Mafia: Definitive Edition (PlayStation 4) Review

By Chris Leebody 15.10.2020

Review for Mafia: Definitive Edition on PlayStation 4

The Godfather, Scarface and Goodfellas - the film media is littered with classic crime and mafia movies that have captured the imagination of many. Gaming not so much, which is a shame when one considers the sheer scope in this interactive medium for telling what could be a great tale. Mafia, when it came out for PC in 2002, was pretty much the quintessential portrayal of this time-period and genre within gaming and at the time represented the truest to life and cinematic experience on offer. Praised for its immersion and sense of dedication to atmosphere and storytelling, the game arrived with rave reviews that year. Later sequels followed, but the hard-as-nails difficulty (including punishing driving) was abandoned in those sequels, in place of more modern conveniences and mechanics. Now, in 2020, comes the made-from-the-ground-up remake of that classic title, Mafia: Definitive Edition, featuring Tommy Angelo's rise from simple cabbie to senior member of the Salieri crime family. 2002 to 2020 represents a significant chunk of gaming advancement - has this classic mafia game stood the test of time?

Set in the city of Lost Heaven (which seemingly feels like an attempt at a condensed New York City) during the 1930s, Mafia: Definitive Edition tells the story of everyman Tommy Angelo, who is going about his normal family business as a cab driver, before he suddenly picks up a fare he did not expect - two members of the Salieri crime family. Thrust into a world of organised crime, the game spans almost a decade of this depression-era tale, with murder, mayhem, bootlegging, bank robbery and everything in-between. Like any good mafia tale, there is friendship with the loveable Paulie and Sam, there is triumph and big scores and ultimately, there is betrayal and loss.

Beginning with the story and world, this is definitely Mafia: Definitive Edition's strongest aspect. This entails well written and believable characters, excellent and realistic dialogue and voice acting that gives strong personality to the cast. These are just some of the facets that build into this powerful and memorable performance and plot. This is, by design, a narrative that takes a deliberately cinematic tone and also pays deep homage to some of the classic stories mentioned above. The one thing that stands out amongst the 10 or so hours it will take to complete, is just how well developer Hanger 13 (and original 2002 developer Illusion Softworks) have nailed the pacing. There are rarely any fillers in this adventure, from Tommy beginning life in the mob, to gradually being consumed by it. Broken down into chapters, missions have a familiar structure: driving to a location and an event happening (usually a shootout or chase). However, unlike in other titles, these scenarios never outstay their welcome and it never becomes a chore. That is mainly because there are plenty of varied set-piece moments: from fighting through a hotel, over defending a truck from Canadian border guards, to robbing a bank - it always feels fresh and, most importantly, fun.

Screenshot for Mafia: Definitive Edition on PlayStation 4

What undoubtedly helps in this regard is a world that compliments the story beautifully, with a rich variety of locales. It is important to understand though that despite appearances, this is not Grand Theft Auto. While there is indeed a 'free ride' mode in which the city can be explored, including indulging in some taxi fares, things to actually do in this world other than the story are fairly slim. However, this is not a necessarily a negative aspect. Mafia: Definitive Edition is not intended to be a crazy sandbox title. This city of Lost Heaven, which has been beautifully recreated for this remake, is meant simply to facilitate the atmosphere and immersion of the story, like the canvas in the background of the plot. It is also meant to tap into the real-life period of the time, with trams along the streets, 1930s motorcars and an industrial heartland that is grey and crumbling under the USA's historic financial crisis. All the small details are nailed.

From the classic 1930s soundtrack on the radio, to historically accurate news broadcasts and newspaper clippings, a lot of care has gone into the little touches of historical realism that place the experience very much in the setting. The overall music soundtrack helps immensely with this too, with the iconic title track remastered and as bombastic as ever while the opening cutscene sweeps through the city. Action moments are punctuated by blasting trumpets and a pulsating score, while the more subdued occasions with Tommy and Sarah are assisted with emotive strings and a feeling of upcoming tension. A tension that is truly met when the story reaches its climactic and final few hours - including a newly added epilogue that more closely aligns the game with its sequel and also has a deeply dramatic ending.

From an atmosphere point of view, the design of cars is also spot on, with big bulky early-era cars lumbering around the streets (and sometimes the occasional sports car Tommy gets to race). They sound realistic and more importantly they feel realistic to drive. Those used to open world driving games may have to take stock of that. Corners cannot just be taken at speed, nor is it possible to swing in and out of traffic (although there are settings to increase and decrease realism) - instead it forces the player to be far more deliberate and careful and, in many ways, makes car chases more dramatic. When one bad move can mean the difference between success and failure, the stakes are high.

Screenshot for Mafia: Definitive Edition on PlayStation 4

Obviously, Mafia: Definitive Edition is a remake of a 2002 era title and therefore it is no surprise that visually things are dramatically different and much improved - that goes without saying. However, this is one of the instances where the technical changes start to hit up against the lofty ambitions of the cinematic story, in other words: improvement came with a price. While there are some incredibly impressive lighting effects, particularly in interior sections, sadly on console there are a number of significant visual and performance hitches that really detract from the experience. One of these are the character models. The overall standard of Tommy, Paulie, Sam and Don Salieri are all perfectly fine, alongside the supporting cast. However, some of the facial expressions and animations can come off looking rather odd and there are more than a few times this strays into the 'uncanny valley' level of abnormal. It is not a massive deal, but it does take away somewhat from the serious nature of the story at certain moments.

Secondly, in the overall world, particularly during daytime sections, the environment feels a bit washed out. Objects lack a lot of texture detail, especially when observed from up-close. This sits alongside the very noticeable object pop-in that occurs regularly whilst driving around, which again does a lot to detract from the atmosphere the world is trying to build. Additionally, frame rate is an issue unfortunately and while the game usually manages to hold 30fps or above, there are very many times - during rain or action-packed set piece moments, and even in some cutscenes - when it will sink down below 30 and is very noticeable and distracting. There was also some screen tearing present in cutscenes.

That said, there are also a number of bugs present. Instances include some cutscenes not playing and just being stuck on a black screen, cars disappearing in thin air, and a chase sequence mission in which the character just stopped running and the mission could no longer be advanced, thus forcing a restart. These kinds of things are not excusable and hopefully a patch will be forthcoming to rectify some of the more glaring anomalies.

Screenshot for Mafia: Definitive Edition on PlayStation 4

While it is not a bug or glitch, the camera in Mafia: Definitive Edition is not the most user friendly and combining that with some sections of the story that take place in small corridors, it often means a struggle to spot enemies, particularly for melee attacks or when they appear from behind. The camera does have a habit of getting stuck inside walls or objects, which equally does not help matters. Other than the camera, combat is generally very enjoyable and the regular assortment of shootouts within the story are mostly excellent. It just cannot be underestimated how fun it is to storm a diner and just unload the full clip of a Thompson submachine gun while spraying it around and destroying everything in its path. The other occasions in the game usually involve moving from cover to cover and the pacing of shootouts generally encourages patience and a deliberate sense of aiming. Ammo can be scarce, alongside health, and therefore just running around in the open results in a speedy demise more often than not.

The one criticism (or maybe even just a comment) in terms of the combat and shooting is that aiming does feel very loose and almost 'floaty', which could leave some feeling very frustrated when trying to aim (especially with a controller). It does not even feel like this was an oversight, it more appears to be a deliberate game design choice and, in many ways, makes sense since Tommy is not an expert at handling and aiming guns. Even taking that 'story-lore' explanation though, it could put some players off. Another problem is that enemy AI is not the greatest and many times their apparent death wish sees them running out into the open ready for a quick blast of the shotgun or forgetting where Tommy was standing just a few seconds earlier and then getting flanked easily. That said, even with the annoyances in combat, there are enough fantastic action moments to see past these issues. It is not all just mindless action either. There will be moments of stealth and moments of exploration. At other times, for example in one mission which takes place at the airport, there is even a chance to decide whether Tommy will go in guns blazing or try and sneak around the area. The variety in some missions is a pleasing component of them.

Screenshot for Mafia: Definitive Edition on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Mafia: Definitive Edition is a memorable and excellent story that does justice to both its original groundbreaking title and the movies it is paying homage to. The character and story of protagonist Tommy Angelo is one that is easy to get invested in and this world of Lost Heaven exudes the charm and atmosphere of 1930s New York. Excellent pacing and plot over the course of 10-12 hours mean it will keep anyone hooked. That said, it feels like a game pushing this hardware to its limit and the limitations do catch up with it in a lot of ways. Anyone who has a PC capable of playing the game would be well advised to maybe opt for that platform. Additionally, some unnecessary bugs and controls that can be difficult on a console controller sour the experience somewhat. However, there are not many alternative titles of this genre and Mafia: Definitive Edition certainly delivers a rip-roaring tale for those who wish to experience it.

Developer

Hangar 13

Publisher

2K

Genre

2D Platformer

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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