Over the past two decades, the Mafia franchise has striven to capture the thrills and drama of becoming an American mobster in various cities during the 20th century. For many, the peak of the series is widely considered to be the first game, as Tommy Angelo’s time in Lost Heaven was praised by fans and critics alike at the time of its release, but received lackluster console ports and was followed by sequels that never reached that same height. As questions started to be raised about any future for the Mafia series after the middling reception to Mafia III, 2K shared their plans back in May to offer fans new ways to play the entire trilogy on the current generation of consoles. While both Mafia II and III received Definitive Editions that bundled together all of their DLC and, in the case of the former game, added some graphical improvements, the original Mafia’s Definitive Edition represents a full overhaul of the original game, with the new title being developed from the ground up and featuring refined gameplay mechanics, enhanced graphics, an original musical score and the introduction of motorcycles for the first time in the series. We recently got some hands-on time with Mafia: Definitive Edition before its release next month, which included the first few chapters of the story as well as one additional mid-game mission.
Mafia tells the tale of Tommy Angelo, a cab driver during the height of the Great Depression in the Chicago-inspired city of Lost Heaven. After a run-in with two members of the Morello mafia family, Tommy is taken in by the rival Salieri family and gradually comes to serve as their residential chauffeur. The Salieri gang is filled with unique personalities that the player steadily gets acquainted with, including the wise-cracking Paulie, kind-hearted mechanic Ralphie, and the two heads, Don Salieri and his consigliere Frank, who all add plenty of charm and intrigue to the story since Tommy brings little to the table in that regard in these early hours. While none of the cinematography or voice acting is particularly stellar, both areas have seen significant improvements from the 2002 original to help the cinematics and conversations feel more like a traditional mafia story that has already dropped some hints at the drama still yet to come.
The explorable city of Lost Heaven has proven to be the key attraction of Mafia, with changes to both the aesthetics and street layouts to more accurately represent the time period and introduce new elements for fans of the original to experience alongside brand new players. Driving around the various districts and countryside feels truly immersive thanks to the period-accurate songs and news broadcasts playing on the radio, alongside the wide variety of classic cars (and their bizarre horn honks) that populate the streets. Players who are eager to fully engage with the realistic aspects of Mafia can enable the Simulation option for police responses, allowing the roaming cops to track your speed and ability to obey traffic lights. While going out of your way to follow additional laws in a game about portraying a criminal may seem contradictory, an early cutscene establishes the importance of not going out of your way to rile up the police, as well as a handy speed limiter toggle, which restricts your top speed to match the limit of the road you’re currently driving on, helping this mechanic feel less obstructive for those who don’t want to worry about it as frequently.
Unfortunately, the early hours of Mafia present little in the way of opportunities to freely drive around or explore Lost Heaven, with the game instead content with shuffling you from one mission to the next. In addition to getting you acquainted with the ever-growing cast of characters, the first few missions do a straightforward but effective job of introducing you to the core gameplay. As the resident driver, transporting yourself and your chatty co-workers plays an expectedly large role, with contextual time limits, unique vehicles and car chases helping introduce some much-needed variety. Tommy can also take cover behind and vault over obstacles for on-foot pursuits, stealthily take down enemies, and utilize a decent amount of melee, throwable and ranged weapons during the more chaotic sequences. While this welcome assortment of abilities show plenty of potential for more engaging missions once players get past the tutorial sections of the game, some additional opportunities for side activities or other ways to feel like an inhabitant of Lost Heaven outside of the main missions would go a long way towards helping the full game feel less restrictive and more in line with modern open world games.
With dozens of 20th century vehicles roaming the streets of Lost Heaven, Hangar 13’s focus on implementing realistic yet enjoyable driving mechanics becomes much more clear as you gradually try out more vehicles. Outside of the obvious aesthetic differences, the noticeably slower acceleration plays a large role in capturing the experience of driving these nearly century-old cars, but it also fits well with the speed limit restrictions which shifts the target away from reaching your destination as quickly as possible. It also makes those sequences where you are encouraged to put the pedal to the floor all the more thrilling, with race cars and motorcycles that can fly by any police forces that happen to spot you. After the first few tutorial missions, we also got an opportunity to try out one mid-game mission that featured far more gunplay and a fun set-piece moment that hopefully hints at more of what is to come as Tommy continues to move up the Salieri family ranks. While ammo management and proper positioning behind cover both play key roles in these combat encounters, the shooting never feels as satisfying as one would hope, mostly due to both the lackluster enemy AI and the fairly standard assortment of weapons at your disposal.
The first few hours of Mafia: Definitive Edition are a strong introduction to the impressive world and unique cast of the game, but are held back by its linear structure and middling combat. While the full game will hopefully feature more to do outside of following Tommy Angelo’s journey, the clear potential for greater mission variety and substantial emphasis on immersion both provide hope that the extra work done on this ground-up remake will make your trip to Lost Heaven worthwhile for both new and old fans alike. Mafia: Definitive Edition is set to launch on September 25 for PS4, Xbox One and PC.