SpawnBack Review – Mafia: Definitive Edition
Sometimes, when people look back at the past with rose-tinted glasses, they predictably overlook many of the flaws that can somewhat shatter a good memory. When it comes to Mafia: Definitive Edition, developers Hangar 13 has certainly pulled out all the stops for its 2020 return. This remake is a joy to marvel at, transporting players into the Prohibition era like a working time machine through the world, people, and music. Yet, there is no escaping that it was a missed opportunity when it comes to some of the more dated ideas that remained from the 2002 original.
Much of the original action-adventure has gotten a facelift. Lost Haven is undoubtedly gorgeous to look at and live in. If you have played the original, it almost feels like a completely new city. Buildings are much taller and more realistic, the roads have been redrawn to give players options, and cultural areas around Lost Haven exude a vibe of authenticity.
The way the city looks in the day and at night is testament to the excellent work put in by Hangar 13. Neon signs light up the night sky beautifully; the sun reflects off the many glistening automobiles making their way around town. Once you get over just how breathtaking good everything looks, you need to let the audio take over.
Never has a radio taken such great importance in an immersive experience. The tunes that blast over that old-timey device conveys the 30s perfectly; such is the captivating sound that envelopes you as you journey through Lost Haven. Even the environment has plenty to offer in that regard, wherever you are in Mafia: Definitive Edition, it feels perfect. The audio work in this remake makes you feel right at home.
That combination alone would have made for a potent and intoxicating concoction, that is until you look a little deeper beneath its undeniably attractive surface. The details in the distance are often lacking, while the skies feel a little off.
Outside of the game’s stunning cutscenes, where every character and animation is done to perfection, the reality during your gameplay pales in comparison. At least the game manages to hold up performance-wise, with only the odd stuttering here and there.
Mafia: Definitive Edition is not about the looks alone; the meat of the gameplay still comes down to life as a gangster. And what a life this is. The story of Tommy Angelo remains the main draw and is arguably the best tale of them all in this storied franchise. Warring crime families, love, and ultimately betrayal are not new elements, but the way Mafia: Definitive Edition presents them will grab most players hook, line, and sinker.
The rise and subsequent fall of Tommy in the Salieri family form the narrative backbone of Mafia: Definitive Edition, as missions are essentially flashbacks of his adventures retold to the detective who has hunted him. While the mission order is the same as in 2002, Hangar 13 has done a stellar job in rewriting all of the performances.
It makes for a significantly better experience narratively, and the acting feels much more organic and real. These are conversations that are believable and relatable, without losing much of the drama and intrigue. The acting chops of Andrew Bongiorno as Tommy Angelo is a showstopper, lending the sort of gravitas you demand of a leading man. His interactions with Detective Norman are always one to keep an eye on. From start to finish, Mafia: Definitive Edition is a tour de force in storytelling.
Much like the original, Mafia: Definitive Edition retains the linear, story-driven structure. Missions follow after missions, and if you are feeling the itch of exploration, you can head to the Free Roam mode. Otherwise, it is a straight road to the end. It is a faithful remake, but it would have been interesting to see some new story missions added in to fill out more of this beautiful world.
That loyalty to the classic also extends into the general gameplay of Mafia: Definitive Edition. Classic mode, in particular, definitely echoes the past where games were often frustratingly cumbersome. Enemies are more challenging, health kits were less useful, and should you decide to reload your weapon before it is out, say goodbye to all the unused rounds. This is a mode best reserved for the most hardcore of gangsters.
The standard difficulty is much more forgiving, and allows the flexibility of toggling on the different gameplay modifiers as you see fit. The felony system returns, and if you are used to driving maniacally throughout Lost Haven, you will be in for a bad time. Minor and major crimes are magnets for the law, and you will do well to steer clear of it. The system can be turned off, so would-be criminals can rest a little easier.
With the amount of gunplay present in Mafia: Definitive Editon, the controls are unfortunately a little lacking in the quality department. The shooting needs some tightening up when it comes to aiming, with an element of malaise making things stick, while melee combat can make the camera go a little wild.
This is in stark contrast to the outstanding enemy AI, who are continually testing your ability to adapt with flanking maneuvres a favourite. It pushes things along just fine, with an often perfect number of enemies to offer a challenge without being overwhelming. Once you get to grips with the aiming, combat in Mafia: Definitive Edition is a blast.
Mafia: Definitive Edition’s driving is also a toss-up. Considering its inherent importance to the game, it is a little disappointing to jump into the driver’s seat sometimes. The automobiles have a heft to them, and trying to navigate the many 90-degree turns can be a pain.
With vehicle handling set to regular already feeling like a dread sometimes, switching over to simulation controls will cause even more teething problems in modern standards. The new addition of the motorcycle is a plus, with it handling much better compared to the rest of its motorised brethren. It would be wise to use it as much as possible.
The results of all these conflicting factors paint a slightly chaotic picture of Mafia: Definitive Edition. Build from the ground up; it is, without a doubt, a visual masterpiece in its most pivotal moments. The 1930s never felt closer, and Tommy’s story remains one of the best in the series. Mafia: Definitive Edition is everything you can ask for from a gangster’s tale, and then some.
Yet, just the era it is based on, there are several dated gameplay and design mechanics that can be construed as missed opportunities for Hangar 13 to improve on. Just like the life of a gangster, there are plenty of ups and downs in Mafia: Definitive Edition, and rose-tinted glasses can only carry us thus far.