The very first Mafia game is completely remade for the current generation, creating what is essentially the best Godfather game never made.
Although a brief glimpse of its gameplay might make you think Mafia: Definitive Edition is just Grand Theft Auto with tommy guns, the reality is a little different. Originally released in 2002, Mafia was largely undistinguished, let down by too many rough edges, clumsy controls, and sadistically poor car handling. Its sequels improved on all of those areas, which is why the Definitive Edition for Mafia 2 changes relatively little and the one for Mafia 3 nothing at all – but this is a complete remake.
Mafia: Definitive Edition stays true to its forebear’s cinematic leanings but has been rebuilt from the ground up to take advantage of newer technology, complete with recast main characters, fresh motion capture, and a 21st century graphical makeover. The result looks fantastic, and prohibition era Chicago (or rather its fictional stand-in) is replete with immaculately reconstructed historical details from the big band music on its two radio stations to the freshly ironed double-breasted suits, and fedoras.
The game tells the story of Tommy Angelo, a cab driver who happens to be nearby when a pair of mobsters need to make a rapid exit. His assistance in shaking off their assailants and returning them safe and sound to Don Salieri does not go unnoticed, inadvertently kicking off his career as a junior mobster. Initially that almost feels like a continuation of his days as a cabbie, with a great deal of time spent behind the wheel, but before too long he also needs to help out with debt collecting and far darker dealings.
One of the major issues the original suffered was how terrible driving its cars felt. Naturally, a degree of that is down to motor vehicles from the 1930s accelerating incredibly slowly and handling like ox carts, but no amount of authenticity makes up for a game that just wasn’t very much fun. Thankfully, the handling model in the Definitive Edition has been spruced up considerably. Its cars may still be pedestrian compared with today’s, but at least now driving isn’t a crushing chore.
The same goes for the cops, who now no longer hunt you down like a dog for minor traffic offences. There is a simulation mode that brings back their fascistic zero tolerance policy – and one for cars, which once again makes it an appalling slow motion drudge to get around town – but quite why anyone would want to switch those on is a mystery.
Gunfights have also received a fillip. No longer are they chaotic, circle strafing affairs, instead, borrowing from the cover mechanics of more recent games, they’re now slightly more considered. The guns themselves are still inaccurate, and police especially seem to be able to withstand a couple of shots to the face before they finally keel over, but despite the continued clunkiness, it’s still a major improvement.
Where Mafia really shines though, is its story. It was always designed to be cinematic but with the refreshed cast, new motion capture, and graphics its plot is more engaging than ever. While missions and the overarching story are nearly identical, there are changes, most notably that Tommy’s wife, Sarah, is no longer a barely sketched in cypher, but an actual character who responds as any human would to her husband’s descent from brave, plucky newcomer to increasingly brutal mob kingpin.
Unfortunately, in the process of making its plot hang together, the potential for an open world game is lost. It may simulate a reasonable chunk of 1930s Chicago and its surrounding countryside but the only way you get to see any of it is in the game’s tightly scripted story missions, which chivvy you from one appointment to the next with no time for autonomous exploration. It’s a shame, because the city’s outstanding detail and beauty would make it a great place to explore with a few reasons to do so.
It’s easy to dwell on what Mafia isn’t, most obviously an open world game like Grand Theft Auto. But importantly, it’s really good at being a briefer, more plot-driven experience. Clocking in at between 10 to 12 hours, it’s no part-timer, but was never designed to become the kind of lifestyle choice that GTA is for some people. And it works. The plot is highly engaging, with characters you care about that have proper arcs to their stories. It’s refreshing to play a game so intent on its narrative.
Missions are reasonably varied, there’s a decent degree of challenge that you can adjust in the settings, and the storytelling is genuinely great. Its recreation of Chicago during the Depression is scintillating, and while the driving and gunplay may not be best in class, they’re a whole lot better than they used to be. If you’ve ever enjoyed a Godfather movie and have a dozen hours to kill, Mafia: Definitive Edition is a rewarding way of doing it.
Mafia: Definitive Edition review summary
In Short: A good looking and competent retread of a second rate original, which improves on everything from the graphics to the driving model, whilst maintaining the game’s cinematic essence.
Pros: Looks great, with an eye for historically authentic 1930 details, good voice acting, and a plot that will appeal to anyone who enjoys hearing about offers that can’t be refused.
Cons: Gunplay is clumsy at best, car handling is improved but still far from thrilling, and the on-rails storyline never makes full use of its working model of old Chicago.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Developer: Hangar 13
Release Date: 25th September 2020
Age Rating: 18
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