Review: Mafia (Definitive Edition)

For my readers who follow my backlog reviews, I need to apologize. As you may suspect, my attention has recently been distracted by a handful of new blockbuster games and this has derailed my progress when it comes to grinding out older titles. But fear not! I haven’t been completely derelict on my duty of playing classic games – or have I? This post started out as a review for the 2002 PC classic, Mafia. But somewhere along the way things changed and I ended up playing the 2020 remake instead. I can explain…

Mafia is a game that I’ve heard a lot about over the years. But it’s one that I never had the pleasure of checking out during its original release. So, with that in mind, I was very eager to see just what this highly regarded title had to offer. But, it didn’t take long for me to realize that the original Mafia is one of those mid-era retro games that just hasn’t aged well at all. Now, I’m no stranger to playing retro PC games. In fact, overcoming technical hurdles and getting older titles to perform on modern hardware is one of my specialities. But in the case of Mafia, this just seemed to be way more trouble than it was worth.

I think that I made it about a quarter of the way into the game before I finally had my fill of countless technical frustrations. At first, all of the problems one might expect reared their heads; widescreen issues, rendering problems, archaic controls. But, each of these things could be remedied to some extent. In some cases, this meant using graphic wrappers or tinkering with ini files. But solving one issue would often mean creating another. Finally, I resorted to a community-made mod that fixed a majority of these annoyances, but also introduced a number of new problems. That’s when I decided to scrap the whole thing and take a look at the 2020 remake; Mafia – Definitive Edition.

Original PC Release

I want to be clear. Mafia – Definitive Edition is not just a simple HD remaster. It is very much a whole new game. But, it’s a game that faithfully mirrors the original in as many ways as possible. The overall storyline is the same, the characters are the same, the missions and level locations – all the same. In some ways the treatment is reminiscent of the first Resident Evil remake. What is different is the pacing of the storyline, new audio and visuals, and gameplay that is more action oriented.

The original Mafia was no slouch when it came to graphics. For a game released in 2002, Mafia looked very much ahead of its time. The same can be said for both the voice acting and soundtrack. The original game handled all of these things extremely wall. The one area that it suffered in, however, was the playcontrol. The turn of the century was an odd time for PC games. 3D graphics were just emerging from infancy and there was no “standard” control scheme at this point. All too often, PC games from this era feature unintuitive control mapping or playcontrol that feels cumbersome and non-responsive. Mafia was one of those games.

Having played a large portion of the original game, then switching to the Definitive Edition remake, I can tell you that the newer version is by far a more enjoyable experience for most gamers. Sure, if you’re an older gamer who grew up with the original, you’re going to have a soft spot for it. But from a purely technical standpoint, the Definitive Edition is without a doubt the best way to experience the original Mafia story today. So without further delay, let’s get right into it!

Definitive Edition

As I stated above, Mafia – Definitive Edition is a complete remake of the original Mafia game. The original title was available on the PC, PS2, and Xbox. In turn, Mafia – Definitive Edition was released for the PC, PS4, and Xbox One. When I first started my review, I was inclined to play the game on my PS5. But, I ultimately decided to shift over to the PC so that I could stream my gameplay to Twitch a little more easily. You may be wondering which system offers the best experience. I tried the game on all three platforms, I can honestly tell you that there’s no noticeable difference between the PS and Xbox versions of the game. The PC version does look and perform a bit better on high-end systems. But if I’m being honest, the difference is hardly noticeable.

The storyline for Mafia is a huge part of the game. In fact, you could say that at times it feels more like an interactive film than a video game. The game is set in the 1930’s and it follows the story of Tommy Angelo – a cab driver who finds himself unexpectedly involved with a crime family. After helping a duo of gangsters escape in his taxi. He later turns to the family for help and ends up becoming a made man. The game is split up into various missions that detail a number of Tommy’s watershed moments with the crime family. Some of these missions are simple collection jobs or basic low-level mischief. But eventually, Tommy becomes a trusted ally of the Don and is sent on hit-jobs and other high-profile tasks.

Many people are quick to draw comparisons to Mafia and games from the GTA series. That’s fair. There are certainly similarities between the two. But at the same time, Mafia feels considerably different (at least to me).A large portion of the game does indeed feature open-world driving. Players can steal cars, run over pedestrians, flee from police, etc. All of these things are staples of GTA. But, at the same time, Mafia seems to operate at a much slower pace. When playing GTA, it’s almost impossible to avoid getting arrested or wasted by the cops at some point. However, when I did my first playthrough of Mafia, I don’t think I ever actually had a run-in with the police expect for the places in the game where it was dictated by the story.

Still, I cannot deny the fact that the two titles share a number of gameplay elements. Cars and driving aside, the majority of the game involves carrying out a variety of criminal activities. Some missions will instruct players to break into a building and steal something, others will task players with assassinating a particular character. Players can decide how best to carry out these instructions. Maybe you want to sneak in under the cover of darkness and escape virtually undetected. Or perhaps you’d prefer to go in with guns blazing. The choice is yours.

When it comes to “blazing guns”, this is the one place where gamers who are familiar with the original Mafia are likely to notice a big difference with the Definitive Edition. In the original Mafia, players could stockpile weapon and switch between them as needed. From there, it was as simple as shooting anything that appeared in the crosshair. The Definitive Edition takes a slightly different turn when it comes to combat. This new version restricts players to two main weapons. Combat also now incorporates a “cover system” that allows players to hide behind objects and walls while under fire. Then, when an enemy is reloading or moving to a new location, players can pop out and fire off a few shots. Aiming can either be done solely by the player or with a built-in aim-assist.This change certainly makes the combat in the Definitive Edition a little hectic. But at the same time it also adds a new layer of strategy. I can’t say which way is better when it comes to a design philosophy. But I will certainly tell you that the playcontrol in the original game doesn’t help things. I found the aiming system in the original Mafia to be overly sluggish and frustrating. Things in the Definitive Edition just seem much more polished and user friendly.

Aside from the main story missions, Mafia – Definitive Edition also features a number of extra tasks to keep players engaged. The game itself is loaded with a number of hidden collectables for players to seek out and find. Some of these are pretty mundane (ie: trading cards and pulp comics that are scattered about). But there’s also functional collectables like automobiles. Any car that the player drives during the course of the game becomes a selectable option in the garage. This makes seeking out new cars for your personal collection quite rewarding.

This automobile collection carries over to the optional Free Ride Mode that’s accessible from the main menu. Free Ride is an alternate game mode that becomes available after completing the first chapter of the game. This mode offers a number of optional missions that reward the player with additional cars or weapons. It’s a fun way to enjoy the game without being confined to the parameters of the storyline missions. Not to mention that it’s an absolute field day for completionists.

As a fan of mafia cinema, I found nearly everything about this game compelling. The storyline, the mo-cap and voice acting, even the period-appropriate music that plays through the car radio. It’s all perfect. It’s not often that a game captures my attention and makes me feel like I’m reliving a real series of events, but Mafia DE did just that. This game reminded me why it’s good to take a break from older titles every so often and play something a little more modern (even if it is a remake of an older title). I’m certainly looking forward to playing the next entry in the series.

Version Reviewed: PC

Difficulty: Varies –  Mafia DE offers a number of difficulty options to appeal to nearly every player. The four options are: Easy, Normal, Hard, and Classic. On the easy setting, the game is an absolute cakewalk. For my review I played on normal mode and still found very little challenge for most missions in the game. Hard mode does seem to ramp up the difficulty considerably, however. The “classic” exists as an attempt to mirror the difficulty of the original game. In this mode, the player receives more damage than in any other mode and the countdown clock on timed missions is also much shorter. Driving in this mode is also more similar to the original game – both in regards to the vehicle handling and the attentiveness of the police. Aside from the options listed above, players can also tinker with the auto-aim setting to make combat a little easier or more challenging.

Multiplayer: No

Story:  The story for Mafia is just incredible. The plot is exceptional and ranks right up there with the best mob movies you can find. This is made even better by the fantastic voice acting and the motion-capture used in the cutscenes. Fantastic stuff.

Originality: People are quick to point out the similarities this game shares with GTA. I can agree with this to an extent. But at the same time, I find Mafia to have just a bit more class. And something about that touch of class really helps gives this game a unique character.

Soundtrack:  Mafia features an original theme song. The song is first heard in the opening cutscene and it really sets the tone for the whole game. The rest of the game features a pretty solid score that pops on and off at appropriate times. The remainder of the game’s music are period appropriate pieces that are found either through the radio when driving or as ambient music during missions (live bands performing, etc). Pretty good stuff!

Fun:  I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I started playing the original Mafia, but I found myself extremely frustrated by the archaic controls. I think I sort of expect more of the same from the Definitive Edition, but I’m glad to say, I was mistaken. I had a blast with this game. The whole experience was loads of fun.

Graphics: The original Mafia game features some pretty impressive character textures for its time. The rendering of other parts of the game (buildings, etc) left a little to be desired, however. Mafia – Definitive Edition on the other hand is a visual masterpiece. The character textures are absolutely stunning. The animation on the characters is done using motion-capture technology and it is applied to the game flawlessly. As far as the rest of the game goes, it’s just as impressive. The city streets and countrysides look amazing. This game uses lighting and environmental effects in ways I’m simply not used to. The end result is absolutely stunning visual experience.

Playcontrol:  I tried the game using both a PS5 and Xbox controller and the experience is essentially the same. If you’re playing on the PC, this is one of those games you’re going to want to use a controller for. For my playthrough I stuck with an Xbox One controller and had no real issues. The only playcontrol issue that I experienced was being slightly annoyed by the default camera controls. But going into the game settings and reversing the axis direction solved this for me. Again, this was more of a personal issue than anything. The combat does take a little getting used to, but no more than other game.

Downloadable Content:  Cosmetic Pre-order Bonuses

Mature Content: Language, Violence, Sexual Themes

Value: This game typically sells for around $40 and at that price is probably worth it. But, it’s not unusual for it to go on sale or even to be bundled with the other games in the series. So, if you’re frugal, the bundle might be the way to go.

Overall score (1-100): 85 – Mafia DE is a truly excellent game that improves on the original in almost every way. If I had to find any fault, I would say the game is just a little too short. I completed the game is just under fifteen hours and that was even with me doing a bunch of optional missions in Free Ride Mode. That complaint aside, everything from the story, gameplay, and even the audio/visual are top tier. This game isn’t perfect but it is one I highly recommended.

Original System: PC, Xbox One/S/X, PS 4/5

Available today on: PC, Xbox One/S/X, PS 4/5 – (Updated as of Summer 2023)

Best Experience:  PS 4/5, Xbox One/S/X/, PC    – (Updated as of Summer 2023)

Other Reviews In This Series:

Mafia   –   Mafia II   –   Mafia III

Old Game Hermit

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