Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Red Dead Redemption 2, GTAV — these games all struggle with their scale. They tell fantastic stories, but in between those juicy plot points are miles and miles of space. They’re too big for their own good, forcing players to trek through too much virtual terrain without doing anything interesting. Sure, the worlds are visually entertaining and fun to look around in as you walk about, but it’s like going to an amusement park without any rides.
Mafia: Definitive Edition doesn’t do this. It knows what you’re here for, and it delivers. Like a good pizza joint, “30-minutes of no gameplay and it’s on us” might as well be the game’s tagline. It accomplishes this by separating the two parts of every open-world game — the world and its content, or story. And make no mistake, it’s the story mode that you should be coming to Mafia: Definitive Edition for.
If you’re reading this, you probably already know that. You might have played Mafia when it originally released, and now you’re wondering what the game looks like in 2020. Or you’re a new fan, attracted by the gangster movie-inspired style of the game, which is something you don’t find all that much in modern titles. You easily could also just be someone piqued by the multiple cinematic trailers for Mafia: Definitive Edition, the ones packed with scenes of old Italian men sat in velvet-lined rooms, smoking cigars in pinstripe suits.
“And make no mistake, it’s the story mode that you should be coming to Mafia: Definitive Edition for.”
Regardless of what you came for, you’ll find it. Mafia: Definitive Edition is the best the series has ever looked or played. Not only does this remake modernize the game’s visuals, but it also reimagines the gameplay of the Mafia franchise as something more refined, streamlined, and coherent while trimming away the fat of an open-world.
From the moment you step into the city of Lost Heaven, Mafia: Definitive Edition shows that it is the franchise’s show dog. The way the city glows at night in the rain, with lights from its neon signs shining off of trench coats, fedoras, and classic cars is picture-worthy — which might be why I took about 70 during my playthrough.
It’s not just those visual details that set Mafia: Definitive Edition apart from its peers, as it’s the others that go into building the game’s world. You won’t do much of it unless you mean to, but just walking around Lost Heaven shows the small additions that make the city feel so lived-in. As they buzz past, music plays from the radios of other cars, steam rises from subway vents, and random passers-by greet Tommy Angelo in Italian. The world isn’t as detailed as GTAV’s Los Santos, and certainly doesn’t offer the same amount of interactivity as the wild states of Red Dead Redemption 2, but what is there stands out from the remainder of the Mafia franchise.
Mafia: Definitive Edition’s stand-out presentation also extends to its cast, although it also doesn’t push any major boundaries. Before anything else, this game’s voice acting is creative. Although its main character does fall victim to that stereotypical Italian mob man’s voice, others like Don Salieri and Paulie stand out. That goes double for Paulie, one of Mafia’s immediately interesting characters. From the sound of his voice that manages to be gruff while high-pitched, to his weathered and beaten face, it’s astonishing how much character was reserved for someone players never control. If that attention had been directed towards Tommy Angelo, I would have formed more of a connection with him during his journey from cabbie to a high-ranking mobster. In a remake where almost everything is changed from the original, I can’t help but feel that Tommy Angelo retains the flat personality of his low-poly version.
In a way, that lack of detail extends to the overall experience of playing Mafia: Definitive Edition, although it has the opposite effect – the game benefits from its simplicity. Everything is streamlined and straightforward, although that’s not very difficult for a game that doesn’t feature a ton of variety in its gameplay.
As Tommy Angelo, you do two things during the story of Mafia: Definitive Edition: fight and drive. When you’re not fighting, you’re driving to your next fight. When you’re not driving, you’re fighting. And when you’re not doing either of those, you’re watching a cutscene and aren’t really interacting with the game at all besides watching its story play out.
In other games, I would have found this shallow, but during my 13-hour-long playthrough of Mafia: Definitive Edition, I never really found myself getting too bored, dreading that next gunfight or car chase. That’s mostly thanks to the variety of missions that hold up during most of the story.
In its opening chapters, this variance is huge. One second you’re helping Sam and Paulie collect protection money, the next you’re sitting in the driver’s seat of a 1920’s race car — it’s one fun objective after the next. Sadly, that experience doesn’t hold up over the course of the game. As I inched closer to the climax, I found myself in the middle of more and more shooting gallery missions, mindlessly blasting away other mobsters until a cutscene began and I was transported into a car. It’s not the first time I’ve run into this drop-off–if you’ve been to Guarma in Red Dead Redemption 2 you’ve seen it too–but it hurt my interest and the game’s rising tension in its final acts.
Despite these shortfalls, Mafia: Definitive Edition manages to sidestep so many of the downsides that come with an open-world by separating it from the game’s story and a majority of its gameplay.
When you boot up Mafia: Definitive Edition, you have two main options: story and free ride. The game’s story mode is its meat and potatoes — it’s what you should be playing the game to experience. To put it bluntly, it’s where you’ll find the Mafia franchise at its best.
Free ride, on the other hand, is more of a sandbox mode. You’re still Tommy Angelo, except you have access to all of his outfits, weapons, and all the vehicles you’ve unlocked so far in the game. The world is your playground, and there’s almost nothing telling you how to spend your time.
I say almost because there actually is some decent content hidden inside of free ride. Across the open world, there are hidden messages, directing players to head somewhere else, and find a trigger for a mission. The first I found was inside the gang’s bar. It told me to head to a different part of Little Italy and listen for a bell. Sure enough, I found a ringing payphone, and that launched a mission that netted me a pretty sweet set of wheels to use through the rest of the game.
That doesn’t mean free ride is necessary to play, though. In fact, if I had played only the story and not free ride at all, I think my experience with the game would largely be the same.
That being said, its inclusion is integral to Mafia: Definitive Edition. It’s part of a group of features that push players in the direction of the game’s content, or in other words, stopped me from getting bored.
“If you want to experience a Mafia title, there is no better choice than Mafia: Definitive Edition.“
Free ride creates a home for the city of Lost Heaven so that it doesn’t have to live inside the story. Instead, it’s the other way around, and I don’t have to schlep about the entire city from objective to objective in the name of open worlds.
Another feature that I (personally) would love to see in other games and commend developer Hangar 13 for including here is an extremely simple but impactful one. In the game’s options, you can turn on a ‘skip drive’ button. The premise is straightforward; if you’re driving to a mission objective and you’re not in the middle of another mission, you can skip the minutes-long drive and get right to the good stuff.
That awareness puts Mafia: Definitive Edition at the top of its class, is, franchise. It knows that there are some folks out there that don’t want the filler, that just want to experience the game’s classic story of the rise and fall of a big-shot mafioso, and this lets them get right to it. The option is there if you want to take your time with the experience, and that control being left in the player’s hands is more than welcome.
When I previewed Mafia: Definitive Edition I said that it was the only game in the franchise being remade that actually deserved the title of “definitive.” It was the only one that felt like a breath of fresh air; like it had been given the thought and care that it deserves. After beating the game, my stance is solidified. If you want to experience a Mafia title, there is no better choice than Mafia: Definitive Edition — the Don of the Mafia franchise.
Mafia, Hangar 13, Video game remake, PlayStation 4
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