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Review: Mafia: Definitive Edition – This is How You Make a Movie Game

Mafia Definitive Edition is a complete remake of the original Mafia game from 2002, and, I’ve not played the original. I’m guessing that many players will be getting their first taste of Tommy Angelo’s story with this remake, too, so if you’re like me, a first-timer, don’t worry. It’s OK to be a newbie, and honestly, you’re getting the best possible version of the prohibition-era gangster crime story.

It all begins with Tommy Angelo, a humble taxi driver who by luck, or misfortune, depending on how you look at it, is forced into using his cab as a getaway car for two members of the Salieri family; Paulie and Sam. After this brush with the criminal underworld and a taste of what the family can provide in terms of compensation, Tommy is still reluctant to step over the line, instead favouring his honest job as a cabbie. Until he’s ambushed by a couple of Morello’s men, that is, and he runs into the Salieri family once more. They save his bacon, he joins their ranks. Simple.

The word “cinematic” is often thrown around with reckless abandon when it comes to modern games. Uncharted and The Last of Us 2 spring to mind as they’re often referred to as “cinematic masterpieces” of gaming. I don’t think they are. Mafia Definitive Edition, though? Yes, in every sense.

Despite Mafia being an open-world game, you’re never really given free run of the city. Instead, you’re guided from chapter to chapter by elaborately constructed missions interspersed with cutscenes straight out of a Scorcese flick. Normally, in a game with so many cutscenes, I’m rolling my eyes. That wasn’t the case here. I looked forward to every cutscene. They’re so well done, too. Motion captured performances bring the cast to life and I’ve got to give massive claps to the cast, as well as the crew for the authentic cinematography, bested so far by none. This is how you make a movie game.

It’s not all cutscenes, though, and you will spend most of your time actually playing, but everything is done just right; the cutscenes come in at the right moments and they never linger any longer than required. They tell their story and set up what you’re going to do next, all with a coating of old-school gangster movies.

The story itself is straight out of 80s Hollywood. You’ve got the young up-and-coming Tommy who joins the Salieri family, headed by Don Salieri, who looks every bit an Italien gangster. You’ve got the perpetual war with the opposing crime outfit, the Morello family. You’ve got a bit of romance with the doting wife who doesn’t ask too many questions when her man comes home covered in somebody else’s blood. And, of course, you’ve got fractures within the organisation and without giving too much away, the classic twists and turns that come with gangsters for friends. Not everybody makes it out alive, and come the credits, I found myself reflecting on the ones we lost along the way in this 15-hour epic.

What I didn’t mourn were some of the modernisations. Hangar 13 has done a great job in recreating Lost Heaven, the fictional city that’s rife with crime, and at times it’s really astounding what has been achieved, especially when you consider the hardware this game is running on. On the other hand, some of the gameplay systems are a little less pretty, with gunplay and combat in general being one of the weakest aspects.

Utilising the engine and advancements made with Mafia 3, I’d have expected the combat to fall in line with Hangar 13’s first outing. Alas, it’s not to be and instead the gunplay is imprecise, fiddly, and not really welcome in 2020 and beyond. I get that the creators probably wanted to convey the lack of actual marksmanship of gangsters and their spray and pray approach, but I often found myself frustrated at not being able to hit my mark when I needed to most.

Melee brawling is a step back from Mafia 3, too, with a simple system of beating and countering. Fine enough but something that really irked me was that when the counter icon appears on an enemy, you better press it and only it otherwise you’re getting a knuckle sandwich. You can’t break this animation by continuing to punch. A small annoyance, sure, but it’s a small problem that shouldn’t really have made its way into the game, considering that four years previous, Hangar 13 did it much better with Mafia 3.

Complaints are few and far between with Mafia Definitive Edition. I enjoyed the story. I enjoyed the long drives between missions and the super cool old cars I got to throw around Lost Heaven’s streets. And even when the combat wasn’t up to my liking, I was still kept in the moment with the outstanding atmosphere and presentation, as well as the music. I often get ridiculed for being a bit of an old man, but I genuinely enjoy a lot of the 30’s swing jazz that plays over the in-game radio, and I spent Christmas evening driving around the city listening to old-timey tunes after everyone else had gone to bed. That’s how I get mine, and I don’t care how you get yours. 

Now, a bit about performance and how it looks and runs across the different Xbox line of consoles. First of all, a little bit of bad news. Unfortunately, Mafia Definitive Edition does not have any Xbox Series X|S enhancements, which is a shame because while the game is a looker and it runs more or less at a locked 30fps, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that there’s more to give. The resolution tops out at around 1440p, which is excellent for a 1440p monitor, and still looks quite good on a 1080p screen, as well as a 4K TV. Native 4K would have been nice, though, and would have given a nice bit of extra clarity. And 60fps? C’mon, that’s a no-brainer, and I’m disappointed to see that there’s no such option here. It would have helped with the responsiveness during combat, as well as giving a nicer, more fluid feel to the game. It’s a shame, then, that what you’re playing on Series X|S is basically the same as on the One X, albeit with a far more stable frame rate.

I did have a couple of instances where the game, after having put it down for the night, would tell me the next morning that I needed to be online, and then it’d kick me back to the Xbox home screen. This happened just a few times but it’s worth mentioning because it didn’t please me on any of those occasions.

Another oddity is in how the game resolves textures, and I had some unfortunate moments where textures just straight up failed to load their higher-resolution versions, leaving me with a mucky blob of wall while I was locked in place waiting for a conversation to end. This is another one that crops up occasionally and again, it’s not a ruiner by any means, but it didn’t make happy, so I’m having a moan about it here.

Those wee niggles aside, though, you’ve got yourself a very impressive game with some really gorgeous graphics and effects. The game doesn’t use ray-traced reflections, obviously, but there’s still something to be said about the way the game does handle reflections. At times, it’s more than enough to trick my little brain and it can look very realistic under the right conditions. Character models are really detailed, too, and this is shown off to its fullest extent during the game’s cinematics, with character faces being pushed up front and centre to allow for greater scrutiny, and they hold up really well.

If you’ve found yourself finished with Goodfellas and The Godfather trilogy but you want more, then I thoroughly recommend Mafia Definitive Edition. It’s easily the best of the trilogy, and perhaps one of the best games of 2020 – it’s certainly placing high on my list of favourites.

Mafia Definitive Edition Xbox Series X|S Review
  • Overall - Must Play - 9/10
    9/10
9/10

Summary

Mafia Definitive Edition isn’t just one of the best remakes to grace our screens; it’s one of the best open-world crime games. Less freedom and more guidance results in an action-packed experience that doesn’t suffer from the typical flaws of open-world games. The story is gripping and the performances by the cast are to be applauded. Gameplay is by the numbers with some flaws in its combat, though the lovingly recreated period setting glosses over the few missteps.

Pros

  • Gripping story with great characters
  • Lost Heaven is fantastically realised with the updated tech
  • Old-timey cars will never get old
  • After listening to the game’s soundtrack, swing jazz needs to make a comeback

Cons

  • Combat is a bit messy and lacks precision
  • Not much to do in the city during the game’s story mode (there’s more in Free Ride)

Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game bought at the expense of the reviewer. For more information, please read our Review Policy

Reviewed using Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One X.

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