I was super excited when rumours started swirling about a potential Mafia Trilogy release on current gen consoles, especially since I was a big fan of the series’ second release when it hit the PlayStation 3 in 2010. Naturally then, when Mafia II: Definitive Edition was both announced and released on the PlayStation 4 last week, I simply had to dive into dark and deadly tale of Vito Scaletta’s foray in the world of crime once again.
The adventure is just as good as I remember too, though some technical issues do hold Mafia II back in its new modernised and ‘definitive’ form.
Set in the New York-inspired Empire Bay in the 40s, Mafia II sees players taking on the role of Vito Scaletta as he returns home following his time fighting for the US Army in World War II. Of course, times are hard and with his family in debt, Vito ends up working for one of the local crime families to earn some extra dough. Naturally, this doesn’t turn out to be the best route to take and it leads Vito on a troubling escapade where danger (and betrayal) always seems to be lurking around the corner…
As a fan of gangster and mafia movies, I LOVED the story of Mafia II. Sure, it has a lot of the clichés associated with the times, but it’s presented in such an endearing way that it’s hard to find yourself totally absorbed into everything that’s going on. It’s also worth noting that Mafia II: Definitive Edition brings with it all of the previously released DLC too, so you’ll have the arcade-like antics of Jimmy to play through as well as the misadventures of your closest ally Joe once you’re done with the main story.
The open-world formula that has been adopted with huge success in the likes of Grand Theft Auto is present in Mafia II, though the overall vibe is a lot more serious than what we’ve previously seen in Rockstar’s series – you’ll still do a lot of driving, a lot of running and gunning, and a lot of escaping from the police though, so it’ll certainly feel very familiar to most. Everything about the game’s mechanics are all solid in design with the shooting satisfying and the driving tight, so there are no real complaints to be had with the main gameplay… it’s just fun.
Whilst games like Grand Theft Auto are full to the brim with little tasks to dive into on the side, Mafia II is a bit more focused and linear in design. Sure, there’s an open world for players to drive across as they approach missions, but it never feels fully utilised or like it is full of side endeavours for players to dive into. It’s not necessarily a bad thing and the stand-alone environments that a lot of missions take place in add an extra dose of variety to their design – it just means that there’s not much else to do in the world outside of simply driving to your objective marker.
This has its pros and cons. For one, it means there’s none of the unnecessary padding or busywork that has plagued modern open-world games (I’m looking at you Assassin’s Creed), but it also means that the map itself can feel a bit more condensed and not necessarily fully utilised. Empire Bay has its fair share of unique sights to see and there are plenty of the hallmarks that are typical of a bustling 1940s city, but there’s no real reason to go out exploring through its streets… well… other than to find the collectible Playboy covers that are scattered around (which I’m sure may be enough incentive for plenty of gamers). It’s just clear that Mafia II’s world shows its age in some aspects of its design, and whilst it IS refreshing to not have to worry about completing what are often boring and unnecessary tasks in order to progress, it does feel like there’s a lot less to do when compared to a modern open-world adventure.
At least the main missions are action-packed and blend together melee brawls with slick gunfights. As mentioned, a lot of the missions take place in separate locales to those found in the main world, which opens up more potential for enjoyable set-pieces and extravagant showdowns. Sure, it also means that there are some claustrophobic interiors to fight through along the way too, but for the most part it’s all action-orientated fun.
Whilst this is meant to be the ‘Definitive Edition’ of Mafia II, it does have its share of flaws. I played on the PlayStation 4 Pro and I noticed quite a lot of frame rate drops during gameplay, for example. Mafia II is nearly ten years old now, so you’d have thought that modern hardware could handle it quite well – instead, it’s limited to 30fps and sees frequent drops. It’s nothing game-breaking, but it certainly is distracting and could cause some frustrations during some missions. There are quite a few bugs to be found in general gameplay too, with the controls not functioning correctly and enemies getting seemingly stuck in the environment at times. These were infrequent issues, but present nonetheless.
It’d be something if there had been significant visual upgrades made to justify these stutters, but it’s not as if Mafia II has suddenly become a visual masterpiece. Sure, it’s certainly seen some improvements throughout the environments and some of the character models are definitely a lot nicer their last-gen counterparts, but it doesn’t always feel as though Mafia II is a current-gen game. Some of the character animations actually look a little shoddier than I remember, which is a bit of a shame – it certainly doesn’t feel like there are a ton of ‘definitive’ improvements made to the visuals.
So it’s clear that Mafia II doesn’t always hit the mark as far as its presentation and performance is concerned, but there’s no denying that there’s something special about the vibe of the experience. The story completely hooked me in (though I’d expect that as a fan of gangster flicks), the brilliant radio stations play a host of catchy tunes befitting of the time and setting, whilst I absolutely ADORE the festive opening of the game as Vito returns home from the War. Add to that gameplay that’s genuinely fun to play through and it’s easy to see that there is a lot to like about Mafia II ten years on, even if the remastering itself isn’t really perfect.
I really enjoyed Mafia II when it originally released back in 2010 and I’m happy to report that this remastered release holds up quite well, with the engrossing story and action-orientated missions making for a thrilling experience. Don’t get me wrong, the gameplay shows its age in places and there’s not a whole lot to do in the open-world, but it doesn’t stop the game from offering a totally riveting gangster experience.
Unfortunately, this ‘definitive’ release has its fair share of flaws, with the inconsistent frame rate, random bugs, and sometimes sketchy visuals tarnishing what is otherwise a great game. Are the problems bad enough to make Mafia II a game you’ll want to avoid? Definitely not, but I do hope that 2K Games look at fixing them sooner rather than later – especially since there really is a pretty special game to be found behind them all.
Developer: Hangar 13, D3T Limited
Publisher: 2K Games
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC