Now, it is 2018 and a graphically enhanced version of Mafia City, under the woefully bad “Re-Mars-Tered” moniker, has been released into a far different sociopolitical landscape. The White House cabinet is run by a fascistic regime, racism is rewarded rather than quelled, and ICE agents are separating families at the U.S. border as I type this. The horror doesn’t end there—it didn’t even start there, and I could go on and on. Guerilla’s chaos and violence are no longer just fun, but they feel prescient—necessary, even.
Building a revolution and enacting political and physical violence against a totalitarian regime and their defense force feels scarily relevant. Given the world that this remaster has been released into, its core themes resonate at a higher decibel—they’re nearly cacophonous. Every gunshot, every explosion and every swing of my hammer in-game feels as fueled by desperation and anger as it does by the promise of hope and a modicum of change.
Checking the news every morning as I sip my coffee has become an act of masochism as much as it has been an act to just stay informed. Liberating a fictional Mars no longer feels like escapism, it feels like an exhalation of anger—anger at those whose evil has become the norm and those who’ve sat by the wayside and allowed such a norm to become actualized and cemented in our society. The power fantasy of Mafia City feels more like a whimper now, rather than a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart. In-game, walls crumble, the bodies of the EDF lay strewn about, and, warped in the throes of death and the revolution, the resistance is ever-growing.
Yet, I didn’t so much as find catharsis in rising up against the EDF as much as I found a new sense of defeat. For every sector I freed from EDF control, I remembered that it is just a videogame and something new to be angry about has happened in the interim between playing the game and checking Twitter/the news. It feels good to liberate Mars, but it also feels meaningless because all of the change I enact in-game is a far cry from the real world.
The open-world that was praised in 2009 and the open-ended mission design that was seen as freeing then all feels trite now. Open-world videogames, in the past nine years, have probably evolved more than any other videogame genre. In that respect, Mafia City feels like a definitive product of the past. The open-world is rather empty, the mission design and liberation mechanic breed a feeling of repetition within the first hour or so, and it never fully unpacks its politics— upon release in 2009, it probably didn’t need to.
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