Jumping into this revitalized take on 2002’s gangster classic I had one question: Can Hangar 13 actually make a good Mafia game? The 2K-owned developer was previously given full reign over the franchise with 2016’s Mafia III. And though the story was rightfully lauded for its themes and well-drawn ensemble cast, the repetitive open world and by-the-numbers mission design left a lot to be desired. How does one overcome this setback? Seemingly not by innovating per se, but rather by going back to the beginning and restoring the original game using a 2020 coat of paint.
Turns out this was a wise decision. While Mafia: Definitive Edition might not be the feature-packed, 40-hour thrill ride most players now likely expect from their modern open-world games, this fully remade version of Illusion Softworks’ cult classic doubles down on the two traits that every series entry released thus far has excelled at: story and characters. The result is a game that successfully trims the AAA fat to instead serve as a near-perfect cinematic period piece, delivering all the joys of a Netflix-style gangster drama that gladly never outstays its welcome.
For anyone who missed the game the first time around, Mafia casts you as humble taxi driver-turned-mobster Thomas “Tommy” Angelo, who after finding himself in the wrong place at the right time quickly falls in with the Salieri crime family, moving up the ranks and embracing a strict life of corruption. This being a remake means that anyone who’s played the original will be familiar with the story, yet even they will appreciate the massive visual overhaul to character models, cutscenes, and even the fictional city of Lost Heaven itself, which has been completely remade from the ground up.
The skeleton of what’s here might technically not be of Hangar 13’s design, but by providing this early attempt at a 1930s sandbox with the high-quality presentation a narrative like this deserves, you easily have one of the best open-world renditions of the interwar era yet. Towering Art Deco structures are visible from almost every street, period-accurate vehicles purposefully handle (for better and worse) like arse, and veering from the Lost Heaven’s Little Italy suburb into Chinatown, you can’t help but become engrossed with the age in which organized crime flourished.
This meticulous attention to detail even translates into cutscenes, where we’re afforded close-up shots of Salieri family members, the pores of their skin stretching with every jaw movement. I’m of the belief that graphics in a game aren’t everything, but visual presentation certainly works wonders when it comes to selling believability and immersion within the setting. Also contributing to this are the performances from the new vocal cast, which feel like they’ve been plucked directly from a Tarantino or Francis Ford Coppola gangster flick. It’d be so easy in this genre to deliver lines very hammily or as a stereotypical caricature, but with Angelo (Andrew Bongiorno), for example, there’s always nuance to the way he speaks depending on his emotional situation.
Release Date: Sept. 25, 2020
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, XBO
Developer: Hangar 13
Publisher: 2K Games
Despite sporting a shiny new skin, it’s in the gameplay that Mafia: Definitive Edition reveals itself to be very much an old soul. It boasts an open world despite the fact that there’s hardly anything to do in it, cover-based shooting and melee combat that is serviceable at best, and some incredibly linear level design at the start. Factors like this won’t be to every player’s liking, but most of it is done to help maintain a consistent pace in service of the story and characters. This remake really does come across as a binge-worthy Netflix drama.
Helping offset any potential repetition, however, is the mission variety. Whereas Mafia III dismally sent you on a goose chase around the city to complete an endless checklist, Mafia: Definitive Edition maintains the original’s starkly opposite approach and keeps Lost Heaven free of any optional objectives, instead transporting you from story point to story point, as you play through the typical gamut of cliché-but-cool crime drama set pieces. Bank robberies, hotel heists, car chases, and prison escapes — all the usual suspects are here to ensure there’s never a dull moment in the campaign.
If you’re seeking more reasons to explore Lost Heaven following Tommy Angelo’s roughly 10-hour adventure, there is a free roam mode accessible from the main menu. Unfortunately, outside of letting you traverse Lost Heaven free of the campaign’s restrictions, being able to wear Tommy’s catalog of suits, or hunting for comic book, cigarette card, and magazine collectibles you happened to miss, there’s not a lot to do in free roam outside of soaking up the city’s smoky atmosphere. Free roam was Hangar 13’s opportunity to experiment a bit more without fear of damaging the already-excellent campaign, so it’s a shame to not see much ambition in this area.
Still, Mafia: Definitive Edition serves as a nice reminder of a time when open-world games didn’t need to be inundated with objectives and side activities in order to be considered great. 18 years later, this engrossing tale of deception, friendship, and redemption is still allows this modern remake to stand on its own, even if a few basic gameplay elements now seem a bit undercooked by today’s standards. It can be faithful to a fault as far as video game remakes go, but its classic genre traits make for a refreshing change of pace against its open-world peers and an interactive gangster epic well worth devouring.