From classics like Final Fantasy 7 to B-tier cult games like Destroy All Humans, all types of titles have seen the upgrade treatment in 2020, the Year of the Remake. Given that range, it is not unheard of for the original Mafia game from 2002 to get a fresh coat of paint on its Studebaker. While Mafia: Definitive Edition’s world and visuals benefit from modern technology, its mission design and gameplay are rooted deep within the past.
Heaven never looked so good
Hangar 13’s work on the city of Lost Heaven is obvious and immediately noticeable as a 2020 game. Thankfully, it’s not a map filled with hundreds of icons and meaningless side missions that so many open-world games from this generation have. Instead, it takes from current design through its graphical prowess that helps set a more convincing scene with an appropriately excellent jazzy soundtrack.
Better lighting drapes across the town and streets are more lively because of the greater amount of people that roam around and more eye-catching, brightly lit buildings. There is just a lot more going on and that extra activity injects exponentially more life into a city could only slightly evoke the tone it was going for back in the early 2000s. Mafia: Definitive Edition doesn’t have an obsessive Rockstar-esque amount of environmental detail and contains its share of technical mishaps like screen tearing, pop-in, and long load times, but the extra horsepower is better at establishing the 1930s gangster tone that is so essential to the game.
Some pretty good fellas
That tone is at its best when it comes to its cast of characters (even though, like a lot of mafia fiction, it ignores its women). While it would be easy to devolve into a bunch of stereotypes, the game deftly avoids such clichés. On the whole, most characters are written well, but the game is at its best when focusing on specific characters.
Tommy is a relatively noble leading man that balances his heart with his newly formed killer instinct. Paulie is a big, dumb comic relief goon yet also has his own motivations, as misguided as they are, that make him more than a joke in a fitted suit. Sam is the straight man to balance Paulie out and plays his role well as the collected smooth talker in the background. Together, the three are an interesting trio that carry each mission and are boosted by their consistently great performances.
They are stronger as a group, but they can’t quite carry the uneven narrative in its entirety. The opening instantly draws you in with its framing device and how Tommy gets accidently inducted into organized crime. It’s an intriguing setup that’s shot well and just a little different from the usual mafia-style story.
But it loses more as it branches out and rushes those threads to their unearned conclusions. Tommy’s change of heart, Paulie’s personal frustrations, and more are all brought up, sped through, and haphazardly wrapped up in a thoroughly unsatisfying final act. There’s a lot going on in the periphery of Mafia’s story yet it chooses to focus on fairly trite and predictable gang warfare for too much of its running time instead of those more personal side stories. Satisfying payoffs can only happen if they receive the necessary build-ups and Mafia repeatedly falls short on that front with its main and secondary beats.
Packin’ weak heat
Its narrative shortcomings pale in comparison to its gameplay failures. Mafia is built on the back of Mafia 3, meaning that’s pretty different from the 2002 original and is instead a poor cover shooter. Aiming is wildly inaccurate, hamstrung by its lack of sticky aim, ridiculous recoil, and obnoxiously large handgun aiming reticule. It’s so big that you’ll often miss your shot if you don’t have most of your big crosshairs on the target, especially if you dare to move while shooting. Strong aim assist should be on by default and not hidden in the menus because it’s the only way the combat is halfway tolerable.
Enemies are also quite resistant sometimes, failing to realistically stumble when taking a few bullets to the chest or legs. Tailored suits essentially act as armor for Morello’s goons as they shrug off shells and continue unabated, which also applies to melee combat. Getting into cover isn’t much better as it is not only slow, but also rather stiff and doesn’t always protect you like it should.
An unwelcome blast from the past
Driving is similarly clunky but for different reasons. Vehicles from the early 1900s were probably unwieldy yet that doesn’t excuse how infuriating they are to control in Mafia. They’ll spin out at a moment’s notice like every road is made of ice and slathered in vegetable oil and take a small eternity to get back up to speed after you inevitably spin out and hit something. Many cars also have wide turning radii and all three problems collide to make getting behind the wheel a total nightmare —a painful irony given Tommy’s background as a cab driver. Like auto-aiming, turning on the “Skip Drive” feature becomes a nearly essential part of the experience.
Everything wrong with the driving and combat is highlighted by the game’s archaic and strict mission design. Most have some sort of leash, be it a timer, stealth mandate, or subject to chase. Wonky systems already make tasks difficult to complete and having to also fight with the controls to overcome another artificial barrier adds yet another layer of frustration. The side missions in the free roam mode are almost exclusively built around these bad timers, making the inessential parts of the open world even more inessential.
These limitations further draw attention to the game’s age as timers and fail states dictated mission structure back then; an unfriendly methodology that’s thankfully not as prevalent now. Dragging its missions over without fully bringing them up to modern standards serves as a constant reminder of the game’s age as its old architecture is fundamental part of its blueprint. Classic Mode, the game’s attempt to appeal to give nostalgic fans a more authentic experience, makes its age even more apparent and is a puzzling inclusion since everything becomes exponentially more tedious for little to no gain.
Mafia: Definitive Edition Review | The final verdict
Mafia: Definitive Edition is tedious enough as it is by 2020 standards. Clunky gunplay and lousy vehicle handling make the shootouts as frustrating as the getaway drive. The promising setup can’t avoid getting whacked either as it disappoints through its inability to meaningfully execute on its multiple beats. The talented cast and better realized 1930s world outdo its 2002 counterpart, but the rest of its blunders come together and result in an offer that’s relatively easy to refuse.
Game Revolution reviewed Mafia: Definitive Edition on PS4. Code provided by the publisher.