While the inevitable Mafia 4 project is still shrouded in mystery, Hangar 13 has turned its sights on the previous three titles in the franchise. While Mafia 2 and 3 received simple remasters, Mafia: Definitive Edition is a more ambitious remake of the original 2002 title. The game uses an updated version of the Mafia 3 engine to breath new life into Lost Haven. The game also received an expanded story, new gameplay content, and quality of life features.
Mafia’s plot has aged well for the most part. It is a gritty story with no real good guys in sight. The plot fits in well with mafia films and is still enjoyable to this day. There are a few lines of dialogue that now borders on the edge of being racially inappropriate, but it’s important to keep the game’s 1930s setting in mind and the fact that what is acceptable has changed in the last 18 years.
The updated story feels a little more fleshed out as certain parts have been expanded, while other parts have been completely rewritten to make more sense. More importantly, the dialogue has been given a good polish. The result in a smoother and more believable story.
While Hangar 13 practically gutted the house and replaced the innards, the foundation of Mafia is still intact. The game is a linear action-shooter with some open world elements during the missions. The mission structure is heavily guided, with players being moved from one story mission to the next without a serious chance to do side missions. The action tends to be well paced due to a balanced mix of shooting, stealth, and driving segments. There are a few sections in the game that are frustrating as they must be done right early in the mission, otherwise the player is just dragging out inevitable failure. The escape from St. Michael’s Church is an excellent example.
The combat is enjoyable, but it is showing its age. The shooting is tuned for mass market appeal with a slight lean towards realism. There is a passable cover system, but it feels a little awkward to use. Enemy AI puts up a decent fight, though their strategy emphasizes holding their ground and keeping the player pinned in one place. The mêlée combat is the blandest part of Mafia: Definitive Edition’s combat. While its simplistic approach would be tolerable in small doses, there are enough mêlée segments to make brawls dull.
Driving is still an enjoyable venture in Mafia. Handling is very forgiving and is squarely in the arcade camp. There is a large roster of period appropriate cars to find throughout the city. The Definitive Edition also marks the introduction of motorcycles to the game. Lost Haven’s roads tend to be very narrow, so the ability to zip between cars is a welcome addition.
The quality of life changes added to the game is a major reason why Mafia: Definitive Edition holds its own in 2020. The ability to skip drives between mission objectives feels like Hangar 13 is openly embracing Mafia’s linear action-shooter nature by keeping the action moving at a quick pace. Originally, Mafia was known to have one of the strictest police behaviour in its time, with police fining and eventually arresting players for more mundane infractions like running red lights and driving over the speed limit. It seems like the public didn’t take to realism so kindly considering the harsh enforcement was dropped in Mafia 2. Players can now pick between the original Mafia ruleset or the more lenient one adopted by later titles in the options menu.
The controls likely aged the worst. On the PC, functions are spread out over a lot of keys. There are some rarely used ones that could easily be doubled up with the game automatically deciding the right function based on context. Side buttons on the mouse can’t be bound, so it’s like playing on a mouse from 2002 all over again. Elements of the controls are still controller-centric, such as the item wheels designed for thumbsticks and the separate keys for thrown objects.
Mafia: Definitive Edition offers solid, modern graphics. The art team has done a fantastic job updating the environment. When viewed side by side with the original game, the world feels more alive. Rural environments are lusher instead of looking like a green desert. The cityscape has more diversity and detail, feeling less like a neighbourhood of copy-pasted assets. The graphics fall a little short compared to the near perfect realism of fresh AAA titles. The models and textures look great, and PC users will have access to a high-resolution texture pack to boot. The animations are a little weaker. It might be an issue related to lack of variety, but many death animations are inappropriate for the actions leading up to the NPC’s untimely end.
The audio experience is enjoyable. The sound effects are good, though directionality can be over-exaggerated at times for headphone users. The music was rescored for the Definitive Edition. The new soundtrack is an excellent mix of period music and cinematic video game scores. The voice acting was also redone as new dialogue was added to the game. The voice acting is strong, but there is a clear divide in skill level between main characters. Many actors decided to adopt accents to reflect the diversity of Lost Haven, but some are unable to maintain them in a consistent manner. Paulie’s voice actor is probably the worst for consistency as Paulie’s distinctive nasally tone varies wildly between scenes and even between lines. On the other hand; Tommy, Don Salieri, and Frank’s voice actors give very strong performances that help carry their less skilled colleagues.
Mafia: Definitive Edition is a shining example of how a game should be remade. While there are a few issues related to the PC port, animation quality, and how well the gameplay has aged; the updates were focused on maintaining the spirit of game while bringing it into the modern era. It would have been easy for Hangar 13 to port the game to the new engine, slap on a shiny coat of paint, and call it a remake. Instead, all aspects of Mafia were revamped to modern standards, from small quality of life features to completely re-recording the voice acting. The loving care Hangar 13 put into the game makes Mafia: Definitive Edition a worthy pick for veteran gamers looking to relive the nostalgia of the early 2000’s and new gamers looking to finally experience one of the best mafia-games to be released.
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