Hindsight really is 2020. Mafia II: Definitive Edition has become the latest in a slew of remakes and remasters to fill out this very strange year’s release calendar.
Originally released in 2010, Mafia II is a fairly standard crime family story. You play as migrant son Vito Scaletta, freshly returned to the fictional Empire City from the Italian front in World War 2. After running a fast scam that sees him released from the army on forged discharge papers, Vito discovers his late father left his family in deep with a group of loan sharks. Looking to clear the debt quickly, Vito enlists his friend Joe Barbaro and his connections in local organised crime. Vito’s straightforward goal — complete a few dirty jobs in exchange for fast cash — becomes increasingly complicated as he runs afoul of Empire City’s numerous Italian, Irish, African American, and Chinese crime families. This package includes every last scrap of downloadable content ever released for the original game. If you’re a fan that never got to try all the extra stuff, this will be a great excuse to come back.
Tale as old as crime
It hits all the beats that fans of the mafia yarn want — the promise of a life of complete opulence, the thrill of getting away with murder, the gratification and respect that comes with moving up the food chain, and the knowledge that it could all go away at any moment. Like other games in this series, Mafia II emphasises historical accuracy in how its characters interact. Mafia stories are inherently, often grossly, hyper-masculine. Characters are by turns boorish, racist, sexist, homophobic, patriarchal, and wilfully abusive. It doesn’t go quite as far as 2016’s Mafia III, but there’s enough of this content to warrant a splash screen at the beginning of the campaign. It warns the player about all of the above and states that what had been considered acceptable in 2010 is obviously rather different now.
A different era
As far as I can tell, there have been no significant changes to the actual mechanics of the game. Mafia II remains much as it has since it launched in 2010, and it’s possible to feel its increasing age. It doesn’t feel terribly dated but there are several key indicators that will remind you that what you’re playing is a decade old.
For one thing, the industry has gotten a lot better at traffic AI in open-world games. In Mafia II, freeway motorists will simply swerve in front of you at the exact moment you hit Mach 15. At all other times, they’re jumping into the lane ahead of you as they pull up at traffic lights. In both cases, you must resign yourself to slamming into them at the speed of sound. To add insult to grievous injury, a police car will promptly materialise from a side street to arrest you instead of the clod that caused the accident.
Another area where it’s possible to feel the game’s age is its cover mechanics. Back in 2010, Gears of War had changed the third-person shooter. Everything had to have cover shooting mechanics, and Mafia II was no exception. The cover shooting in Mafia II is best described as fiddly. Vito has a habit of trying to get into or out of cover at inopportune moments. Sometimes he’ll go exactly where you want and the gunfight will proceed as normal. Sometimes he’ll cover his back in glue, adhere himself to absolutely the wrong wall and smile serenely as he is shot to pieces. It can be maddening but, again, remember that it was 2010, and no-one knew how to properly implement cover shooting yet.
Sharp dressed man
Visually, Mafia II: Definitive Edition is a bit of a home run. It seeks to amplify the filmic quality of the game’s story with high-resolution textures and lighting and some detailed new character models. Also getting a facelift are the game’s many vehicles, all of which now look quite spectacular. One of the series’ great achievements has always been the detail it poured into era-appropriate cars and streets. Now that work can be more fully appreciated.
Of particular note is Empire City itself, a city that changes with the seasons as the story progresses. The early stages are especially pretty, set in the dead of a snowy winter, allowing vehicles to show all the muck, dirt and frost they accumulate. There’s real and obvious care behind all of the updates to the art design and it’s great to see a developer come back to old work with this much eye for detail.
Mafia II: Definitive Edition is exactly what you want in a remaster. It allows the game to look exactly the way it did in your mind when you played it originally, but neither does it try to throw a sheet over facets or mechanics weakened by the march of time. It is a time capsule, of 2010 and of the era it tries to recreate, and it never tries to be anything else.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Great graphical updates; Complete suite of original content; Buttery smooth
Lowlights: Time has not been kind to certain facets of its open world
Developer: Hangar 13
Publisher: 2K Games
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC
Review conducted on Windows PC with a pre-release code provided by the publisher.