With the release of Mafia: Definitive Edition, the Mafia Trilogy is finally complete for current generation systems. Gamers wanting to relive the glory days of the franchise are in luck, and even those new to the series can fully experience all 3 games in the comfort of their current gen consoles.
While the definitive editions of Mafia II and III were not exactly exemplary releases, due in large part to a number of technical issues that plagued its launch, this latest game is more than just a remaster.
Touted as a remake and reworked from the ground up, expectations are sky high, especially coming from an early preview that looked rather promising.
Is the third time a charm? We’ll find out as we dive back into the world of organized crime during the 1930s in our review of Mafia: Definitive Edition.
Welcome to Lost Heaven
Mafia takes place in the fictional city of Lost Heaven and puts you in the shoes of Thomas “Tommy” Angelo, a taxi driver who became involved by just being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
After reluctantly helping a couple of mobsters escape a deadly pursuit, Tommy is targeted by the rival mob they escaped from and is forced to go back to the group he helped that fateful night. Despite not wanting to get involved with organized crime, Tommy joins said mob under the rule of one Don Ennio Salieri, and becomes friends with Sam and Paulie, the two mobsters he helped escape.
The game will take you through Tommy’s life from cab driver to a big shot in the Salieri Crime Family. And if the previous re-releases are already any indication, this is in no way a pleasant story and shows just how dangerous the world of organized crime is. It is however, an amazing one to follow, and is really the backbone of the game.
Just like Mafia II and III, Tommy’s rise and fall is a story that’s told beautifully in Mafia: Definitive Edition. The developers were not kidding when they said they would rework the game from the ground up in terms of graphics and cinematics, and the difference is certainly night and day but more than anything, the storytelling carries the brunt of the improvements, and what a treat it is.
Graphical fidelity is of course not up to par with titles like The Last of Us Part II or Ghost of Tsushima, but this remake is no slouch, even looking much better than the definitive editions of Mafia II and III by quite a margin. The character models during the cinematics are on point and details like the facial stubble on Tommy’s face are captured beautifully. Facial expressions are also very accurate – when characters talk and are happy or angry, it clearly shows.
Most games have a problem with “dead eye”, or eyes that seemingly feel lifeless and hollow. Mass Effect Andromeda was a big culprit of this and is admittedly something tough to pull off but 2K and Hangar 13 have done an excellent job at bringing Tommy and Sam and Paulie as well as the rest of the crew back to life.
This improvement in graphics also extends to the world around you. The city of Lost Heaven is recreated well and is an accurate representation of a city during the 1930’s – billboards, factories, and trains all accounted for. If your impression of a city during an era of organized crime include fancy fedoras and trenchcoats, the tommy guns, and bulky automobiles, Mafia has it all here and recreated in stunning fashion.
The storytelling in the game is complemented by beautiful cinematography, and really nails the feeling of watching an actual mafia movie, accented by sound design that really stands out.
Music to my ears
Mafia’s music and voice work is simply top notch. Every voice actor portrayed their role very well and really did justice to their character. When you hear Tommy and his friends banter and have a laugh, you can really feel their bond, for example, and a lot of the dialogue is genuinely funny. In every scene, whether it’s something lighthearted, suspenseful, dramatic or intense, you can feel the effort of the voice actors delivering their lines.
Just by driving around the city, you can instantly hear the step up in sound design. Vehicles of old have that clang and bang of parts and there’s a lot of ambient noise just by walking around the streets. Mafia: Definitive Edition is a game that’s best played on a headset, as there are a lot of small audio details that go unnoticed on TV audio that definitely add to the immersion factor of the game.
The musical score is one of Mafia’s strongest points. With a fully re-recorded soundtrack full of licensed works, everything was a pleasure to listen to, taking you back to the 1930’s at the flip of a button. During the more intense action scenes, the orchestral music really compliments the action, and is reminiscent of the mafia movies of old, capturing that Scarface or Godfather feel to it that definitely accentuates the mood.
Like the story, we had very big expectations from the audio department and we were not disappointed. It was in this aspect that Mafia II and III stood out after all, so we’re glad that Mafia kept the hot streak of fantastic audio intact. Superb work from 2K and Hangar 13 on this one.
Just another day in the life
Gameplay, on the other hand, is kind of mixed bag. By no means is the gameplay bad. In fact, it’s actually quite decent, but as a game that was touted as a Remake for the current generation, there are certain expectations. A Remake is more than just a brand new coat of paint and some new features, with Resident Evil II and Final Fantasy VII being some significant benchmarks.
First things first, Mafia is but is also not an open-world sandbox game. The main campaign is actually very linear, as its strong point is in the amazing narrative after all. Going through the campaign, however, felt repetitive due to how the missions were structured.
The game is divided into chapters, and mostly playing these chapters has Tommy starting in Salieri’s bar, the game’s central hub, then picking up some guns and choosing his ride, then driving to the mission objective. After you’re done, chapter ends with the next having almost the same pattern. Start at the bar or some venue, get your gear, pick your ride, drive to mission objective, and finish said objective. It becomes noticeable almost halfway through the game. It’s not bad per se, but may give off the feeling of repetitiveness for some.
It is a remake after all, so it would have been great to kind of make the mission to mission flow a bit smoother, something like how Grand Theft Auto does it.
Tools of the trade
When dealing with the police or rival crime families, you can dispatch your enemies with your fists, melee weapons, or a semi-wide selection of guns. It’s also here, however, that another one of our expectations let us down.
Hand to hand combat here is a joke, and literally only involves 2 buttons being mashed repeatedly, offering almost no strategy or variation. The timing to dodge perfectly is quite tough to catch, but you can simply mash triangle and follow up with mashing X after. Every enemy will fall to this same tactic, which is rather disappointing.
The shooting and cover in Mafia does its job fairly well, but isn’t as snappy and as fluid as other similar titles out there. There’s a sort of stickiness and sluggishness to the controls which gets quite irritating during hectic shootouts where you want more accuracy. The cover system is helpful enough though, and you’re able to duck and hide at a moments notice. It’s serviceable, but could definitely be much better.
The handguns, rifles, and tommy guns function like you expect them to, but it felt very awkward that the shotgun doesn’t do spread damage and will just kill 1 enemy when you shoot more than one at the same time. That said, overall gunplay leaves something to be desired. Enemies hardly flinch when shot at, and the feedback from receiving damage is severely lacking, sometimes leading to you die just because you didn’t know that you were taking damage already. This was a major gripe for us, which is also connected to the UI and HUD elements in the game not being too intuitive.
The enemy AI in Mafia may also be a bit on the… well, we won’t really say dumb side, but the AI could have been improved. For one thing, while it may be understandable due to invincibility frames that you can’t be hurt when doing a finisher on an enemy, it just looks funny how they will just stand there and look at you beating up their buddies. During gunfights, enemies will break cover not to flank you, but just stand out in the open. Some were still smart enough to stay covered, but expect to see the AI hide behind cover only to later step right out and go into a stylish kneeling pose with guns blazing. It obviously made the game easier, but that’s really not the point.
The game also has stealth missions that felt very basic, with obvious paths to victory laid out for you. There’s hardly any alternate way to go about a mission or a level, meaning that one path is almost always the only way to finishing your mission.
There are particular missions that really stand out – the bank mission, the art gallery, even the prison. These missions had really great level design and sequences that really pushes the gameplay to a frantic pace which was just fantastic. We couldn’t say the same about the rest of the missions, and while they weren’t bad, they just weren’t as memorable as a select few.
Questionable AI also extends outside of the gunfights. The police are perfect examples, giving up chase too easily as long as you gain a small lead on them. The AI for the cops is wildly inconsistent. One time they’re giving up within the first 10 seconds of the chase but when they’re hot on your tail, it can be very VERY hard to shake them off.
Making my way down town
If a break from the campaign is what you’re looking for, Mafia offers the Free Ride option where you are… well, free to ride around the city of Lost Heaven at your own leisure. The guns and cars you’ve unlocked throughout the game will also be accessible here and you can just go crazy or ride around looking for the various hidden collectibles. Here’s the issue: What’s the point?
Free Ride and the Main Story could have just worked as one mode altogether. Why separate the leisure exploration from the main campaign when, like most sandbox games, story advancements can be triggered manually, which goes back to our point earlier about mission to mission flow being a lot smoother. While this would make Mafia just like any other open-world game, obviously Grand Theft Auto, feeling similar to the iconic franchise shouldn’t be a problem for Mafia since it’s already well-received for its setting, story, and characters.
Free Ride is there to let you just go crazy and forget about the main campaign. But aside from cars and different collectibles scattered around like comics and cards, there just wasn’t any other incentive. Lost Heaven looks great as a city with some notable places to visit, but it’s a shame there’s not a lot to interact with. You can’t even ride the trams or visit shops and buy things, or at least have more mafia-like stuff to do like collecting protection money or whatever else Mafia people do during the weekends.
To be fair, driving the cars was a really pleasant experience due to the much improved controls. Most cars, in general, do not feel sluggish to drive and are responsive enough to merit zigzagging through traffic with ease.
As a Remake, there was so much potential in making a more interactive Lost Heaven that it really feels like a huge missed opportunity to add depth to that part of the world. Riding around is fun for a bit, but the feeling gets old rather quickly with hardly anything to do.
Needs A Bit More Polish
Mafia, like II and III that released before it, isn’t free of any technical hiccups. There were a couple of instances where the mission refused to let us advance even though the objectives have been met, prompting us to restart from the last checkpoint.
There was also a massive frame spike during the parking lot mission where the game simply froze on us for about 5 seconds, probably unable to render the ongoing action, and just magically worked again after.
Speaking of frames, it was rather disappointing that the game was not able to hit 60fps, which would have been fantastic. There are certain missions with some noticeable frame dips, but nothing too bad to make you want to toss your controller. Often times, frame rate is steady, which is good.
Loading times are pretty lengthy too, and it is particularly frustrating to have the game load again because you died due to you not knowing you were taking damage, as we mentioned earlier. Loading only happens in between missions and in between deaths though, so the frequency of it isn’t too bad.
There were also some occasions where the audio completely cut off during a cinematic, with one instance of nothing coming out at all that we thought the game froze until subtitles came out. All in all, though bugs are sometimes expected, it was just a bit of a letdown when they happened in a Remake that was reworked from scratch, especially during a cinematic, which is one of Mafia’s strong points.
What We Liked:
- Fantastic story that leaves you wanting more
- Amazing voice acting and music
- Great cinematics
What We Didn’t Like:
- Weak gunplay
- Massively underused open world
- Long load times
- Inconsistent AI
On the merit of story and characters alone, Mafia: Definitive Edition is a fantastic game. Memorable personalities, gripping and intense storyline with a superb soundtrack behind it, Mafia is indeed worth sitting through until the curtains close. This is the Mafia that you’ve come to remember and love.
That’s only half of the game though, with the other half being a bit of a let down. Touted as a remake, it was quite disappointing to see such great improvements to the recreation of Lost Heaven but not be able to interact with it enough. Add the rather outdated melee combat paired with gunplay that could be snappier and you’ve got a game you’d love and hate at the same time.
Mafia: Definitive Edition is actually an above average game, and it’s very likely fans of the original game will enjoy this to experience Tommy Angelo’s story once again. For everyone else, however, waiting for it could be the better choice. Out of the trilogy, this ‘first’ game is hands down the best release by a mile but is bogged down by some issues that felt like it was stuck in the past, even after the remake.
Mafia: Definitive Edition was reviewed on a PS4 Pro via a review code provided by the publisher.