‘Mafia: Definitive Edition’ review: a gorgeous remake bogged down by dated gameplay

Hangar 13 brings the city of Lost Heaven to life, but can’t quite do the same with the game’s old-school mechanics

Remakes are all the rage these days. They run the gamut from fully faithful remasters, like Activision’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2, to a complete reimagining that simply captures the spirit of the original, like Square Enix with its phenomenal Final Fantasy VII Remake. 2K Games has now thrown its hat into the remake ring with Mafia: Definitive Edition, which tries to straddle the middle ground.

Helmed by Hangar 13, which also worked on 2016’s Mafia III, Mafia: Definitive Edition is a remake of the original 2002 Mafia that has been completely rebuilt from the ground up. Every pixel, audio file and even the script has been lovingly redone, modernised and then retrofitted into Mafia’s two decades old framework to tell the story of Tommy Angelo, an unwitting taxi driver-turned-mobster. While it’s an interesting approach to reintroduce the game to a new audience, it doesn’t always pan out.

Mafia: Definitive Edition
Credit: Puah Zi Wei / 2K Games

From the get-go, players familiar with the 2002 version of Mafia will feel right at home. The excellent plotline and story beats of the original are all here, just meaningfully spruced up and expanded with 2020 production values – even the order of the missions are the same. Tommy’s time with the Salieri crime family is just as (and perhaps even more) compelling as it ever was, and the chance to re-experience it remains the best argument for the remake’s existence.

Accompanying the gripping Mafia: Definitive Edition narrative is a reimagined city of Lost Heaven, now a fully realised and interactive world that comes to life with the help of surprisingly deep radio broadcasts. From the redesigned buildings – that better reflect the architecture of ’20s and ’30s America – to emotive character models and the sweeping views of the city skyline, everything is gorgeous, pristine and wonderfully immersive.

But for a story about two ruthless mafia families battling it out to take control of a city that’s still reeling from the Great Depression, the graphics also have an unusually immaculate sheen to them. The buildings look like they had been constructed the day before, the cars like they’d never been driven, and Tommy’s suit looks as though it’s constantly being pressed and cleaned. While the game looks absolutely breathtaking most times, credit where credit’s due, it also doesn’t always match the dark and gritty story.

Although, the striking visuals (especially the stunning countryside) do help distract from the grind of the early gameplay, which alternates between disappointingly stiff melee combat that feels more like dumbed-down quick time events and simply just driving around. To collect money. To run away from the cops. To hit a time limit. It’s all just… driving around, which can get tiring pretty quick. The game shows its aging framework here with its many driving missions, and coupled with a finicky and sensitive control system, it can get quite frustrating – especially when the infamous and unskippable race car mission is still featured in the game.

To be fair, Mafia: Definitive Edition does feel leaps and bounds better to play than the 2002 version of Mafia that’s available on Steam. I re-installed the original just to be sure – it’s been a decade since I’ve touched the game – and I struggled to even complete the first chapter because the controls were that bad. So, make what you will from that.

Thankfully, the game picks up about a quarter of the way through, with the introduction of more challenging gunfights. The combat in Mafia: Definitive Edition is basically an adaptation of the already dated system in Mafia III, with an emphasis on taking cover before gunning down enemies, but dialed back to be less chaotic and more tactical. Although a majority of the gunfights do feel rather rudimentary most times – or even exasperating for some outdated holdover missions from the original game – it’s easy to forgive because it’s usually satisfying by the end.

Every once in a while, the game also changes up the gameplay with a bit of stealth, albeit an extremely basic adaptation of the mechanic. The different gameplay elements, though repetitive at times, do complement one another and help break up the decidedly linear story progression of Mafia: Definitive Edition. Sure, the game might feature a sprawling open-world city, but its skeleton is very much still from the early noughties.

It’d be foolhardy to go into Mafia: Definitive Edition expecting something wholly modern – like, say, The Last Of Us Part II or Ghost Of Tsushima – because that was never Hangar 13’s intention. The studio has stayed more or less faithful to the 2002 version, but with most of the flaws having been exorcised – save that damn race car mission.

Ultimately, Mafia: Definitive Edition is the best way to (re)experience the original Mafia story – and the story has been and still is the best part of the game, anyway. While the old-school gameplay elements and aging framework do betray the game’s shiny new coat of very expensive paint, they don’t take too much away to sully the remake’s overall experience.

‘Mafia: Definitive Edition’ releases September 25 for PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

Our Verdict

Mafia: Definitive Edition does an admirable job of reintroducing a classic story to a brand-new generation, with its beautifully redone open-world city and a gripping new script. But the game’s aging decades old framework does nothing to enhance its uninspired combat system that, although satisfying at times, was already woefully dated when used in Mafia III, which came out four years ago.

Pros

  • The story remains the best part of the game, and is as compelling as the original
  • A brand-new script and superbly acted voicework that enhances the plot
  • Redone graphics are jaw-droppingly beautiful

Cons

  • An aging framework that bogs down the overall experience
  • The combat system can be stale, if not terribly frustrating
  • That damn race car mission

Top Gaming Stories: