Mafia: Definitive Edition, an overhaul of the 2002 game that launched the Mafia franchise, released in late September.
The game, set in Lost Heaven, a knockoff of 1930s Chicago, follows Tommy Angelo, a cabbie who is seduced by the city’s seedy underbelly and rises through the ranks of the Salieri crime family.
Having never played the original, I was excited to spend time with Hangar 13’s remaster of Mafia. Unfortunately, even with the rebuild, Mafia: Definitive Edition is a mixed bag, pitting much-improved graphics against dated mechanics and a rote story.
First: the things Hangar 13 got right. The game looks wonderful. It’s not on the level of, say, a modern AAA title, but for a remaster, they gave Mafia one hell of a facelift. The city looks great, cutscenes are sharp, and the cars themselves are gorgeous.
Driving is itself a mostly enjoyable experience. If you’re not familiar with the Mafia games, they’re almost identical to a Grand Theft Auto game in terms of design, but with a historical bent to them. Mafia takes place in the 1930s, Mafia II in the 1940s and ’50s, and Mafia III takes place in the 1960s.
For Mafia: Definitive Edition, Hangar 13 rebuilt the city of Lost Heaven, adjusting the layout of the city to improve the experience of traversing it based on data they gathered on how players moved through the original game. The end result is impressive, making traveling through Lost Heaven feel intuitive. The driving experience itself is mostly smooth, with occasional issues cropping up with the handling of the cars, particularly when taking turns.
Thanks to the improvements Hangar 13 made to the city’s design, soaking in the 1930s aesthetic of Lost Heaven is a wholly satisfying experience, especially early on.
One of the game’s most purely enjoyable missions involves giving people rides across the city in your cab; it provides color to the population and the city itself in a way that relaxes you into the world of the game and the life of protagonist Tommy Angelo.
Mafia: Definitive Edition also includes a Skip Drive feature, carried over from the original, that allows you to bypass driving between locations during missions. This cuts down on the more tedious aspects of traveling through Lost Heaven, so it never feels like a chore getting from location to location.
Unfortunately, Mafia: Definitive Edition misses the mark in some key respects.
First, although Hangar 13 brought in a new cast to provide motion-capture and record the game’s dialogue, the performances leave something to be desired. Scenes look great thanks to mo-cap and the other graphical improvements the developers worked in, but the performances of the cast rarely measure up to the technical successes.
Until I started researching for this review, I thought they had just carried over the dialogue from the 2002 edition of the game, so out of sync were the performances with the quality on display in other areas of the game.
In addition, gameplay itself—especially during combat—can feel clunky, showing its age in a disappointing way. While Hangar 13 has made improvements here, the Mafia titles don’t have the most satisfying gunplay, even in more recent entries.
As much as I was looking forward to Depression-era firefights with tommy guns and trench coats, I usually found these sections underwhelming, if not outright frustrating, as the glossy veneer of the 2020 overhaul was worn away by the structural deficiencies of an outdated approach to gaming.
I was eventually able to compensate for these issues with experience but getting to that place wasn’t as much fun as I had hoped.
The story of Mafia: Definitive Edition is straightforward and simple. You work your way into the inner circle of the Salieri crime family, assassinating political and gangland opponents, running booze, etc. during missions, and then cutting to Tommy confessing his crimes to a detective in a diner between acts.
The confessional framing device provides a sense of unease to the proceedings, showing you that however well things are going at any given moment, it all has to go wrong eventually for Tommy to be willing to rat on his crew.
Ultimately the story is predictable, a tried and true tale of crime and punishment that doesn’t offer many surprises. You’ll be able to predict individual story beats missions in advance, and when everything comes crashing down it feels more inevitable than cathartic.
However, if you accept it for what it is, the story isn’t bad, and you’ll likely find some fun in the rise and fall of Tommy Angelo.
Mafia: Definitive Edition is a beautiful remaster that takes advantage of its 1930s aesthetic to showcase the graphical leaps that have occurred since the original came out 18 years ago. That, coupled with improved driving mechanics and a city designed to make traveling feel intuitive, makes exploring the city of Lost Heaven fun.
The game does fall short in other areas, though, with half-baked performances, dated mechanics, and a by-the-numbers tale of gangland success and failure, but these problems don’t make Mafia: Definitive Edition unplayable, just stale.
By the time I finished the campaign I felt like I had gotten all I could out of this title and didn’t feel the need to commit more time to its Free Ride mode, allowing you to drive around and sow chaos throughout the streets of Lost Heaven without the campaign.
At the end of the day, this is a Rent, Don’t Buy title.
You can purchase a copy of Mafia: Definitive Edition here.
If you’re interested in the other things we’re geeking out over, check out the Geek Guy Buys: Slush Pile.