As we inch closer and closer to the end of a console generation, more than ever publishers are churning out ports, remasters and remakes of classic and memorable games of the past. In a surprise (but not surprising) move, 2K Games is throwing a fedora in the ring and resurrecting a franchise that I’ve always enjoyed but never expected to get the remaster treatment. The Mafia games have always had a good following, even if they never set the world on fire, and Mafia II in particular has always been one of the most memorable action games of the previous generation in my eyes. It was with great excitement then, that I was able to spend the last week tearing up the mean streets of Empire Bay at 40mph in Mafia II: Definitive Edition.
If you’ve never played Mafia II before, don’t be put off by the number in the title – this is a self-contained story with only the most minute connection to the first game. Centred around main playable character and war veteran, Vito Scaletta, along with his old friend and Italian mob initiate, Joe Barbaro, the game’s narrative takes place in fictional Empire Bay and spans a timeline from the 1940s to 50s. The whole thing is pure gangster fiction in the vein of Goodfellas and Once Upon A Time In America and really nails the feeling of those classics without ever coming off as derivative. A disclaimer that pops up before starting the game reminds players that this is the exact same game released in 2010, occasionally culturally-insensitive warts and all, but as a whole it holds up surprisingly well.
For the most part, Mafia II is a fairly stock-standard cover-based shooter with the occasional car chase and some light stealth for good measure. The 10-12 hour story takes players on a mostly linear path through missions that tend to follow the same ‘go here, engage in some stop-n-pop shooting, dodge the cops and go home’ template, which wasn’t exactly revolutionary in 2010 and is even less so now. Still, it’s all in service of a narrative that’s arguably more engaging than the gameplay and the world is rich enough that it never feels overly game-y anyway.
One of the most notable things about Mafia II’s Empire Bay is that it doesn’t follow the traditional open world ethos of littering the environment with distractions and extraneous gameplay outside of the critical path. You’ll almost always have free reign to explore the city, sure, but there’s very rarely any reason to. It’s there to immerse, not entertain, and it’s honestly even more of a breath of fresh air now than it was 10 years ago. The game’s ‘wanted’ system is also still one of the smarter takes in the genre, with police able to identify Vito by his clothing or vehicle plates when he’s out and about, even if they’re not in active pursuit at the time. Gameplay-wise, this new version of the game is basically note-for-note, with no real mechanical or functionality changes.
In fact, digging through the game’s install files on PC it seems to be the exact same game with what amounts to be a giant UHD texture pack on top. The graphical update is obviously the most noticeable change in the game’s Definitive Edition, and it’s fairly substantial. Playing on PC with settings cranked to the max, the game’s overall geometry seems largely the same while texture quality is hugely improved across the board, and a host of modern lighting and shading effects are in play. The result is an image that looks largely the same at first glance, but holds up much better under close scrutiny and feels decidedly more modern. It’s unfortunate that the presentation is still held back by some very last-gen issues like stiff animations, awkwardly-ugly NPC character models and noticeable pop-in of other vehicles when driving around, but it mostly holds up okay.
Original (first image) vs Definitive Edition (second image)
Of course, the game’s existence as a native PS4 and Xbox One title is entirely new as is the ability to play in ultra-high resolutions on console, but if you’ve already played on PC (it’s worth noting that if you already own the game on Steam you’ll be upgraded to the Definitive Edition for free!) chances are you won’t get much out of the Definitive Edition from a visual standpoint. That said, this new version does include all of Mafia II’s DLC expansions, which are quite decent, giving you the chance to experience the world from Joe’s point of view in Joe’s Adventure and engage in high score-chasing action in the much more arcade-y Betrayal of Jimmy and Jimmy’s Vendetta. The end result is a package that works wonderfully as a revisit to what I would consider an absolute classic. Plus, no game has yet been able to match the sheer scope of Mafia II’s tracklist of 130 licensed songs from the 1940s and 50s. There’s no better feeling than cruising through Little Italy in a Houston Wasp while listening to Book of Love on the radio.
Whether or not you should play Mafia II: Definitive Edition hinges on a few factors, with a love for the original version of the game being a critical one. This remaster won’t change the minds of anyone who didn’t gel with it the first time around, likewise if you’ve already played on PC there’s probably not much cause to revisit aside from maybe checking out the DLC. It’s a great excuse for fans to play through it again though; it still plays well, and the new graphical bells and whistles push the atmosphere of Empire Bay further than ever. It’s a decent package for the price too, especially as part of the Mafia Trilogy offering that includes a complete Mafia III package as well as the upcoming full-blown Mafia remake. It’s almost like it’s… an offer you can’t refuse.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher