Mafia Definitive Edition review: A mobster cult classic

Originally released in 2002 for the Xbox and PlayStation 2, Mafia hit the spot for anyone with a love for cosa nostra movies. Set in the 1930s, and boasting a revolutionary-at-the-time cinema-influenced style, it marked a minor watershed in the coming together of games and films, and was afforded cult-classic status, spawning two sequels in 2010’s Mafia II and 2016’s Mafia III.

Now 2K Games has opted to remake it using the wonders of modern technology. Mafia: Definitive Edition is no mere tart-up job, but benefits from completely remade virtual acting, a reworked script, vastly improved visuals, and some vital gameplay tweaks. The result is hugely impressive, and the whole exercise was clearly a labour of love.

Old meets new

However, Mafia: Definitive Edition does still feel like a slightly curious mix of the ancient and modern. There was some head-scratching when it came out concerning how its huge, brilliantly designed game-world contrasted markedly with its very linear gameplay, and that contradiction is still very much in evidence.

The game-world – the fictional US city of Lost Heaven, largely based on Chicago, but with elements reminiscent of New York and even San Francisco – is so convincing and seductive that it begs to form the backdrop to the sort of open-world action to which we’ve become accustomed in recent years.

And the game does have a Free Ride mode, in which you can grab all the weapons you want, jump in cars and explore. But there isn’t much to do in Free Ride, beyond violating traffic laws to goad the police into chasing you, sightseeing and mooching around in nooks and crannies for collectibles like comics, magazines and cigarette cards.

Superb storyline

That doesn’t matter enormously, though, since Mafia: Definitive Edition’s storyline is great. It will, in particular, strike a chord with devotees of the Vito Corleone flashback sequences in Godfather Part II.

You play Tommy Angelo, a lowly taxi driver when the game kicks off. On a break from ferrying around Lost Heaven’s colourful inhabitants, he finds himself acting as a getaway driver for Sam and Paulie, two of Don Salieri’s lieutenants.

Reluctantly, Tommy gets dragged into the Don’s orbit, and Mafia: Definitive Edition charts his rise from fledgling wheelman to full-blown Mob royalty – although the narrative device of occasional flash-forwards to 1938, when he approaches a cop in a seedy bar to recount his tales, gives you an indication as to how things will eventually pan out.

Diverse play

Tommy’s journey provides an excellent framework for some pleasingly diverse gameplay. At first, the missions centre on driving (there’s even a motor-race), but before long Tommy is acquiring ever more exotic firepower from the Don’s psychotic armourer Vinnie, and using it. There’s a decent brawling engine which often comes into play – sometimes in gunfights when you run out of ammo – and the odd stealth sequence.

The missions also expand in length as the game progresses – usually taking in multiple stages – and some are memorably epic. In one, for example, after blowing up a brothel, you end up in a huge shoot-out in a church, at the funeral of a street punk who was shot by Tommy’s pal Paulie (after Tommy originally declined to finish him off – he often seems just a bit too principled to become a major-league mobster, which is at stark odds with the sheer number of mobsters and cops you have to kill in the game).

The original Mafia was somewhat blighted by cars that were near-undriveable (in a misguided attempt at authenticity) and weapons that were too clunky to wield with much accuracy, but both those aspects have been mercifully tweaked in the Definitive Edition.

Viewed as a third-person cover-shooter, the game is still clunkier than most of its modern peers, but not annoyingly so, and the cars are actually fun to drive this time around.

The new cut-scenes – which are plentiful – and dialogue add a slightly more hard-boiled feel to the Definitive Edition when you compare it with the original, which works well, and the game’s desire to ape the feel of classic mob movies is strikingly well realised this time around.

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