Given the fluid definitions applied to gaming remasters, reboots, remakes, and re-imaginings, it can be difficult to know exactly what you're getting into when you fire up a fresh take on an old favorite.
You won't have this problem with Mafia: Definitive Edition. In fact, you needn't spend more than a second in its visually striking world to realise it's a full-on remake, passionately built from the ground up to take advantage of today's hardware. While its story, setting, and characters are heavily based on those of the 2002 original, it's a top-to-bottom overhaul on par with the recent Resident Evil remakes.
This point will hit you like a hail of Tommy Gun bullets as soon as you take to the streets of Lost Heaven, the game's prohibition-era, Chicago-like metropolis. Behind the wheel of authentic, old-timey automobiles, you'll swerve past trolley cars as they slow to deliver passengers, spy embers dancing above sidewalk barrel-fires, and cause clueless pedestrians to drop their parcels when you nearly collide with them.
Whether leaving tire tracks in your wake or reducing police roadblocks to splinters, everything's just so incredibly detailed and immersive. And that's before the weather takes a turn for the worse and the sun goes down. Neon signs reflect in street puddles with a level of photo-realism and graphical fidelity that'll have you wishing the game had a photo mode.
Regardless of if you're speeding down Lost Heaven's streets or strolling its suburbs, you'll continually marvel at its ability to produce the sort of shadow and lighting effects typically reserved for the likes of Rockstar's titles and Sony's first-party efforts.
The same sky-high production values that'll have you simultaneously ogling steam-emitting street grates in the foreground and black smoke-spewing chimneys in the far distance extends to Mafia's characters. Antihero Tommy Angelo and his wise guy cohorts' character models and animations feature down-to-the-dimple details, whether they're taking out goons in-game or talking “family” business during a cutscene.
Speaking of the latter, Angelo's ascent from cab driver to made man is packed with cinematic interludes inviting you to sit back and soak in the don's cigar smoke. Thankfully, the voice acting and narrative beats are also top notch, fueling an experience that feels like a playable Martin Scorsese movie. That said, open-world fans anticipating an author-your-own-adventure romp – à la Assassin’s Creed or Grand Theft Auto – will want to check their expectations at the door. While its world is wide open, Mafia is unabashedly a story-focused affair sharing more with The Last of Us games than any sandbox series.
Those craving a bit more off-the-beaten-path action are welcome to sniff out the world's various collectibles, from pulp novels and comic books to cigarette cards and postcards. There are also plenty of optional notes and other plot-expanding paraphernalia that can be picked up between all the car chases and exchanges of hot lead. And if you're really looking to wear out the soles of your wingtips, a separate, dedicated “Free Ride” mode lets you explore Lost Heaven at your leisure. Still, these offerings will probably seem like small consolations to anyone expecting a mob-themed GTA.
MOBSTER LIFE FOR ME
While Mafia's mini-map isn't cluttered with side quests, mini-games, or any real diversions, that's not to say it's not brimming with ample opportunities to empty clips into bad guys. This is a mob story after all, so both gunplay and melee combat play a significant role in ensuring you get the respect you deserve. Both options are more than serviceable – with the former leveraging solid cover mechanics – but neither means of silencing foes innovates much beyond what was already done in 2016's Mafia III.
If you're not blowing holes in baddies or breaking their skulls, you'll likely be evading – or tailing – them from the driver's seat. Angelo's cabbie roots come in handy once he trades his flat cap for a fedora, resulting in the player frequently abusing the speed limit and amassing a garage of cool rides. Thankfully, driving in Mafia is a blast, with vehicles striking a nice balance between feeling authentically classic, yet still fun to control. Varied scenarios, from racing competitions to seat-of-the-pants chases, further fuel the enjoyment you'll feel behind the wheel.
Of course, Mafia's at its best when it strings all its elements together – storytelling, combat, driving – to deliver extended, cinema-rivaling set pieces. You might have a mission begin in a brothel, where you're sneaking about with an explosive charge, then pivot to a rooftop shootout with police, before finding yourself blasting through a church's funeral service. By the time you've stolen a hearse and are hightailing it from the place of worship, you'll be pining for a cutscene so you can take a breath.
MAFIA: DEFINITIVE EDITION VERDICT
Remakes, remasters, and other such “re” releases of fan-favorite games are big business, but they're not all created equal. Most recently, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2 and Super Mario 3D All-Stars proved this, offering two wildly different approaches to revisiting beloved properties.
But Mafia: Definitive Edition makes no bones about what it is, a from-the-ground-up offering that celebrates it original concepts, while rebuilding them entirely to take advantage of contemporary hardware. The result is a visual stunner that can stand alongside this generation's best looking games.
More than a pretty face though, it's also an absorbing, story-driven affair that makes a strong case for reigning in the superfluousness of open-world games in favor of finding a balance that puts as much focus and polish on plot and character.
Sandbox stalwarts may not dig the deliberate, linear pacing, but those looking to be immersed in a playable mob tale that could do Tony Soprano proud will want to make a name for themselves in Lost Heaven.