Mafia Definitive edition: A disappointing whimper from a troubled franchise (Spoiler review)
Going into Mafia Definitive Edition I had mixed emotions, my introduction to the franchise was Mafia 2 on the Xbox 360 a game that I have a very high opinion of. Mafia 2 gave you a believable (if admittedly empty world), fantastically written and voiced characters and an incredibly compelling narrative that stood above its competitors at the time. I was excited for Mafia being a remake of the most beloved entry in the trilogy I was sure I was in for a fantastic game.
However, there was still a poor taste in my mouth from the frankly appalling Mafia, 3 a game that slyly lures you in with its compelling first two hours, and then dumps you in one the most uninteresting open world maps and says, “go destroy outposts for 20 hours”.
Despite these mixed emotions I had hope thanks to the knowledge that Mafia definitive edition was a more linear and story driven affair.
Unfortunately, Mafia Definitive Edition feels like a very unpolished game in so many regards and it doesn’t even have the story to save it. The game opens with an enticing premise we are in the shoes of a Made Man named Tommy Angelo, who is introduced to “the Life” during a shift one night as a cab driver. The first few chapters detail how he became a part of the Salieri Crime family whilst occasionally jumping forward a few years where a dishevelled Tommy is ready to give everything to the police to protect him and his family.
Unfortunately, the tension the opening promises never really delivers at least until the last two chapters, throughout you’re waiting for the slow decline of the family, but it never comes. There are hints throughout of characters pasts’ and just how dark they are, but it never really matters, in a chilling scene between Tommy and another character Salieri’s true evil that hides behind his charming persona is revealed, despite this there is only one scene where it is really shown, and it happens to a character that doesn’t affect the plot overall. There are certainly some engaging moments throughout the story, but they are few and far between and despite the games short length it outstays its welcome because it doesn’t do enough with its time.
In terms of characters the game does a commendable job with the standouts being Tommy and Don Salieri, who’s actors both give excellent performances. Unfortunately, my enjoyment of these characters emphasises the issues I have with the story, the game brings up questions of Tommy’s morality early on when he struggles to pull the trigger. Outside of two-story moments it never really addresses where he stands on his violent actions, something which was waiting to see.
Where I will give high praise to the story is in its ending, it manages to piece together the best parts of the game and sends Tommy’s story out on a powerful high note.
Now with this being a Mafia game you can certainly expect to get into firefights throughout the story and this unfortunately brings up my other major contention in the game. Mafia Definitive Edition is running off an updated Illusion engine from Mafia 3 and unfortunately brings with it the woeful physics where enemies will use contextual pre-set animations upon death, something which looks cool the first time an enemy grab at a wall after being shot but becomes frustrating when enemies become stiff as a board the second the animation ends. Whilst this is a small complaint, it’s something that makes gunfights feel incredibly dated and when shooting is how you will spend at least 50% of your time it can become annoying quickly.
On top of this the core gunplay itself is incredibly weak with your weapons feeling absurdly inaccurate aside from rifles, this makes pistols feel useless which causes an issue given the weapon limit and lack of ammunition. The gunplay needed to be strong given the lack of weapon variety and when your guns feel weak and enemy feedback to those guns is uninteresting it makes the core shootouts very frustrating.
One thing that is undeniably impressive with Mafia is the customisation option available to tailor your games difficulty, you can tweak the realism of the cops such as what they will pursue you for, you can also change how the cars handle or even skip the driving sections between missions. Speaking of driving, if you wish to fully immerse yourself in the game then you’ll be doing a lot of it, fortunately cars handle well on both settings with the simulation controls adding a lot of weight to your vehicle.
But the biggest issue to the gameplay loop for me was the overuse of repetitive gunfights after a certain point in the campaign it just feels like every individual chapter ends in a gunfight. A great example of this problem comes at the midway point of the game where after being told that stealth is important and if the alarm is raised you will fail the mission as soon as you complete the stealth component to this you are immediately forced once again into a gunfight. Ultimately this overuse of forced combat feels like padding for time.
These issues with the core gameplay, also hurt what would be a very enjoyable additional mode in the free ride mode that allows players to explore the city of Lost Haven free of story mission. This mode also has hidden unlockable costumes and vehicles and gives players some fun side missions that wouldn’t have fit well within the main games story structure. This is certainly a welcome mode and will offer players who do enjoy the main gameplay loop a lot of extra content, even going so far as to add additional side content post launch.
This is undoubtedly Mafia strongest feature and it’s also the strongest feature of the franchise, these games ooze atmosphere each entry cements you in respective period and this is the strongest iteration of that yet. The city of Lost Haven is stunning, the sun shines on the city streets and reflects off photorealistic puddles that are scattered across the streets. Car and weapon models look fantastic and, my god, the cutscenes are some of the best in gaming period. Great direction, writing, voice acting and perfectly rendered facial features bring these cutscenes to life. Watching the cutscenes in this game is like sitting down to an episode of a high concept HBO show its truly incredible.
The games soundtrack is also excellent with some enjoyable era appropriate radio songs and a radio announcer that reflects the actions of the player; however, weapons sound effects are very weak and amplify some of the previously mentioned issues.
Where the presentation falters slightly are in the animations partially since many of them are carried over from Mafia 3, a game that also had weak combat animations. The real jankiness of the animations is made clear when engaging in the game's flimsy melee combat where animations frequently glitch out both due to the wonky physics engine and the general lack of collision.
Overall, I can’t shake the disappointment I’ve felt playing Mafia Definitive Edition, after going through the boring and repetitive Mafia 3 and experiencing the incredibly broken remaster of the underrated Mafia 2, I’d hope that Mafia would be able to pull it back but ultimately it feels like a game that needed more time and needed to make more changes to the original games plot. I’ll never deny the incredible work that went into the presentation and world design but if this series is to continue gunplay needs a drastic overhaul and they need to give us things to do besides shooting nameless gangsters.
Mafia Definitive Edition is available on PS4, Xbox One and PC
Images sourced from trailer, check it out: