The agony of being beaten to the finish line after a hard-fought race is a familiar feeling for anyone who played the original Mafia released in 2002. The original incarnation of the Fair Play mission in which Tommy is tasked with winning a Grand Prix was especially challenging, and when developing Mafia: Definitive Edition—a complete remake of the original game—the team at Hangar 13 knew that it would likely garner more attention and be more divisive than any other mission.
"The first question most players had when we announced Mafia: Definitive Edition was whether we fixed the race," remembers Hangar 13 Game Director Alex Cox. "The mission had such notoriety that we knew we would hear a lot about it." Like the rest of the 2020 remake, the new Fair Play mission needed to stay faithful to the original game that fans remember, but winning the race had to be achievable for players who are more interested in continuing the story of our protagonist Tommy Angelo than proving their open-wheel racing prowess.
"Fans in focus tests were demanding the return of the extreme difficulty; overcoming the race was a storied and nostalgic experience for them," says Cox. "But new players felt quite the opposite. Without that memory of the original game, for them the idea of a mission that requires many retries and specific, advanced skills just didn’t fit. I think we found the right solution in the end: fans have an experience in Classic difficulty which is close to the game they remember, while new players can just enjoy the 1930s Grand Prix game experience on the regular difficulty settings."
"We did not want to make the race into a barrier for them, so we tuned the difficulty so it could be completed even on the first try at the lower difficulties," explains Ondrej Vevoda, Lead Designer at Hangar 13. Some of the most noticeable changes centered on the handling of the race car, which drives more like other vehicles in the game than it did previously and is less prone to flipping over, which meant Game Over back in 2002. "We also created a rubber-banding system for our driver AI that keeps opponents close enough to the player to provide a consistent challenge," continues Vevoda. "It's important on the easier settings in particular that players can recover easily from a collision or skidding off the track. The rubber-banding system allows us to give the player a little advantage in that situation so they can get back into the race. On Classic difficulty though, it’s very different. The idea there is that players really need to ace the whole race, find the perfect racing line, and beat the odds to win."
Struggling to beat the Fair Play race on Classic difficulty? Try these quick tips on your next attempt:
- Practice the track repeatedly and carefully observe your competition, as they tend to drive along the optimal racing line
- Brake before turns; slowing down is always better than spinning out. Look for tire marks on the track for the ideal braking spots
- Let go of the gas if you're starting to lose control so that your car can course-correct; if you try to push through, you risk spinning out and losing more time
- Give yourself an edge by cutting corners along grass verges, which won't affect your vehicle handling too much, and feel free to play dirty by nudging your opponents' cars if it's safe to do so
Some of the changes made for the Fair Play mission are apparent regardless of your difficulty setting. The corners and camber of the racetrack, which closely replicates the original in most respects, were tweaked to make the drive a little easier, for example. And the driving sequence before the race was updated so that players have a better opportunity to familiarize themselves with how the race car controls before taking their position on the starting grid. "The original design discouraged the player from driving fast in this section by penalizing the player for damage to the car," says Cox. "We removed that constraint so players feel like they have permission to drive fast through the city and get a better handle on the vehicle controls."
In keeping with improvements made elsewhere in Mafia: Definitive Edition, some of the storytelling around the Fair Play race has been changed as well. Cox explains: "I think we managed to bring the Salieri family to the track and make Tommy’s race driver moment feel more grounded. I love how Haden [Blackman, President and CCO of Hangar 13] reframed the race as a light-hearted spat between Salieri and Morello, in the days before they go to war. The idea that these two bosses have a rivalry, that they publicly back different drivers in this race and that their reputation in the Italian community is at stake, just makes the whole scenario more plausible. This race isn’t life-or-death criminal business, just another tit-for-tat in the slowly escalating conflict between the two families." The modern iteration of the Fair Play mission also ends less abruptly than the original, affording players an opportunity to enjoy their victory at a post-race party where Hangar 13 worked in some extra character development for Tommy's best friend Paulie and love interest Sarah.
Now that Mafia: Definitive Edition is available, Cox, Vevoda, and the rest of the Hangar 13 team have enjoyed watching players tackle the new Fair Play mission. "We’ve followed some epic quests to complete the race on Classic difficulty since the game launched, from desperate fans begging for mercy, to rage at a last-second loss, to jubilation at crossing the finish line in first place," shares Cox. "That feeling of overcoming a seemingly insurmountable challenge is rare in modern titles, but it feels like a fitting tribute to game from a previous era."