the original will get a strong sense of nostalgia but there are some changes too. All the cinematics were rewritten by our studio president and CEO, Haden Blackman, with a whole new cast of actors and, in many cases, more depth has been added.”
However, the desire to stay true to the game didn’t stop them tweaking the gameplay. Devin added:
“We have made several additions. The most obvious is the move to a more traditional style of cover shooter like Mafia III and all the things that come with that. We hope players who have recently played the original or new fans used to more modern gameplay standards will appreciate the more precise control this provides as well as the combat pacing. We also added motorcycles — a first for any of the Mafia games. One of the more dramatic car chases in the original game is now featured as a white-knuckle motorcycle chase and it really adds to the experience.”
They also went to work on the notoriously hard racing mission. Devin said:
“It is still in the game and, on our classic difficulty, it is still really difficult. This mission in the original Mafia was notorious in that sense so we wanted to let players who desired a challenge to have a mode that gave them that experience, while also allowing players who chose normal difficulty to have an exciting, enjoyable 1930s Grand Prix experience.”
The biggest challenge for the team was the soundtrack. Devin said:
“Not only does it feature many period appropriate tunes from artists like Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and Django Reinhardt — it has an entirely original orchestral score composed by Jesse Harlin. The team was also able to re-record the original iconic theme which opens the game — both the original and Mafia: Definitive Edition — with the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra. It was quite an achievement because it was scheduled to be recorded in March but Covid-19 caused a lockdown in the Czech Republic so, ultimately, the recording was delayed then done in a socially-distanced manner. Individual musicians recorded their parts in small groups and the final product was assembled from over 200 tracks — but it was worth it! To hear that iconic piece of music as the game opens with the same fly-through view of Lost Heaven is something we had to do.”
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time (Xbox One and PS4, £54.99)
FEW games have a name that truly hit the nail on the head but Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time sums up what fans have been saying — it’s been a long wait. Good things come to those who wait and Toys For Bob have truly delivered a game that is a loving tribute to all things Crash but also rewritten the history of the series. It is fair to say that everything between Crash Bandicoot: Warped in 1998 and now is swept under the carpet. This is a reboot/sequel combo which takes the core of the original series and evolves the gameplay rather than reheating it. The orange-furred hero comes screaming into 2020 with a bang. A gang of baddies have teamed up to control time, but Crash and Co have to find a set of special quantum masks that can fix the damage. It’s very Saturday morning cartoon in tone and flavour but it pulls it off through some fun and entertaining cut scenes peppered between levels. They tell a lot of the tale so you can focus on the solid gameplay, and they are extremely well-managed.
Gameplay plays into the time idea well — you jump forwards and backwards through time to attack a number of themed levels, from futuristic cities to prehistoric jungles. Each one is packed full of detail and colour. Series fans will feel at home because this is every inch a classic Crash game from yesteryear. It is like bringing a rose-tinted memory to life. You work your way across the levels and the platforming never drops a beat. However, the real challenge is from a host of new ideas, such as finding out the quantum masks like slowing time. There are also levels where you can play as other characters such as Coco, Tawna and even Doctor Neo Cortex. Each has their own skills that mix up the gameplay. Then there is the inverted level where the real Crash fans will drool with excitement — it not only flips the levels but adds a visual filter to boost the difficulty and make each level feel different from its original. This is simply a masterclass in how to bring an iconic game back to life. You will love it from the first minute to the last.
EPOS I SENNHEISER GSP 602 (£199.99)
THE name may look something like a Gibraltar number plate or an economic term, but it sounds just right for Epos And Sennheiser’s new headset. The moniker may be the least inspiring thing about this bit of kit. It comes in two flavours — a black-and-white model or an eye-pleasing blue-and-orange. Wee point: the black-and-white ones are called GSP 601 because . . . well, they surely have one. They are chunky if a bit plasticky, but that doesn’t take away from the overall quality of the build. The ear cups are very comfortable, if a little heavier than others on the market. They have noise-cancelling features. And, in an odd move, the headband has a gap in the middle. You will start to feel it during a mega-long gaming session. It is a design choice so they either have research that shows it works, or we just have strange shaped heads.
The GSP follows other headsets in that it features a push-up-to-mute mic which is always welcome. There is also a big volume control on the side of the headset which is ideal for quick changes. We tested the headset across the Xbox One, Switch and laptop and we enjoyed good sound quality across the board with good mid-to-high register and a beefy level of bass, but the amount you can dial it in to your personal tastes is limited. That’s where the Epos And Sennheiser amp comes in, although you do have to pay extra for that little treat. The mic does a solid job in parties, although we did get a little bit of sound bleed. The Epos And Sennheiser GSP 602 is not a great name but it is a solid headset that does a good job. Arguably, it lacks the options of others in the same price bracket — and that’s mainly not having an amp in the box. They look great though.
Super Mario Bros. 35 (Switch, FREE with Nintendo Switch online membership)
THEY say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but Nintendo never got that email. They have taken the classic Super Mario Bros and turned it into a sort of battle royale with the 35. It’s a crazy idea that really shouldn’t work but, in actual fact, it takes a classic and turns it into a tense battle where one wrong move or mistimed jump costs you dear. The goal seems simple — play through Super Mario Bros as quickly as you can by clearing randomly selected levels all while keeping an eye on a fast-ticking clock. To get extra seconds, you have to stomp on the enemies — each kill earns time and coins that you can spend on power-ups if you’re in trouble. It’s worth saving them up.
So far, it’s standard fare until you realise you are doing this while 34 other players are attacking the levels. You stomp on Goomba and it just goes into another player’s game so there’s an endless horde of baddies trying to block your jump or progress. The game uses the same systems, mechanics and even layout from Tetris 99 so there is a strong puzzler vibe as well as a battle royale. If you have played any of the 19 Super Mario Bros releases then you’ll have picked up a few secrets and shortcuts, so dig into the memory bank because they are still here. This gives a classic a new lease of life. Even better, it is free if you have a Nintendo online subscription but it is only here until March 31.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…