It’s the 1930s, America’s dryer than a Kalahari communion wafer, and the Great Depression isn’t that great really. It’s a depressing…depression. In that age, there was a fortune to be made provided that you were the type of enterprising fella who knew how to grease a few palms and bend the law just enough. Bootleggers ran moonshine out of Kentucky, Italy’s oldest family made a fortune and one plucky cab driver found himself neck-deep in mob warfare thanks to a kiss from lady luck on one fateful night.
Mafia was that game in 2002. Debuting in an age where games were becoming more cinematic and ambitious in nature, Illusion Softworks may have pinched some inspiration from the likes of Grand Theft Auto 3 but the end result was still a uniquely charming tale of corruption and cannoli. It may have looked like a sandbox adventure, but Mafia was a surprisingly linear experience that balanced on a fine line of gangland violence and keeping the fuzz off your tail by obeying traffic laws in the fictional metropolis of Lost Heaven.
Almost two decades later, that’s still the core game that developer Hangar 13 has reimagined. It’s still a fascinating blend of ideas, as Mafia: Definitive Edition retains the tight scripting of the original game’s shootouts and leisurely driving, sticks close to the pages of its story and otherwise plays out exactly as you remember. The best comparison for what this version of Mafia is, would be to juxtapose it against Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of Psycho: The bones are the same, but everything else is new.
More modern visuals, even more cinematic cutscenes and a stellar sound design makes for a presentation that you simply cannot fugghedabout. The gameplay has also received a touch of mordenisation, but just enough of it. Truth be told, it’s absolutely vanilla content: You’re able to take cover, pop shots off, and there’s a basic melee system to make use of in case a goon tried to fit you for a pair of cement shoes.
The driving on the other hand, feels absolutely superb. Even though most of the vehicles in Mafia feel like a whale with an eating disorder as you tear around the streets of Lost Heaven, they’re period-authentic jalopies whose handling can be toggled between a more forgiving game mode and an equally satisfying simulation mode. For some reason, leaving rubber marks on a street corner with a car that predates my own grandmother is a thrill that I just can’t get enough of.
The game is also a handsome made man, minus a few inconsistencies. I still think Paulie’s character model looks like someone stuffed a sack with risotto and drew a face on it, but everything else looks fantastic even on my wheezing launch edition PS4. Lost Heaven is an authentic cesspit, the lighting effects are magnificent, and its been a while since I’ve seen classic cars sparkle so beautifully as the moonlight dances off polished aluminum frames.
While Mafia looks great, it sounds even better thanks to an impressive cast of voice actors who sell their multiple roles with authentic lingo from the era. Either that or Martin Scorsese is going to be very upset when he finds out who stole the script for his latest Prohibition-era film. Characters rib one another convincingly, the verbal sparring is on point, and Andrew Bongiorno carries a predictable but still enjoyable story from start through to its bloody conclusion.
If you’re still seeking a more classic return to form albeit with all the bells and whistles attached, fret not! Mafia: Definitive Edition allows you to change the pace of the game with Classic Mode. Enemies are transformed into crackshots, you’ll want to reload your gun only when it’s empty lest you lose precious ammo, and you’ll seek cover more than usual as you’ll only be able to patch up a small amount of health between action beats should you spot a rare medicine cabinet off the beaten path.
Combined with the thin blue bribed line pulling you over should you break the rules of the road, and Mafia easily goes right back to its roots while looking prettier than a politician in your pocket. All of that makes for at the very least, a competent game. As reliable as Mafia feels across its weekend-long campaign, there’s nothing about the game that truly stands out when compared to its superb third iteration or anything else done in the sandbox genre across the last ten years.
That makes for an interesting time capsule at the very least though, one that isn’t bogged down with endless hunts for guff (mostly as some mission-specific collectibles can be found) or live service events sprouting up around you. But beyond its excellently-produced campaign, it’s hard to find any reason to return to Lost Heaven once the end credits have rolled.
Mafia: Definitive Edition is a stunning recreation of a classic game, adding competent gameplay upgrades and a polished recreation of its plot. As solid as the overhaul may be though, it doesn’t do much else to evolve the experience beyond the bare essentials. Not that you heard that from me, capisce?
Last Updated: September 28, 2020