Fittingly enough, a remake of the best Mafia game proves to be the return to form that this series has so desperately needed.
2002’s Mafia holds a special place in the hearts of fans to this day, but the series’ track record since then has been inconsistent at best. Mafia 2 and 3 were both disappointing in their own ways and both failed to touch the heights of the first game, while their recent re-releases didn’t do much to change the general consensus on them either. The announcement that the first game in the series would be getting a full ground-up remake came as a welcome surprise, but given this inconsistent track record, there were many who were skeptical about how it would turn out. Thankfully, and appropriately enough, Mafia: Definitive Edition is a return to form for the franchise.
Set in the fictional city of Lost Heaven during the 1930s, Mafia: Definitive Edition tells the story of cabbie-turned-monster Tommy Angelo. With his cab parked on a street corner one night while he’s taking a break, Tommy has a chance encounter with two Italian-American gangsters, members of the Salieri crime family. What ensues is a chase through the city amidst a barrage of gunfire, and what that, in turn, leads to is a life Tommy never predicted, or even wanted.
"Mafia: Definitive Edition is a return to form for the franchise."
Seeing Tommy descend deeper and deeper into a life of crime while grappling with his own internal conflicts and sense of right and wrong was what made the original Mafia as good as it was, so it’s great news that that remains the remake’s biggest strength. Hangar 13 have polished up the story and script in smart ways- the writing is crisp and sharper, the cutscenes are superbly directed, and performances from actors are typically excellent, making for believable characters who feel like actual people. Mafia: Definitive Edition doesn’t make any drastic changes to the story, but the few changes that it does make are all smart alterations and fit very well within the larger flow of the narrative. It helps that the game is excellent at capturing that Godfather-esque Italian mafiaso vibe perfectly, which is fitting enough for a game called Mafia.
The city of Lost Heaven is also a great setting, just as it was in the original game. A smorgasbord of 1930s New York and Chicago, Lost Heaven is teeming with atmosphere, from the news broadcasts and music you hear on the radio to the streets, vehicles, and buildings you see out in the open to even the smaller details, like the overcoats and hats the civilians don. Like the original Mafia, though the remake takes place in an open world setting, it isn’t an open world game. Mafia: Definitive Edition adheres to a chapter-based structure, with each chapter beginning right as the previous one ends, so there isn’t much to be said about the game’s open world or free roaming elements. You can jump into the Free Ride mode if you want, and there are collectibles to hunt down both in and out of it, but though they’re a nice touch, they’re nothing to write home about.
The biggest leap the remake has made over the original game is, of course, in the visuals department. Running on an updated version of the Mafia 3 engine, Mafia: Definitive Edition is a great-looking game. Lost Heaven is full of details that contribute significantly to the city’s aforementioned atmosphere and sense of place, the character models look excellent and move and animate in realistic ways, down to the smallest of twitches, and gunfire and explosions look exactly as, well, explosive as they should.
"The biggest leap the remake has made over the original game is, of course, in the visuals department. Running on an updated version of the Mafia 3 engine, Mafia: Definitive Edition is a great-looking game."
There are some technical issues that have to be mentioned though. On top of some relatively minor issues occasional frame rate drops and distant texture pop-in, Mafia: Definitive Edition also occasionally suffers from some glitches that are harder to ignore. A couple of times, these impeded my progress in missions through no fault of my own, forcing me to restart from a previous checkpoint, while I also saw the game crash entirely once through my playthrough. One time the audio also cut out completely in the middle of a mission, forcing me to reboot the game. Mafia: Definitive Edition’s technical state is still miles better than what I remember of Mafia 3 at launch, but it still needs a little bit of polishing. Hopefully, patches will be coming down the line.
The driving and shooting mechanics have also been overhauled completely, bringing them closer to what we saw in Mafia 3, which makes sense, considering that this is a remake of a nearly two decade-old game. Driving around the city is a lot of fun, with a solid selection of vehicles included in the game (including motorcycles, which were not featured in the original release). Lost Heaven’s design has also been tweaked a bit to include more shortcuts and alleyways to drive through, and combined with the solid driving and handling mechanics, the act of getting from point A to point B feels more engaging this time around than it did in the original.
My thoughts on the shooting mechanics are more mixed. The one thing I like without reservations is the fact that combat in Mafia: Definitive Edition actually puts up a bit of a challenge. Enemies have surprisingly strong aim, which means you cannot spend too much time outside of cover during combat. There’s no regenerating health either, and you have to smartly be on the lookout for first aid kits, a la Mafia 3. Meanwhile, ammo isn’t endless, and while it definitely isn’t scant, you still have to make sure that every bullet you shoot finds its target.
"Unless you play with the aim assist turned up to high, aiming your reticle at enemies feels like wading through knee-deep mud."
The problem arises with the actual shooting. Like Mafia 3, aiming in Mafia: Definitive Edition is too sluggish. Unless you play with the aim assist turned up to high, aiming your reticle at enemies feels like wading through knee-deep mud, and in the time that it takes to do that, you can take a lot of shots yourself, instantly depleting your health to critical levels. You can always turn your controller’s sensitivity up, and while that certainly made things marginally better for me, the problem never completely went away. Another issue that I feel like I need to bring up is weapon variety- you have your Tommy Guns, shotguns, and pistols, but by and large, there isn’t an awful lot of weapon variety in Mafia: Definitive Edition, which feels a little disappointing.
Taken as a whole though, Mafia: Definitive Edition is definitely a win for Mafia, 2K Games, and Hangar 13. It is a worthy remake that does justice to the only unequivocally good game in the series, and the best, most consistent package the Mafia series has delivered since 2002. It’s not devoid of issues, and I wouldn’t say it stands toe-to-toe with the best remakes we’ve seen this generation, like Resident Evil 2 or Shadow of the Colossus, but it’s a solid effort that fans of the original game will surely appreciate. It’s not an offer that you can’t refuse, but it’s one that you shouldn’t.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
An excellent story is made even better by smart updates made to the script; Great cast of characters brought to life by sharp writing and convincing performances; Lost Heaven is teeming with detail and atmosphere; Impressive visuals; Solid driving mechanics.
Some technical issues, both big and small; Sluggish aiming drags down the combat; Not a lot of weapon variety.
Mafia: Definitive Edition's narrative and visual strengths help it overcome issues in other areas to deliver a worthy remake of the best game in the series.