Mafia: Definitive Edition is shaping up to be something pretty special. It’s a shame it has one of the worst game names of the year.
We see a lot of definitive re-release type things in the world of video games. Definitive Editions, Game of the Year Editions, HD Remasters… but Mafia Definitive Edition isn’t in line with those trends. Not at all. Despite the name, this is for all intents and purposes a new game. It’s got more in common with, say, the lavishly expensive Final Fantasy 7 Remake than it does the Definitive Editions of Mafia 2 and 3, both of which are basically the original releases with a moderately fresh coat of paint slapped on top.
You see, this is a full-blown remake of Mafia. This isn’t new news, but having now played the game the extent of what this means is blazingly clear. The console version of Mafia released on PS2 and Xbox around the same time as Grand Theft Auto San Andreas – a different era for the open-world crime game. When Mafia 3 developer Hangar 13 decided to revisit the series’ roots, the studio obviously concluded that too much had changed to simply pretty-up and re-release the original – so they just started from scratch.
What you get then, is the same story, tone, world and characters as the original classic – but rebuilt in an all-new game. With a remake your options are to be faithful or to be bold, and Hangar 13 appears to have struck a healthy balance with a strong leaning towards the former.
The truth is that this game doesn’t actually have much beyond the superficial in common with the original Mafia. It’s built on the Mafia 3 engine, so things like shooting and the general handling of protagonist Tommy feel more like that game. With that said, changes have been made to bring things more in line with the original. For instance, the thirties setting means this entry has very different cars: more sluggish, with much more deliberate handling. Therefore the way cars control has been tweaked to represent that.
The infamously no-nonsense police presence from the original release has been toned down on default difficulty settings, meaning they’re more likely to turn a blind eye to speeding and the like. If you’re an old-school Mafia fan, you can reinstate this, as well as other more brutal elements of the original, with the ‘classic’ difficulty setting.
Similar license has been taken right throughout the game. Story sequences now have the same flair for the cinematic as the later games, adding a touch of the original’s slavish devotion to the works of Scorsese and Coppola to direction as well as tone. The open world as built in the 2000s was evocative of but not entirely accurate to real cities of the era – so elements like layout, design and even district names have been tweaked to be more realistic this time around, bringing Mafia’s world up to 2020 standards.
After playing the opening hours of Mafia Definitive Edition, one thing is now totally clear: this is a tightly-constructed, brilliant reimagining of the original Mafia. This is where the name of the game comes into question, though: the changes mean many fans will likely still prefer the original version, making this very much not a definitive edition. As an alternative take, a remake, something that exists alongside the original, however, it’s perfect.
If you missed the original Mafia or even enjoyed it back then but would likely bounce off it due to its eccentricities, this provides that story in a more modern package more in line with the latter two games in the series.
I honestly can’t wait to play more in the final release. There’s something special about Mafia’s more directed take on the open-world crime game. This is a game that could easily be a linear experience with its mission structure – but instead it’s set in a great big, charming open world. It stands apart, and this remake seems to understand what makes the series special. It’s a shame that this name seems to fundamentally under-represent what a huge effort this project clearly is.