I need to preface this review by letting you know that I haven’t played more that an hour or so of the original 2002 Mafia release on PS2 so if you’re looking for direct comparisons then sadly, I’m not your man. Having said that, as somebody who found a lot of joy in Mafia 2 and 3, I can definitely recommend this definitive edition as the best way to play the original Mafia if you missed out the first time round like yours truly.
As always, you can catch the video version of this review in the link below!
We now live in a world where video game remakes are becoming more and more popular, but what is actually expected from a modern day remake of a classic is still undetermined. Some developers will go down the Final Fantasy VII Remake route and rebuild the game from the ground up with a fair few changes to both gameplay and story along the way. Others will often choose to replicate the original as much as possible, similar to what Bluepoint Games did for Shadow of the Colossus and I think it’s fair to say that Hanger 13’s Mafia Definitive Edition falls into the later category.
The visuals for the most part are really impressive. The opening of the game shows off the new and improved Lost Heaven in all its glory and then seeing Tommy’s character model for the first time during the opening cutscene just shows how much care and attention has gone into parts of this remake. It’s a shame however that when you actually jump into the game the visuals don’t quite hold up in the same way as they do in the cutscenes. I would often come across weird graphical glitches and lots of texture pop-in, especially when driving outside of the city. It’s not enough to ruin the experience especially given the obvious massive visual upgrade we’re getting anyway, but it is slightly frustrating when you consider the game was delayed yet on release still feels like it could have done with more time in the oven. Having said all that, I can’t deny how much joy I found in simply driving around this beautifully remastered city, especially at night when everything is lit up or during a rain storm as my car speeds through splashing puddles. I really felt as if I was living in 1930’s America and a lot of that is thanks to more than just the impressive new visuals.
Voice acting and sound design is top notch here. Every character has had new voice recording done and updated dialogue and the quality really shines through as every schmuck, mob boss and gangster has their own defining sound. I think it’s easy to underestimate how important good voice acting is in a game like Mafia where there’s always that fear that everybody might sound like the same guy doing a forced Italian-American accent.
Going back to what I was saying about really feeling that I was experiencing prohibition era America, it was thanks to little touches sprinkled throughout the world that really kept me engrossed. For example, during one mission you hear the radio presenter talk about a big baseball game that is happening that day. Throughout the mission you’ll then find newspapers with the headline talking about said game and then every time you jump back into your car you’ll be hearing an update about how the game is going. Add to that the interesting side characters, GTA-like news stories about crimes you’ve committed and story beats referring back to smaller earlier events and this world manages to feel really lived in and full of life.
Speaking of the story, this one is top class. Speaking as someone who never got far into the original, it has been a pleasure to go on this journey properly for the first time in this remake. Tommy, Paulie, Sam and Don Selieri all had me glued to my screen from minute one and I quickly found myself not being able to switch the game off as I needed to find out what happened next to this interesting group of well dressed underbosses. There are a few inconsistencies mind, the main ones featuring around our protagonist Tommy. From the very beginning we’re led to believe that Tommy isn’t overly keen on his new found life of crime and he would continuously have moments throughout the game where he’d hesitate on murdering a rival gang member or just express his discomfort with certain situations. The problem is how often the game forgets this important personality trait as Tommy runs over innocent civilians, shoots up churches and murders person after person in every mission. The overall story is fantastic but I felt the story only referred to Tommy’s morality when it suited.
The gameplay is the main element where I really begin to question how much of Mafia Definitive Edition is a remake and how much is a remaster because the combat and gunplay still feels like it lives in 2002 rather than 2020. Admittedly there is a certain charm about keeping the core gameplay the same as the original but newcomers who haven’t played any of the Mafia games at all may find this quite jarring and a tough hurdle to get over. The clunky hand-to-hand combat isn’t offensively bad as it isn’t used all that often but the shooting mechanics needed some getting used to. I did find that I got used to it after a while and using the Tommy Gun felt a lot more natural and enjoyable than anything else so I’d often make sure I was armed with one of those when running into enemy territory.
I can’t tell whether the driving mechanics have been updated but every car in the game from an old school racing car to a big clunky hearse felt realistic and a joy to drive. Changing weather conditions and different terrain really felt like it made a difference to how the vehicles handled. All of this meant missions involving an action filled car chase were often the highlights and where the game really shines when talking gameplay.
I did come across a fair few bugs and glitches during my time with the game which again is a little annoying considering the delay. Most were harmless visual anomalies which were more humorous than game breaking but there were a couple of instances where I had to reload the checkpoint. This was usually down to something daft like the game failing to trigger a cutscene or not letting me move on to the next part of the mission due to an extra enemy being left alive but nowhere to be found. None of these happened often enough to ruin my enjoyment of the game, but given the criticism that the recently released Mafia 2 Definitive Edition received for being buggy, you’d have thought these would have been ironed out this time around.
I also can’t help but ask myself if this remake would have been improved with the addition of some new side missions and mini games which are often found in these Rockstar inspired maps these days. Instead the developers decided to stick to the game’s original chapter based linear mission design. I respect the dedication to keep this as close to the original as possible but a few extras like this could have been inspiration for players to explore more of Mafia’s impressive yet sometimes wasted map.
From what I can tell, Mafia Definitive Edition is a faithful remake of the original for better and for worse. The original story with new voice acting and slightly updated dialogue is a real treat for anyone wanting to experience the origins of this franchise for the first time, and also for those returning players looking for a sweet hit of nostalgia. The gameplay on the other hand would have really benefited from a revamped combat system and is the main issue holding this back from being amongst the all-time great remakes. The inconsistent visuals manage to jump between ugly and beautiful with the later winning out more times than not and the few bugs I encountered weren’t enough to ruin my enjoyment of driving around the game’s wonderfully built city with its brilliant driving mechanics. I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t have enjoyed a few new side stories thrown in for this big remake to take it beyond its relatively short 15 hour story but all in all I had a lot of fun with Mafia Definitive Edition and would highly recommend it especially if you’re looking for something easy and fun to play over a weekend.
I give Mafia Definitive Edition