Reviewed on Xbox One X (also available on PS4 & PC)
When I returned to Lost Heaven, I truly felt as if I was in a dream of pure bliss. While the camera was soaring through the skyline of the city during the iconic intro, I was blown away. With every passing second, more and more of remade Lost Heaven became visible, and every scene was more beautiful than the last. As one of the few reviewers of this game that actually played (and loved) the original Mafia from 2002, I felt like this was a love letter composed directly to and for die-hard fans of the original classic, and that was my opinion just from the introductory cinematic! When it was over and I “accepted” that infamous life-changing cab fair as Tommy Angelo, that opinion was firmly solidified. In case you don’t plan on reading the full review, there’s one thing you have to know: if we’re going by definition, this is the best remake I have ever played. It is completely faithful to the original and doesn’t majorly alter anything in the story, nor did it change any core gameplay mechanics outside of refining them for the modern day/current generation. If you played and enjoyed the original, stop reading this review and go out and buy Mafia: Definitive Edition right this second, capisce? If you haven’t and you’re unsure of what the game even entails, and you don’t rightly know if you want to make the purchase, let me take care of that; all you have to do is keep on scrolling paisan.
For the uninitiated, I’ll provide a brief synopsis of the early story and main protagonist to set the stage for the narrative discussion. Don’t worry, however, because even though the game is eighteen years old I won’t be elaborating on any spoilers or major plot events here. In the prologue, you start off as a cabbie by the name of Tommy Angelo, living an almost impoverished life on the straight and narrow in Lost Heaven (Chicago) in the year 1930. One night after completing a run-of-the-mill fair, you see two sharp-dressed gunmen running away from men of similar appearance who are firing on them. Rapidly running out of options, the two gunmen find you, and your cab, and put a gun to your head (this is a fair you can’t refuse). After begrudgingly complying, Tommy puts his foot to the gas in one of the most iconic openings to a game ever made, bobbing and weaving all over the place by driving like a madman in order to escape his pursuers. After losing their tail, the gunmen inform Tommy to take them back to their boss at Salieri’s Restaurant in Little Italy, where he’ll be compensated for his trouble. Tommy drops them off, and after a few tense minutes of awaiting the unknown, they come back out with an envelope of more money than he’s ever seen. Tommy got a small taste of the high life, but he wasn’t hooked just yet. He continued on the path of law abidance for a few more days, but during a fair was identified by one of his pursuers from the other night. Tommy was beaten along with his cab, but saw an opportunity to escape and took it. Running through alleyways and over obstacles, he makes it back to Salieri’s where he’s saved by the men he met the other night. After having a conversation with their boss, Tommy decides it’s time for payback, and his new life begins. That’s as specific as I’m going to get when it comes to plot details, as the real story begins after that. Nonetheless, though, the narrative exponentially becomes more and more captivating, enthralling, and exhilarating with every passing chapter. The plot and characters are incredibly well-written, with no dialogue or story beat being forced without proper build-up/exposition. Speaking of the characters, the new voice actors are phenomenal (I’d argue better than the original), especially when it comes to Tommy, Detective Norman, Paulie, and Sam; they breath believable life into their characters with every word spoken. Characters are also slightly more fleshed out than they were in the original, due to small added cutscenes that include more story details/dialogue that are a really nice touch by Hangar 13. They don’t impose themselves whatsoever, as they add more exposition and worldbuilding, along with further insights into characters such as Tommy and Sarah that were previously unseen/unknown; they are a fine addition and most welcome in my opinion. The story of the original Mafia has always been a fantastic classic and the best part of the experience, and this modern re-telling only enhances and expands upon the iconic narrative without negatively changing the soul of the beloved game.
The gameplay in Mafia has always been the backdrop for the impeccable narrative, but that doesn’t indicate it’s subpar by any means. The best way I can describe the remake’s gameplay style, however, is a hybrid mix between a refined/smoother version of the original Mafia and Mafia III. It’s not bad, and although it’s not significantly altered from the original I still prefer the remake’s gameplay style, but it does have its fair share of flaws. Combat is where I experienced most of my gameplay gripes with Mafia: Definitive Edition, so that’s where I’ll start. Melee combat is nothing out of the ordinary; one of the only things worth mentioning about it is that the counter-attack doesn’t always work properly, resulting in Tommy taking an unfair hit, but it’s not a common issue. In addition, the camera can follow a bit too close to the player at times, resulting in getting struck by a melee attack out of view for instance. The gunplay, however, is solid and highly comparable to Mafia III‘s, but I feel it’s more inaccurate due to the larger crosshair present in the remake (which is a strange design choice in my opinion). This is one factor that results in the game’s hit registration being inconsistent, to say the least. A lot of the time, particularly with non handgun firearms, the crosshair will be red over an enemy but the shot will still miss when fired. This happens very often, and is pretty frustrating when it occurs multiple times in succession. Another inconsistent aspect of combat is damage received by the player. For example, majority of the time it takes four to five handgun rounds to die on normal difficulty, but there could be an instance where the player will die by two shots instead for no apparent reason. This doesn’t happen that much, but is still worth mentioning. On another two separate occasions, I burned to death from molotovs that had impacted near by but did not touch me whatsoever; there’s quite a bit of inconsistency when it comes to damage intake in Mafia: Definitive Edition. The cover system isn’t that reliable as well, as I died a few times due to the game forcing me into the wrong cover upon the input command, or because my player model got turned around by bumping into a box or crate. It works for the most part, but when it doesn’t it’s nothing short of infuriating. The final aspect of gameplay that we’ll cover is driving, and it can be extremely grueling. The vehicle handling is period accurate, but that doesn’t always allow for the best gameplay experience. Driving in the rain is painful and slow, and in a particular chase during a stormy mission is near unbearable. Regardless of rain or shine, however, civilian driver NPC’s will crash into you a lot, as their AI pathing could stand to take a tweak or two; so drive carefully. However, I am ecstatic to report that the absurd difficulty of the infamous race early on in the game has been toned down, but that doesn’t mean the problem has been solved. It’s still an awful, terrible portion to play through with your opponents’ AI still being unreasonably highly skilled. In Hangar 13’s defense, though, I don’t believe there’s much they could’ve done to fix that due to the nature of how those cars handle in real life. They could’ve removed the segment entirely, but that would’ve upset a large portion of the community. They could have, however, just made it into a cutscene; and I don’t think anyone who suffered through the original race would really mind. Overall, Mafia: Definitive Edition‘s gameplay is a modernized recreation of the original with some elements of M3 sprinkled in here and there, and I think fans will be satisfied with the final result: for the most part.
visuals and atmosphere
The graphics of Mafia: Definitive Edition are frankly a sight to behold. Beautifully rebuilt from the ground up, the city of Lost Heaven radiates the new life that has been bestowed upon it. The lighting, shadows, foliage, buildings, streets, car models, character models, gun models, and everything in between is magnificent compared to the original, and is still a significant upgrade from Mafia III to boot. In particular, the gorgeous weather effects instituted further illustrate the attention to detail of the remake, and even the skybox has seen a massive improvement from M3 as well. Even though completely remade, the game world still retains the immersive, gritty yet classy atmosphere of the original Lost Heaven. It hasn’t skipped a beat; and new, small added details such as your car radio becoming muffled and cutting in and out while you’re driving through a tunnel are appreciated, and only further enhance the immersion. Furthermore, the soundtrack only bolsters the experience, as the re-recorded orchestral score shines brightly in the title whenever it’s present. The radio stations have some great period-appropriate tracks as well, and although there are only two stations in the title it gets the job done well. The atmosphere that Lost Heaven provides is still the same wondrous work of art it always has been, and the modern visuals only enhance and exemplify that.
It gives me a lot of joy to say that I only experienced two glitches throughout my entire playthrough of Mafia: Definitive Edition, and they were just minor bugs at that. Stealth wasn’t always accurate in my experience, as I got spotted from behind cover on two separate occasions. The checkpoints were not far behind me, though, so it wasn’t that much of a problem. The other glitch I experienced annoyed me a bit more as it happened so fast. It was during another stealth mission, where an enemy had spotted me out of the corner of his eye. Before I could even react, I was shot, which raised the alarm resulting in a mission failure. The problem? The gun wasn’t even in the enemy’s hands when he shot me, only appearing afterwards. It was completely unfair and a load of bull, but this only happened once so I digress. Mafia: Definitive Edition is nearly glitch-free, which you can’t necessarily say about most modern releases. Well done Hangar 13, this is a significant improvement from Mafia III.
Conclusion and final score
As I said in the beginning, Mafia: Definitive Edition is by far the best remake I have played up to this point in time. It is one-hundred percent faithful to the original, not altering the story in any way besides providing some more minor exposition and detail regarding beloved, classic characters. The gameplay is still a bit rough around the edges in certain places, but overall is a gigantic improvement over the 2002 original and is by far more accessible. The visuals and graphics have been completely rebuilt from scratch, but was done so with the utmost respect for the original, and in doing so retained the same incredible atmosphere. The experience wasn’t tarnished by an exorbitant amount of glitches either, as the only ones present are miniscule in the grand scheme. Mafia: Definitive Edition has reignited the fire of this slumbering franchise, and I must thank Hangar 13 for that. I won’t lie, I thought the series was nearly dead after Mafia III, having completely lost its identity and what made Mafia “Mafia”. But I believe in second chances, and this remake shows that Hangar 13 has finally come to realize what makes this beloved IP so special to so many. For the first time in a long time, I’m highly optimistic about the future of Mafia, and I can’t wait to see where the franchise goes next from here.