Mafia: Definitive Edition Deaf Accessibility
With microscopic subtitles and visual assists, what could be a wonderful remake fails Deaf and hard of hearing players.
Score5.2 out of 10
Another remake, another lost opportunity to improve on the original game’s level of accessibility. That’s what Mafia: Definitive Edition is.
In a year filled to the brim with remasters and remakes in which every single one of them hasn’t given so much as a thought to improving any aspect of accessibility, I’ve all but given up on even reviewing them. Why bother, really? Most of the reviews would read “If you couldn’t play the original, you can’t play the remake either.” All of my hopes are now hanging on one game:
Oo …. teaser…
(and yes, I’ve been saving the VG247 link since it came out for this exact moment :D) https://t.co/KY2QPqGui7
— David Tisserand (@TisserandDavid) September 12, 2020
Mafia 3, from Hangar 13, is among my favorite games. Not due to its accessibility (that leaves a lot to be desired) but due to its story. I even teach it in my literature class. Because of this, going into Mafia: Definitive Edition knowing it, too, is from Hangar 13, I had high hopes. Hopes that the story would grip me as that of Mafia 3 did and hopes that Hangar 13 would bring 2020 accessibility standards to Mafia: Definitive Edition.
Reader, my hopes have been deflated on both counts.
Now I don’t fault Hangar 13 for the story not gripping me. It’s not their fault, they didn’t write it. What I do fault them for is that they have essentially taken every system and style from Mafia 3, a four-year-old game, and plopped it into a 2020 game. Accessibility is an ever-moving goal line and a game that was passable in 2016 would fail by every measure today. It is for this reason that what we do here at CIPT—accessibility reviewing—is so difficult. We must constantly reassess what counts as “good enough” and even then, what may be good enough for each reviewer could be utter trash to a reader. All of this is to say that while Mafia 3 was good enough in terms of accessibility in 2016, I simply can’t apply that same standard to Mafia: Definitive Edition. And for me, this problem all circles back to what we prioritize. If we can spend the time and money to bring graphics and gameplay up to 2020 standards, why can’t we do the same with the things that make the game playable and enjoyable for disabled players?
A common issue in current gen games as compared to last gen is that the higher the resolution becomes, the smaller and smaller the subtitles become. The above image slider shows how the subtitles presented in the 2002 original—fairly large and easy to read—and how they appear in the remake. In a year when so many games come with customizable subtitles, this default option of a tiny size with no background is, well, no longer really default, is it?
I’ve said it a million times before and I’ll keep on repeating myself until it’s no longer necessary: Subtitles exist to serve a purpose. Not just to be a thing you check off as having done so you can move on to the things that really matter. Those games that offer scalable text and background options? They do it for a reason. And the games that don’t offer those options? Well, you get this:
In addition to the subtitles being useless, Mafia: Definitive Edition presents a myriad of other accessibility issues.
While great as a concept, the size of the minimap and its little red dots that show players where enemies are and in which direction they’re facing make it about as helpful as the subtitles. Playing on a 55 inch 4k TV, I sat two feet away and still had to lean in to see which way the little points of the dots were facing. What’s not included in the above image that I intended to capture is the enemy awareness indicator. And my failure to capture it illustrates one of two problems with it. It appears too briefly in many instances and if you do manage to catch it while it’s on-screen, in brightly lit scenes, you still can’t really see it, as it’s a faint white color.
I had a professor during my MFA studies who referred to my attempt at writing romance scenes as “clunky” and my ego, both as a writer and, you know, as a human, took such a hit that I promised I’d never use the word because it’s just mean. But I find myself having to now because there’s just no other word for the problem. The on-foot movement in Mafia: Definitive Edition is clunky. Especially during instances in which Tommy has to run. There were so many times I’d just walk off of things instead of going where I was actually intending to go that at one point, I had to turn off the game and play something not clunky just to make sure it wasn’t me. And it wasn’t. I’m pleased to tell you that while I still suck at games, I can at least successfully make my character walk in most of them. While this issue of clunkiness isn’t in itself a Deaf/hoh accessibility issue, when paired with the absurdly tiny visual elements Deaf and hoh players rely on, it makes the game maddeningly difficult. Even on easy difficulty.
Hangar 13 has made a beautiful remake of this classic organized crime adventure. The puddles are majestic, the cars have just the right amount of shine to look real, and I can see the pores of every important character (the hallmark of a good game, obviously). What Hangar 13 has failed to do though is make a classic game that disabled players can actually play well and enjoy, which at least here at CIPT means they’ve failed in their remake of the game.