Mafia: Definitive Edition Preview — Worth Calling Definitive

While the other definitive editions of Mafia titles haven't impressed all that much, my early look at Mafia: Definitive Edition has given me high hopes for what the franchise can be.

August 26, 2020

Leading up to the official release of Mafia: Definitive Edition, the upcoming remake of Mafia, I was given the opportunity to play an early build of the game and see the reimagined city of Lost Haven for myself. I also played Mafia 2: Definitive Edition on my PS4, which prompted an op-ed from me about deciding when something is a remaster or a simple port. During my short time with Mafia: Definitive Edition that question was far, far away from my mind. Instead, I found myself immersed in a gorgeous rendition of the windy city in the midst of the depression era.

Even before playing Mafia: Definitive Edition, it stood out among the pack of “definitive” Mafia re-releases. The definitive version of Mafia 3 is more of a complete edition, with all the DLC included, whereas Mafia 2: Definitive Edition included graphical changes that were only obvious in screenshots comparing this version and the game’s original release. Mafia 2: Definitive Edition also struggled to maintain a stable framerate on my PS4 Pro, and I experienced multiple bugs during my time with it. But Mafia: Definitive Edition is different – it looks brand new, it sounds brand new, and from the gameplay we saw back in July, it plays like a modern title.

After roughly three hours with the game, Mafia: Definitive Edition is looking like the only entry in this “definitive” trilogy to live up to its name.

There is a marked shift, however, with something entirely different from the other Mafia titles – a commitment to being a cinematic experience. Whereas Mafia and only managed to cultivate this kind of presence during cutscenes (and even then, it’s fairly rare), everything in Mafia: Definitive Edition feels as though it were ripped out of a world directed by Francis Coppola. There’s a stark contrast between the extreme poverty and the extreme wealth of the 1930s visible, and in the game’s first chapters, you experience that first hand. The world itself is filled with immense detail; the ever-present flicker of neon lights, countless loose objects behind bars, filthy streets populated by the hovels of the depression’s victims. All of these backdrops are made stunning by Mafia: Definitive Edition‘s lighting system. For instance, when you’re inside a dark building during the day, the outside looks realistically bright. These details add to the movie-like sense that follows the game through each mission.

Mafia: Definitive Edition may change a lot of things, but what it doesn’t change is its story. The evergreen formula of a stupendous rise and meteoric fall of a criminal, akin to the stock market’s actions at the time, is still engaging. If anything, Mafia: Definitive Edition brings that story to the next level with a re-written script, modern character modeling, and brilliant voice acting that brings the seedy yet somewhat honorable mobsters protagonist Tommy Angelo surrounds himself with to life. Even now, it’s hard to get the voice of Sam (Don DiPetta) out of my head; it’s a kind of raspy, drunkenness that perfectly matches his face. That quality carries over to all of the cast – they are caricatures of mob movie stereotypes brought to life.

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My preview of Mafia: Definitive Edition, although thoroughly impressive, didn’t introduce me to everything I expect the game will offer. Every chapter began with Tommy getting right into a mission – there was never any of the downtime that fans of the Mafia series appreciate. No time to go shopping for suits, knock down a few at a bar, or rob the place where you bought your suit in that new suit.

What I played revolved mostly around combat and driving, which, to be fair, are a good chunk of what players do in the Mafia titles. Tommy gets his first taste of violence wrecking some of the cars of rival mob boss Morello. During this early mission, the game introduces a new feature I haven’t seen in a Mafia game before: melee weapons. And what’s better to smash an old-time jalopy with than a baseball bat? Satisfyingly, every smack of the bat leaves indentations on the car. But busting up a car isn’t quiet, and eventually, some goons come out to put an end to the fun.

Melee combat against enemies is fairly straightforward, but still something I haven’t seen from a Mafia title before. There’s a dedicated button for melee in Mafia: Definitive Edition, so no matter what you’ve got out, you can clock someone in the head. Hold down that button and you let loose a charged attack – bare fists make it a haymaker but with a baseball bat, you may as well be sending someone’s gut out of left field.

Beating up chumps with a baseball bat is something that the Mafia franchise has been missing, but it’s not the only gameplay improvement I saw in my preview. Gunplay in Mafia: Definitive Edition is the best it’s ever been in the series, although it still has some kinks to work out. I only had three weapons available to me during my preview: the revolver, shotgun, and Tommy gun. Each weapon feels heavy, and that’s further accentuated by the aiming reticle’s bob with every step your character makes. There’s a purposeful inaccuracy too, something that I adore when games do it right. Tommy Angelo isn’t a soldier, he joined the mob after being a cab driver. He doesn’t know much about weapons, other than that you point them, pull the trigger, and the thing they’re pointed at is going down. Guns have a massive reticle, so don’t be surprised if a shot you expect to hit doesn’t. I did say there was one caveat to guns though, and it comes with how they sound. The revolver sounds more akin to a cap gun, and the other weapons I played with follow suit. I can’t say whether or not those sounds will change between now and the game’s release, but I sure hope they do.

I’m genuinely looking for one bad thing to say about my experience with Mafia: Definitive Edition that can’t be chalked up the game’s early build qualities, but I can’t find any. I’d hazard to say it’s the ideal Mafia title, something that fans of every game in the series can rally around and say, “Yes, this is what we’ve wanted all along.” I so thoroughly enjoyed my first few hours with the game, that I’m excited to get my hands on it again next month. It’s the same kind of excitement that came between every episode of Game of Thrones – I’ve been left on a cliffhanger and I’m hungry for more.

Mafia: Definitive Editon is set to release September 25 on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

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