Mafia is an action-adventure series with elements of an open world set in the USA, during early time periods like the 1940’s and 1960’s. Well-known for its narrative centered on organized crime and a wide array of interesting characters, the series gave birth to a trio of games that scratched the itch for a story based experience unlike what other similar titles offered.
Mafia II released in August 2010 and Mafia III coming out six years later on October 2016 following high expectations from the first, and arguably the best of the series. They were decent efforts, but frankly not at par with what Thomas “Tommy” Angelo had given players. The series was defined by the amazing storytelling and take on the mafia genre, and now for gamers who missed their initial releases years ago, the opportunity to experience Mafia is here as both games have been remastered for the current generation.
With the release of Mafia II and III definitive editions, we take a look at how these titles hold up years after their initial release.
The story thus far…
Mafia II is the story of Vito Scaletta, an Italian immigrant who came to America during the 1940’s with his family, seeking the American dream. From a small time thief to a discharged WWII soldier, Vito is introduced to the world of organized crime and you will share his adventure as he works his way through the ranks of the mafia, with lots of twists and turns along the way, to get a taste of a better life.
Vito Scaletta’s story unfolds in a fictional depiction of New York City, here called Empire Bay, during the 1940’s when World War II is still ongoing. Radio propaganda encourages its citizens to support the troops, and the trending fashion is trenchcoats and fedoras. Not to mention it’s also a time when organized crime is a lucrative business and Crime families each rule a part of Empire Bay.
Mafia III, on the other hand, takes us to the 1960s and into the shoes of Lincoln Clay, who comes home to the New Orleans inspired New Bordeaux. It was also a time when racial tension was at an all-time high and not all Nationalities occupying the same territories didn’t see each other as equals yet.
While Mafia III is told from the point of view of a new character, is it still set in the same universe of Mafia II. Like Vito, Lincoln is also a veteran, only this time of the Vietnam War, where through some unfortunate events, is struck by tragedy and set on a path of revenge against the Italian Mafia that rules New Bordeaux. A very clever feature too is that Mafia III is told documentary style where characters involved recount their encounters with Lincoln Clay and recall the events of Mafia III, complete with interviews and stock footages.
An Offer You Can Refuse
Sporting some remastered graphics, Mafia II and III has that polished look, but somehow still feels that they belong to the previous generation. That graphics aren’t… bad, per se, but they look outdated, considering how other remasters have done a much better job at modernizing some titles. There is noticeable improvement though when switching from part II to III as the facial animations are more pronounced, and the lip synching is smoother. Definitive, however, doesn’t mean a perfect remaster. Unfortunately, both games suffer from a few hiccups.
Mafia II suffers from slight freezing, both in audio and gameplay in some points. It may be just almost half a second of freezing but it’s still unbelievable to see that in a supposed remastered game. When driving as well, items like signs may just pop up as you approach them, not to mention slight screen tearing in some parts. Compared to this, Mafia III didn’t have as much issues in terms of graphics and gameplay, and it feels slightly improved compared to its predecessor actually, save for one head scratching issue.
For some reason, the controls have been switched in some areas of Mafia III. In the case of the PS4, button prompts like cover and melee attacks which the game shows as the O button, is actually mapped to X. This made for very frustrating moments in the game, where you thought you were going to dispatch an enemy from your hiding spot, only to accidently stand up because you pressed the wrong button. It’s not easy to just reverse your mindset because certain button prompts like opening doors are still mapped correctly. What made it even more frustrating is that there are no preset button configurations in the options menu to rectify this. Having to just deal with the mixed up button mapping, it didn’t make playing Mafia III an exactly pleasant experience at first.
Small nitpick, most definitely, but it’s things like these that add up to make it seem like a so-so remaster.
Light on the Sandbox
Mafia is listed as an action-adventure series and while these games are not downright open world sandbox games, though there are actually some sandbox elements featured.
Mafia II and III thrusts you into a sandbox style city where you are free to go anywhere, triggering the main story by going to certain points of the city. In getting around Empire Bay and New Bordeaux, you can traverse by foot or drive cars, and stealing one is definitely an option. Mafia II, in particular has a mechanic where you can quietly pick locks to steal a car. Of course in both games you can go for the less subtle approach and just break the window, just like any gangster would do.
It was definitely right to list Mafia as an action-adventure series, despite the sandbox elements, because the games do not exactly utilize their cities fully and they suffer for it, Mafia II in particular.
Empire City is definitely a faithful representation of the times, and you cannot talk about Mafia II (and definitely III) without mentioning the amazing and fitting soundtrack the developers chose when you tune in to the different radio stations as you drive around the city. This, however, felt like the only incentive to manually drive around going from one mission objective to another.
Aside from picking up wanted posters and magazines as collectibles throughout the city, there is basically no other motivation to explore Empire city that you’re just compelled to go through the game’s main storyline. There are some side activities you can do like buying a hotdog from a random cart or shop for clothes in the different areas, but in the case of the latter all the stores basically have the same line-up of jackets and suits, save for varying colors. You could interact with payphones scattered around, but like buying hotdogs, it’s not exactly something you want to pass the time with. It’s a shame because Empire City could have been a fantastic opportunity to put the Mafia in Mafia II.
Activities like taking on rival organizations, and maybe collecting protection money from local businesses could have been added to make you feel like someone working for the mob. Unfortunately, such activities don’t exist and the closest you can fulfill that mafia fantasy is just playing the main storyline.
Mafia III was somehow able to improve on its predecessor’s shortcomings. Compared to Mafia II, firstly, when setting waypoints, prompts that will tell you what direction to go will occasionally appear. Not to mention a counter indicating how near you are to your objective is now present. These weren’t in Mafia II at all.
In terms of diversifying the gameplay a bit, Mafia III now offered different districts that you can take over in Lincoln’s quest to take down the Italian Mafia. This consists of destroying the mob’s source of income by taking over different businesses or taking out key targets, culminating in a showdown with that district’s boss.
You are then free to assign that district to one of three underbosses that you meet along the way, one which may be very familiar to fans of Mafia II. There is a level of choice here as Lincoln’s story can unfold differently depending on who you favor as you take over New Bordeaux, resulting in bonds broken and new enemies to fight. There are even added activities like wiretapping different areas to have more access to enemy activities. The fresh take however stops there, as the mission structure to take over each district don’t exactly vary and by perhaps the third or fourth area to conquer, you may already find it an unpleasant grind.
Like Mafia II’s Empire Bay, New Bordeaux also feels underutilized in this sense. Actually, there’s no doubt some care was taken into crafting both games’s cities, with NPCs going about their business pretty realistically. It just still felt empty on account of a lack of things to do, especially in the case of Mafia II. The incentive of driving around just to hear the awesome soundtrack the developers put together for both games can only go so far. Not to mention there’s not much use for all the dirty money you earn save for guns and clothes.
Say Hello To My Little Friend
Mission structures too don’t exactly break the mold. As one who works for organized crime, your tasks consists of driving to certain locations, or engaging in gunfights and taking out assigned targets. The gunfights are pretty solid with firearms like handguns and shotgun faithfully recreated in terms of their damage and area of effect. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the enemy AI. They can be pretty dumb, standing in the open sometimes, even on the hardest difficulty.
Mafia III, in particular, puts the spotlight on some crappy AI, and it’s almost laughable to see goons hide behind cover and just often walk towards you shooting, leaving them open for you to melee attack them from your cover spot, only to rinse and repeat if another one gets closer.
The one-on-one fights leaves something to be desired. It really felt clunky and limited as all you do are dodge, punch, and execute a finisher. There’s some effort to mix in some strategy by adding counters, but overall you can get through most fights just timing your light punches right and doing the finisher. In other words, don’t expect deep melee combat in Mafia.
Needs More Mafia
Despite the amazing story, cinematics, voice acting, and characters, it’s very hard to recommend Mafia II and III, both as the so-called Definitive Editions they claim to be, and as titles worth trying out in today’s gaming landscape.
Putting on a “Definitive Edition” tag and polishing the graphics doesn’t absolve any title of shoddy gameplay and both Mafia II and III had a great opportunity to fix these up. Sadly, it comes off as a sort of lazy remaster, bringing along with it some technical hiccups that put a wrench in the experience.
What makes this quite disappointing is that both titles have engaging storylines, well done cinematics, and even superb soundtracks, but the buck stops there, as almost everything falls short that it’s almost a crime to have almost nothing to do save for collectibles, or the added missions that come with each game.
What we liked:
- Both Mafia titles feature compelling storylines
- Great soundtrack
- Well done cinematics
What we didn’t like:
- Not enough mission variants
- Side activities are very limited
- Technical problems like stuttering and visual glitches
The Definitive Editions for Mafia II and III seem like remasters done for the sake of, and while the base games were decent on their own, this could have been an opportunity to do right by them with some quality of life updates here and there.
It’s a shame, considering the well-crafted story the Mafia series has created, especially if you’re fans of the crime thriller genre, since Vito’s and Lincoln’s stories are tales worth knowing after all. We’d recommend to wait it out a bit, especially with the far more superior remake that Mafia: Definitive Edition will be bringing to the table later this month.
Mafia II and III Definitive Edition was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro via a review code provided by the publisher.