The original Mafia gets a remaster, but leaves some unintended quirks for nostalgia
Mafia Definitive Edition is Hangar 13’s impressive, yet flawed, remake of the original game from Illusion Softworks. This is more than a mere bump in resolution – the game has been entirely remade from the ground up, complete with new animations, voice acting, character models and world design. You play as Tommy; the story follows his transition from cab driver to gangster, and you witness the progression of his position within the mob. The journey has exciting turns, for the most part, but basically delivers a cliche mafia tale. The story here carries most of the weight, because the gameplay and mission structure is absolutely stale and uninteresting.
This depiction of Prohibition Era America remains faithful to the setting. It takes place in New Heaven, a fictional city inspired by 1930s Chicago, and the world is beautifully realized. The game is admittedly quite impressive graphically, even with minor hick-ups here and there, and the atmosphere is executed very well. Everything from the city lights, to the old jazz music, to the sound of the cars honking their old horns; it is truly an immersive experience. After some key missions, you’ll hear news of the events as they’re reported on the radio while you drive through the city. The sound of the old radio voice really draws you into the setting and adds to the environment. The political conversations around alcohol laws are interesting as well, especially because many of the issues mirror what we see today with drug enforcement in America, and many other countries. I’m not sure if that was done on purpose, but it helps me relate to their situation nonetheless, and I appreciate Hangar 13 introducing that dialogue.
The story is generally quite good, with impressively animated cut scenes and believable performances. The developers do a great job portraying the difficulties that came with prohibition – the accelerated violence, the consequences of changing power dynamics in a mafia cartel, and the government corruption of prioritizing optics over results. The characters seem to be stereotypical caricatures of what you’d expect in a mob movie, which is fine for what they’re conveying here, but there isn’t much depth. I still find some of the main characters likeable and interesting though. The writing is trying to put forth this notion that Tommy’s involvement in the mob helps him care for his family, but I find that hard to believe. Unfortunately, the story never commits enough to that notion, and there is a lot of contradiction, since most of Tommy’s decisions and actions are entirely selfish in nature. Voice performances are well done for the most part, but there are moments where it is surprisingly bad, and I find it difficult to connect with some of the dialogue. I wasn’t overly impressed by the writing – it is mostly fine – but the ending has a satisfying conclusion and I was glad to see it through, regardless of how the game played.
Gameplay is my biggest critique of Mafia Definitive Edition. This seems to be Hangar 13’s greatest challenge in their recent titles, aside from the glitches and bugs – which are present here as well. I’m surprised to see little improvement in this regard, because what I encountered is more than your typical texture popping, but nothing overly game-breaking. I had to restart a chase mission multiple times, as the target I was chasing got stuck in the same fence over and over, preventing me from being able to progress. During the sequence the developers remove your ability to use weapons, or even throw a punch, so all I could do was reload my checkpoint and hope it wouldn’t happen again. Great. Unfortunately, I had to restart my checkpoint 3 or 4 times before it finally worked, and this wasn’t the only bug that halted my progression. There is a mission that requires me to open a crate, but I couldn’t trigger the animation when I pressed the interaction button. The button prompt would disappear and nothing would happen. Again, I had to reload my checkpoint and hope it wouldn’t happen next time. In another instance I had shot an enemy in the head multiple times, the hit markers were registering but NPC remained unaffected and wouldn’t die. This bug is especially frustrating, because the combat is quite bad, even when it works.
Guns don’t have enough impact, and they’re not as responsive as I’d like them to be. Moreover, the mission structure doesn’t give you enough agency to play with your weapons. You’re directed through linear levels, where I found there weren’t enough options to veer off path. This is your basic cover-to-cover shooting gallery, which is disappointing when you consider the amount of effort that went into modernizing this title. Enemies hardly react to shots at all, the movement is clunky, and the melee animations are laughably terrible. Melee combat includes a basic counter attack and attack button, but each attack feels meaningless because every encounter ends with an abrupt cut to a janky animation. These animations not only take away all player agency in combat, but none of them are actually cool or satisfying in any way. I tried to melee enemies after shooting them, but it was as if I never shot the enemy to begin with. It still took multiple melee attacks just to see that horribly animated finishing move, and that simply sucks. I found myself uninterested while actually playing the game, and just pushing through to the next cut scene.
While the combat is disappointing, I thoroughly enjoy driving the classic cars around the city, mostly because it was the best time to take in the atmosphere and admire the world that Hangar 13 created. The city is very detailed and they absolutely nailed the tone. If you just want to drive around and admire the world, there’s actually a “free mode” as well. This mode takes you out of the linear mission design, and allows you to freely explore the city in any vehicle you’d like. This might add some replayability for some, but I’m not sure it would be enough to keep me coming back at all. The cars have a manual transmission with controllable gear shifting, which I find satisfying to control. Having to manually shift gears adds some excitement to the tense car chases that Tommy finds himself in throughout the story, and there’s a lot of those! There are more sim elements to the game if you play in classic mode, which I’m sure people would love, but it isn’t for me. I can see the appeal in slow moving 1930s vehicles, and the lethal enemies, for a truly immersive experience. If you’re the type of person who enjoys that sort of thing, I would definitely recommend playing classic mode.
If you’re a sucker for period piece dramas like I am, or you simply love a good mafia tale, then I think Mafia Definitive Edition is worth a play through, at least for the story and setting. I imagine fans of classic cars will love exploring and testing out the variety of vehicles they can drive. If you’re looking for a good action-adventure game with tight controls and enjoyable combat, then you’re not going to find that here. Ultimately, I think it is a solid experience, and I enjoyed my time with it despite my grievances, and I’m curious to see where the franchise goes next after the remakes.
This review is based on a PS4 retail copy of the game purchased by the reviewer