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Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 4, Xbox, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Hangar 13
Release Date: Sept. 25, 2020

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PC Review - 'Mafia: Definitive Edition'

by Andreas Salmen on Oct. 9, 2020 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

The city of Lost Heaven is at war as the Salieri and Morello mobs fight to control the lucrative protection rackets, smuggling and the women of Lost Heaven.

Buy Mafia: Definitive Edition

The Mafia series has gone through its fair share of ups and downs over the years. Starting with an incredibly ambitious first entry in 2002, a sequel that steadily grew its fan base, and a solid third entry that strayed from the series' chartered course. The first Mafia featured an impressive open world that tried to be authentic and atmospheric in a rags-to-riches story. In my mind, a remake has long been overdue to bring the series back on track. Lo and behold, 2K announced Mafia: Definitive Edition. We've played the PC release, and while it is a remarkable upgrade from the original, it is noticeably a product of the past in more ways than one.

Mafia: Definitive Edition could be mistaken as a remaster from its title alone, but that would do it a huge disservice. Developer Hangar 13 has updated the overall presentation, polishing up the setting of Lost Heaven and fleshing out the story and characters. It's a delicate balance because making changes to the story and characters, however minor, could potentially upset the series' most loyal fans. Having played both the original and the remaster, I think that most of the changes are for the better, and the overall story beats have remained the same, so expect a similar story trajectory.

The story boils down to an almost classic gangster drama that stars Tommy Angelo, a cab driver who is involuntarily pulled into a car chase between rivaling families. As a reward for his service, he eventually joins the Salieri family as a full member and gets increasingly involved in the family's business. The tale is full of the usual tropes —death, deceit, loyalty and respect — that still work remarkably well today. I would not call it a storytelling masterpiece, but it holds your attention and even surprises you with some of its story beats.

What benefits the storytelling in the Definitive Edition is its highly upgraded presentation. Characters are fully motion-captured and feature relatively realistic facial expressions and movements during cut scenes — at least below the cheekbones. Eyes and other parts of the face can sometimes look oddly lifeless and inanimate, which is at odds with the expressiveness elsewhere. This varies from character to character, with some being impressively animated while others look slightly off. Overall, the cut scenes and character presentation are great to watch, and they sell the emotional aspects of the story.

There is a greater emphasis on the memorable characters, even when some of them are still not as prominent as they could've been. Your immediate muscle, Sam and Paulie, are more expressive and relatable because they are more memorable this time around — thanks to additional dialogue and more expressive character models. The boss, Don Salieri, on the other hand, is much more charismatic in this retelling, and his eventual development toward the end of the story feels believable and perhaps even surprising. It just works, all while still managing to evoke enough familiarity with the source material.

If you played the original Mafia in 2002, you may experience unpleasant flashbacks to some of its earlier missions, such as the dreaded racing event. We should talk about the difficulty balance during the campaign, since the Definitive Edition inherited much of it. The game starts with some tutorial missions that involve shaking down local shops and destroying cars until Tommy's moment arrives to prove his worth. A high-stakes car race is about to occur, and in the absence of the regular driver, Tommy must win. This race caused a lot of dismay in my playthrough of the original, and the Definitive Edition doesn't pull any punches. The race took us a few hours to win on hard difficulty and realistic driving settings. I could see some players deliberately turning down the difficulty because the spike is frustrating when it appears so early in the game. Even minor mishaps on the track would likely warrant a restart of the three-lap race. It's especially mind-boggling since the difficulty falls off sharply from this point. The rest of the campaign doesn't present a roadblock like this again — at least not for a game mechanic that you don't see for the rest of the title.

The inconsistent difficulty sometimes pulls you out of the experience; there's even a story mission at the end that is easier than almost everything that came before it. Several factors play into this, and the main one is the quality of the gameplay mechanics. As is the case with open-world games, mission structure revolves around getting from point A to point B via car, shooting or roughing up some folks, and then making your escape.

The essential activities boil down to shooting and driving, and they have received different amounts of attention. Driving cars through Lost Heaven is a delight. Mafia: DE has both a casual and realistic driving mode, and the latter is impressive for an open-world title. Cars are heavy and slide easily, especially in the rain. Turns must be made to not bump into anything and to retain control of the vehicle. It does a great job of grounding the world in reality as you slide mid-'30s cars around the neon-lit streets of Lost Heaven while the police chase after you. The soundtrack, which is different from the original, is solid and now includes a handful of radio stations that play period-appropriate music, so it's a sheer joy to drive in any way, shape, or form.

The shooting is a different story.

Mafia: DE isn't bad in its shooting sequences, but it's painfully mediocre. It's a simple cover shooter and uses most of the shooting mechanics from Mafia 3. It also includes the rather brutal death animations that Mafia 3 was known for, but the controls are rather clunky, especially when you're trying to take cover near a corner and repeatedly snap to the incorrect wall, leaving you open to bullets. Tommy isn't a tank, so on higher difficulties, a few bullets can mean a quick end. This makes encounters tougher, and the inherent clunkiness of the controls and occasional mishaps can make the combat rather frustrating.

The AI of your companions and foes can be abysmal. They stand behind cover completely unphased, willingly run into ongoing fire, or even reload for several seconds unprotected in the middle of a room. They occasionally try to flank or harass you with explosives or Molotov cocktails to force you to move, but the effort is unexciting.

Mafia: DE is more concerned about telling its story, which means that the ratio between gameplay and cut scenes is heavily swayed to the cut scene and exposition side. It feels more like an interactive Mafia movie that's been interrupted by small bursts of gameplay, so that's something to be mindful of before jumping into the game. This is most evident in the way Hangar 13 re-created the main character: Lost Heaven itself. The open world still has the same iconic landmarks you may remember from the original title, but it has seen several new additions and, most importantly, a fresh lick of paint. Materials appear crisp and feature an amount of detail that rivals many current open-world games.

It also implements some impressive new technologies, such as a lighting engine that they probably could've passed off as ray tracing with very few to dispute the claim. While it's not ray-traced, it seems quite accurate to the human eye, especially the reflections on cars, in puddles, and on other shiny surfaces. Lost Heaven is quite enchanting, and that does a lot to sell the player on the city and its environments. Alas, the plot doesn't leverage this fine-looking backdrop too effectively. Unless you drive around of your own accord, you'll never see most places in the city or in the countryside, which is now attached to the city instead of being on a separate map as it was in the original. It's easy to miss the consistently great-looking landscapes this way.

The game offers a Freeride mode like the original, where we can drive around the city outside of the main story content. Much like the original and Mafia II, the city is lifeless upon closer inspection. There are a few side missions that you can complete outside of the story, such as finding all collectible comic books and baseball cards or following a few mysterious notes or postcards and retrieving some rare vehicles. It's not a lot of content, and it's basically an excuse to drive through Lost Heaven. At this point, I'm hoping that Hangar 13 and 2K decide to enhance the content of the Definitive Edition with some DLC content down the line. There's certainly room for it, and it's almost disappointing that there isn't more on offer. At the same time, it's somewhat refreshing to play a game that is on the shorter side, with about 11-12 hours of story content and perhaps a few hours more if you collect everything or start a second run on the more punishing classic difficulty.

The game also runs remarkably well on older systems, unlike the rather underwhelming Mafia II Definitive Edition that seemed to introduce more issues than it solved. We had very few issues with the title, although some areas did show rubber-banding when racing down streets, and there were noticeable hitches in other areas. It ran very well across the board and, as mentioned, it looks above-average. That isn't to say it looks like a next-gen title. The mentioned AI issue and some clunkiness in both animations and controls were a constant reminder that the core of this game is still very much stuck in the past generation.

Mafia: Definitive Edition is a remarkable reimaging of the original title that flexes its muscles in graphical fidelity and storytelling but falls flat in other areas. While I fully enjoyed my time with it, its mediocre third-person shooting mechanics, abysmal AI, and erratic difficulty can sometimes be a test of perseverance. It is a reminder of the rather old game buried under the shiny new graphical improvements. It is an impressive retelling of an open-world classic, and it exceeded my expectations on that front. Some of its shortcomings are easily overshadowed by what the title does well. If you're a fan of the franchise, this is an easy recommendation, especially given its discounted launch price and the way it re-creates the series' arguably finest entry. On the other hand, if you expect a game that's fully up to today's high standard, Mafia: Definitive Edition may be a tad underwhelming.

Score: 8.0/10

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