We’ve seen plenty of video game remakes over the last few years, with 2020’s selection proving particularly special and nostalgia-inducing so far thanks to the release of Final Fantasy VII Remake and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2. Well, now it’s time for the Mafia series to throw its hat into the ring, with Mafia: Definitive Edition offering a complete re-imagining of the 2002 original.
It’s a REALLY good effort from the team at Hangar 13 too, with Mafia: Definitive Edition making some genuine improvements that fix the flaws of the original whilst also refining it for a modern audience with new gameplay elements and story sequences. It’s just a shame that they couldn’t completely fix the game’s awkward controls…
Mafia: Definitive Edition puts players in the role of Tommy Angelo, a Lost Heaven (the game’s Chicago-based city) cabbie who finds himself mixed up in the local crime families after helping a pair of mobsters escape from a showdown with a rival gang. What follows is a slippery descent into the world of organised crime as Tommy soon establishes himself as a part of the Salieri crime family, with him taking on all sorts of shady jobs as they look to bring down their rivals in the Morello family.
I was already a fan of the Mafia narrative thanks to it’s engaging storytelling and its brilliant cast of believable (albeit cliché) characters, but the Definitive Edition really goes a long way in fleshing them all out and adding extra details to the overall story. New sequences bring minor characters and their relationship with Tommy into the limelight a lot more, which doesn’t only give returning players something new to experience this time around but also further humanises protagonist Tommy. It doesn’t have to be all about the ‘family business’ and spilling blood you know, and some of these additional sequences go a long way in proving that.
At its core, Mafia: Definitive Edition will feel familiar to anyone who has played a modern-ish (it is the 1930s after all) open-world adventure before… you know… like Grand Theft Auto. You’ll head across a big authentically-designed city as you complete missions for a variety of different characters, all whilst taking part in the occasional shoot-out on the streets, evading the police, and even finding collectibles that are scattered around. Unlike Grand Theft Auto, Mafia: Definitive Edition is a lot more streamlined in its approach to gameplay; there isn’t an abundance of side-tasks to complete here, but a narrative focused set of missions that keeps the story progressing and the tension ramped up.
It’s an approach that might not necessarily be appreciated by those who love an open-world full of tasks to complete, but I liked it. It means there’s no real filler content to be found in the game but rather meaningful missions that help you embrace your newfound role as a gangster.
There is plenty of excitement to be found through Mafia: Definitive Edition’s missions though, where a blend of cover-based shoot outs, slick set pieces, and moments of stealth action all come together to make for some genuinely thrilling showdowns with your enemies. The shooting throughout the game feels really tight and refined too, with obvious improvements made over both the original game and even the more recently released Mafia III to ensure that shootouts always feel authentic in design. This is definitely the best that it has felt across the series and goes a long way in showing that that Hangar 13 have really put the work in to improve almost all aspects of the overall experience.
Of course, there will be also be a sense of familiarity with the missions you face – this is a remake, after all. Fortunately, everything FEELS like it should, with missions capturing the same dramatic vibe that was present in the game’s original release but also featuring enough improvements and changes so that they feel fresh and modernised. Some are a whole lot less frustrating to play through thanks to some additional difficulty balancing too, with the notorious difficulty spikes of the original release absent here. Don’t get me wrong, it still has its tricky moments, but they’re not as brutal and unfair as they were back in 2002.
Outside of shoot-outs and exploration, you’ll be doing a lot of driving in Mafia: Definitive Edition. It’s… ok. There’s a stiffness to the vehicles that is probably befitting of the era, but it also makes it easy to accidentally crash or lose control when trying to take tight corners at speed. It really took me a short while to adjust to, especially when trying to weave through traffic when working to a time-limit.
I guess the biggest problem with the driving is that it just doesn’t feel all that exciting. Sure, you’ll have your big car chases and you can expect to be evading the police on a regular basis, but there’s nothing about these instances that ever felt as jaw-dropping as the moments seen in other modern open-worlds such as Grand Theft Auto or Saint’s Row.
Is it a problem? Not really, especially since Mafia: Definitive Edition tries to offer an experience that is a lot more believable than those other titles. It never feels outright bad by any stretch of the imagination either – it’s just that those hoping for epic thrills and spills when driving through the streets of Lost Heaven may find themselves feeling a little bit underwhelmed.
It’s probably worth mentioning that the general controls can be a little clunky at times too, with Tommy a little difficult to navigate across the city. This isn’t so bad in the more open environments, but where you’re in tighter corridors you’ll regularly see him stutter around as you clumsily make your way through doorways or when avoiding obstacles. Admittedly, it is something you get used to as you play the game and it is by no means a game-breaker, but it was certainly something I had to adjust to as I played through the opening selection of missions.
I have to heap praise on Hangar 13 for making Mafia: Definitive Edition look so good. This isn’t only a VERY attractive game by remake standards, but also stands tall as one of the better-looking titles that have released this year. The city itself is bustling with life and full of detail, character models are animated fluidly and look slick throughout, whilst the general performance of the game is smooth too. There is the occasional bug here and there, sure, but overall it’s a very polished and attractive game.
Whilst the Definitive Edition brings with it an array of improvements across the board, one of my favourites was the customisable difficulty settings that really allow you to fine-tune your Mafia experience. This isn’t just limited to making enemies easier for Tommy to handle though, but also allows you to make the police a bit more lenient or change up the driving settings. Prefer a challenge? There’s also the Classic mode which really ramps up the difficulty for players. I’m not brave enough to tackle it, but each to their own…
Oh, and before I forget, there are also motorbikes this time around too. Vroom-vroom, baby.
Mafia: Definitive Edition offers a thrilling action-packed gangster tale that is only really let down by some occasionally clunky controls. The remake itself is top notch, with the story delivering the same gritty tale but adding additional sequences to flesh it out, the mission design more tightly refined to offer more excitement and a balanced difficulty, and the visuals outstanding throughout with Lost Heaven feeling more believable and lived in than ever before. Hangar 13 have done a really great job in re-imagining the game whilst maintaining its roots and it’s sure to please both series veterans and complete newcomers.
It’s just a shame that the controls are so fiddly, with both the on-foot segments and the driving feeling pretty cumbersome throughout. It’s not a game-breaker by any means, but it’s certainly noticeable – especially during your early hours playing when you’re getting used to how the game feels.
Still, these issues won’t ruin your time with Mafia: Definitive Edition and there’s no denying that it’s up there with Final Fantasy VII Remake and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 as one of the finest remakes that has released over the last few years. If you’re a fan of modern open-world adventures or appreciate a good gangster flick, you won’t want to miss out on Mafia: Definitive Edition.
Developer: Hangar 13
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC