To start, I want to note that I have not played the original Mafia game released in 2002. So, while reviewing this remake, I am looking at it with a fresh pair of eyes. That being said, I have played both Mafia 2 and Mafia 3, so I am very familiar with the franchise.
A reminder that this game is a from-the-ground-up remake of the original Mafia game. It has been built on the same engine as Mafia 3, all the voice actors were recast, and the story has been slightly reworked to better fit in with the previous two titles. Hanger 13 put in a ton of work on this project, and it shows.
It would be a crime to not first mention the narrative, as it is the most important part of the game. It is also the game’s strongest selling point and should be a treat for anyone who likes well told, well-paced, movie-esque stories. Its premise, however, is expectedly similar to most films/games that revolve around crime. The one where the main character starts at the very bottom of the barrel and rises. That’s Mafia’s story in spades; just add a 1930’s setting and some cliché Italian-American phrases. Starting as an honest cab driver, you, as Tommy Angelo, get thrown into a bad situation that involves the Italian Mafia. From there you work as an associate until you’re a “made man”. See what I mean? I’m not saying that this is a bad thing either, I like the fact that they are telling a story that starts off similar to many others, and I like to see what they do differently afterwards. One way of switching the storytelling up is that the game is mostly a retelling of events as Tommy puffs cigarettes and confesses to a detective in a diner in hopes he and his family will be put into witness protection.
The story is also ripe with well-written, interesting characters like the aforementioned detective that help fill out the world that the game inhabits. They cover all the basics you would expect to find in a story about organized crime, from the loyal caporegime to the ambitious loudmouth who wants to hit it big and call the life quits. Full of wiseguys and goodfellas, Mafia: Definitive Edition gives a fairly accurate, maybe a bit embellished, glimpse into how the Mob works; from the structure of the family, the kinds of hits or jobs you pull, and all the consequences that come with it. This is in line with both Mafia 2 and 3 as well as the original version of this particular story.
The narrative of Mafia: Definitive Edition takes Tommy to some beautifully crafted set pieces throughout the game. They are all well-designed and unique and offer some of the game’s most eye-popping moments. Brimming with detail and secrets, each location brings the fictional Chicago-esque city of Lost Heaven to life. Those set pieces though, are the only part of the world that seem to be full of life. The “open-world”, while beautiful, fails to offer any reason to get out of your car and explore. This can be forgiven, however, as Hangar 13 felt that keeping the structure of the original Mafia was the best thing to do to uphold the story. That’s why the game feels a bit dated compared to similar titles that have booming open worlds with tons of things to do. Hanger 13 does try to offset this by scattering collectibles throughout the city as well as in major mission locations.
Hangar 13 has made significant improvements to the engine since 2015’s Mafia 3. Lighting effects are much more believable now that they accurately cast shadows and beam off of characters’ skin. Godrays are no longer overpowering to cartoonish effect, and interiors of buildings feel more authentic, especially when they are dimly lit. Perhaps the most welcome change to the engine for me is the reflection effects. Mafia 3 had very unnatural and often times completely incorrect reflections, whether it be from a mirror or from vehicles driving down the road. Mafia: Definitive Edition has seemingly fixed this, as reflections on vehicles are smooth and believable. The particle and weather effects are also very well done, anytime there was rain or thunder, I wanted to roam around and forgo the progression of missions; especially in the “Farm” mission. These moments were absolutely stunning and honestly some of the most visually beautiful weather-based missions I’ve EVER experienced. Another noticeable chance is the detail in character models and facial animations. Of course, the Definitive Edition’s full remake looks leaps and bounds ahead of the original, but it also outdoes the previous release in minor but much needed fashion. While the actors and models in Mafia 3 were expressive and looked natural, the updates to the lighting, the texture models, and the facial animations combine to make Mafia: Definitive Edition’s characters all the more lifelike and realistic.
P.S. Tommy is a stud compared to his original look, which kind of looked like Ray Liotta if his face got smushed.
The gameplay, however, is nothing to write home about. There are some nice additions to the design, some of which have been in previous titles and subsequently taken out. Namely, the driving system. There are options to make the driving a bit more realistic handling-wise, which makes your vehicle behave like an era-accurate motorized wagon. The game brings back Mafia and Mafia 2’s police response system, which makes it so you have to obey the rules of the road while driving to places you plan on robbing or extorting. This includes driving the speed limit, watching out for pedestrians, and trying not to ding other vehicles; you can even bribe police officers when you’ve been pulled over for traffic violations (good luck trying to pay to get away with vehicular homicide). Your car might even get low on gas, which means you will have fill up if you have taken too many scenic routes. While I overall think the driving is bad in this game, it is bad in the right way. I imagine driving in the 1930’s was a pain in the ass. Do not get me started on THAT mission. The Definitive Edition stays so true to the original, that the mandatory race early on in the game is still present, and still very hard. Controller. Breaking. Hard. Still on the topic of vehicles, you do have access to a garage where you can take out the cars you’ve previously driven as well as being able to change the color of the exterior and interior of said car.
Regarding the on-foot gameplay, I found it fun but very mediocre. It is a copy and paste of Mafia 3’s gameplay, which suffered from the same problem. It isn’t the most reliable or reactive, but it isn’t a tank control-filled mess. You’ll generally be able to shoot, sprint, and take cover well, but there is a bit of jank while trying to achieve what you truly want. There’s almost no point in blind-firing while in cover, unless whoever you’re shooting at is right on the other side of your cover. Regardless, the gameplay is fine and more than bearable considering how well the narrative structure is.
Outside of the story, there is a way to explore the city of Lost Heaven in a free-roam type of way. You can steal and unlock cars for your “carcyclopedia” as well as complete secret time-based races to unlock cars you wouldn’t otherwise see in the game. This was also a part of the original game and is a nice way to pass the time.
With a fantastic story, beautiful graphics, and stunning set pieces, the Mafia series continues to reiterate the writing and scenario strengths of 2K and Hanger 13. They’ve steadily improved things like the graphical clarity and the physics of their engine, but they have yet to create a reason to explore the terrific worlds they build. My hopes are that whatever their next game in the series is, that they keep the stories great, as they have proven to do, while adding meaningful side content and a better open world structure. So, if you enjoyed Mafia 1, 2, or 3 or if you like story-driven games with memorable characters, Mafia: Definitive Edition is right up your alley. It has some of the best video game acting and one of the best narratives outside of The Last of Us or Red Dead Redemption II. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, and it isn’t too short to justify the 40 USD price tag.
But, should you, as a struggling college kid (or someone of a similar financial situation), spend your money on this game? If you are looking for an amazing story that will last you a week if you pace yourself or if you want to be immersed in a period piece dedicated to the 1930’s, yes. Absolutely. This game is worth $40, and if you want to pick up the entire series, you can for $60. That in my opinion is a steal. If you are looking for an expansive open-world game that will keep you occupied for 50+ hours, then no. I’d recommend you buy the full series as I previously mentioned, where you can play Mafia 3, which is a fully open-world with much more to do and see.