This generation of gaming has been flush with remakes, remasters and re-releases. Some are full-fat rebuilds from the ground up, while others are simple ports of previous titles looking to recoup some attention they may have missed first time out. Then, there's those that land somewhere in the middle (we're looking at you, Super Mario 3D All-Stars).
However, Mafia: Definitive Edition is definitely in the former camp as a shining example of exactly what a remake can be, and just what it can add to a previously top tier title.
Mafia, originally released on the PC in 2002, is a classic of its genre. The first game to take a more serious approach to the popular Grand Theft Auto formula, its tale of family, greed and betrayal was enjoyable – and enough to launch a fully-fledged series.
The most obvious change is just how stunning the city of Lost Heaven looks. With traffic on the busy streets, and pedestrians going about their business, it feels like a more realised setting. Its characters also have a fresh look, all beautifully remodelled in much the same way as Mafia III – light years away from the 2002 original.
However, deeper differences come with the expanded script and brand new vocal performances, which have been recast and re-recorded to deliver a cast of characters that offer intrigue and interest.
Each character has been fleshed out and fully realised. Tommy no longer sounds like a bored bus conductor, and instead delivers every line with some fire. His motivations for joining the Salieri family and for staying in the game so long are much clearer and believable, giving him an interesting story arc.
With family being the core of the tale, it only makes sense that previously smaller characters like Sarah have been re-written to give them the development and screen time they deserve, serving to draw you deeper into the story.
Tommy's friendship with Sam and Paulie is also explored a lot more, which – while avoiding spoilers – makes certain events so much more impactful as you fight to defend the name of Don Salieri. The man himself has undergone some character changes fans will either love or hate, but personally we found him to be a much more interesting character.
Now, while so much has been built upon, this new take on the series starter has stayed true to its roots in a lot of ways. Thankfully it hasn't gone open world, sticking to a semi-linear path, which sees Tommy regaling an ageing detective with tales of his rise within the Salieri family – an anthology of his most tense and hair-raising escapades.
Once your mission has started, you're free to roam and ignore things as you see fit. But don't expect to see a map flooded with menial and repetitive tasks to fulfil – in an age of constant 60-hour experiences padded with cookie cutter tasks, this can only be a good thing. The story is the focus here, as it should be.
Driving takes a moment to get into. The first few cars you'll drive are much heavier in feel, but eventually you'll be tearing through Lost Heaven, swerving corners and avoiding the police like the best of them. But we can't mention driving without talking about the infamous 'fair play' mission, in which you have to win a race in possibly the most frustrating car ever designed.
Yes, it's back – and it's *still* compulsory – but with some tweaks and overhauls that make it that bit easier to complete. By no means is it easy. The Carosella C-Otto 4WD can flip or spin out of control on a dime, but it can be done, so we're glad the mission was kept in.
Shooting and combat in general feels good here, though not perfect. Akin to what you'll have experienced in Mafia III, there's a limited arsenal of weapons at your disposal but each feels pretty solid.
Shotguns deliver a satisfying kick, with pistols offering a crunch and slow precision. However, enemies can often be bullet sponges, unless you're popping headshots exclusively. Time to time this can be frustrating during more heated exchanges, making the experience a bit more arcadey, and akin to the PS2-era than we'd have liked.
Enemy gunfire does a lot more damage, and reloading before your clip is empty means you'll lose what you had remaining as a punishment for being overzealous. In theory this probably sounds frustrating, but it's honestly the closest we've come to roleplaying a mafia gangster so far.
The same can be said about enemy AI, which on occasion has a tendency to confuse itself, as enemies randomly shout about getting into cover while running in circles looking for said cover.
In one of the more egregious examples, we were left waiting to push forward, as enemies ran into and around each other, because a specific layout of barrels and boxes didn't seem to compute for them. Thankfully, issues like this are few and far between.
Mafia can be played on a handful of difficulty levels from easy upwards, but the best experience is definitely found in simulation. Much like the original game, it offers a challenge that only serves to pull you into the experience more. Police are sticklers for the rules, so break speed limits, act dodgy in front of pedestrians and you're likely to be pulled over and issued a fine – or worse if you choose to run away.
Mafia: Definitive Edition is a stunning remake that improves upon so much while staying true to its original vision. As you'd expect, this balance between new ideas and old concepts has its advantages – and its drawbacks.
But it remains an exciting experience with a nostalgic warmth that'll keep you coming back to explore its expansive yet conservative map, free from the bloat that similar games in this genre have been subject to for far too long now.
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