Mafia: Definitive Edition Review – A Classic Reborn

September 27, 2020

Mafia has long been a series I’ve been interested in, but its first release came long enough ago that my gaming purchases were still largely made and vetted by my parents. Because of this, I’d never played the original games in the franchise. Now, as part of the Mafia: Trilogy, 2K Games is bringing the games to modern consoles. Unlike Mafia II: Definitive Edition, Mafia: Definitive Edition is a complete remake of the original release, which puts a fantastic modern coat of paint over a skeleton of a game that sometimes shows its eighteen-year-old roots.

Mafia: Definitive Editions follows mafioso Tommy D’Angelo from his humble beginnings with the mafia through to his later years as an experienced enforcer. From dealing with small-time gangs to bootlegging during the prohibition, Tommy’s journey follows the same sort of arc you’ve already seen in countless mob and mafia films in the past. Humble beginnings and starry-eyed optimism gradually gives way to harsh realisations and paranoia as Tommy gets deeper into the family. There’s no real surprises through the game’s fifteen-odd hours of story, but the more violent moments of the game are suitably off-putting, helping to peel away the charm and mystique of the Salieri family.

What really supports the story in Mafia: Definitive Edition is its cast of characters. While there are definitely some tropes at play here, they’re all well executed and don’t necessarily feel like tropes when you’re in the action. There’s the dependable Sam, who is unfortunately somewhat underdeveloped, the rough and tumble Paulie, whose layers are gradually peeled away as you progress, and the ever-present Don Salieri. They’re all well supported by writing that is generally pretty well done, while the voice acting and almost always on point and really heightens the experience. Don Salieri’s voice acting in particular is absolutely fantastic, seemingly effortlessly portraying the appropriate emotion and tone in every scene he’s in.

Going one step further, the characters are truly made by the fantastic facial animations that have come with the visual upgrade to Mafia: Definitive Edition. Again, this is something that shows particularly well on Don Salieri, with mannerisms (such as his slightly tilted head and slight smirk) and shifts in facial expression being incredibly well done. The facial animations are so good that they elevate the cutscenes of the game to another level beyond what the writing and voice acting themselves can reach. While the visuals are generally well done, the facial animations during cutscenes are potentially the most impressive part of the game.

Outside of the facial animations, the game’s character models are somewhat hit and miss, even from scene to scene. Some characters, such as Don Salieiri and Tommy, generally look fantastic, while other main characters such as Sam seem to have not gotten quite the same treatment. The quality also seems to shift from scene to scene and mission to mission, with Tommy’s facial model in particular seeming to have differing levels of quality at different points of the game, which is somewhat unusual.

Outside of the occasional oddities with character models, Mafia: Definitive Edition looks absolutely fantastic. Buildings are incredibly detailed, reflections on the water and cars look great, and the environments are filled with NPCs and the hustle and bustle you’d expect from a busy city. The lighting is also on point, with the neon signs at night-time looking particularly great, and avoiding the bloom issues seen in Mafia II: Definitive Edition.  The game’s cars, where you’ll spend much of your time, in particular look incredible. The trade-off for those visual niceties however, is some almost horrific pop in. Cars noticeably fade in ahead of you, while grass, shadows and other effects fill in mere metres in front of you. This is especially noticeable while driving around the game’s grassy environments, as you watch the grass load in while traversing the hills. It never completely pulled me from the experience, but it was noticeable enough to be a slight frustration.

Where Mafia: Definitive Edition starts to slip somewhat is in its controls and mission design. By no means are the controls bad, but they’re relatively average at best. Unless you absolutely pump the sensitivity, the shooting mechanics feel relatively unresponsive and the recoil on the guns (while likely realistic) feels a bit too heavy to be enjoyable. Melee combat is incredibly one note, with all encounters completed by mashing the counter-attack button and then immediately wailing on your opponent until they die or you have to mash the counter-attack button again.

Shooting encounters are fairly similar as well. Sit behind cover, kill 3-5 enemies, maybe occasionally move to avoid a Molotov and then move up 30-50m and repeat. Do this a few times, get a cutscene and either the mission ends or you go into the next phase of this. It’s hardly inspiring stuff and its what the majority of the game’s missions boil down to. Except for the driving missions, which are easily the worst part of Mafia: Definitive Edition. On more than one occasion you’ll need to chase down, follow or kill an enemy in a car. Missions like this can be done well, but the driving controls in Mafia are just poor enough that these feel like a chore. Throw in some poor checkpointing and what feels like overly harsh mechanics (such as singular mistakes killing the entire section) and I found myself banging my head against some of the driving missions more than I wanted. Conversely, the music during those missions is absolutely fantastic and helped offset some of my frustration.

What made those driving missions even worse was the occasional technical issue I ran into during them. Plants that seemingly had brick columns in them, curbs or nonexistent dips in the road flinging my car into the air, and even one occasion where the vehicle I was fescorting suddenly flew into the air and exploded above me. Outside of the driving missions, I also ran into framerate issues in some of the game’s indoor missions. Sudden drops and chugging framerates were almost non-existent when outside (except for when some pretty heavy weather effects kicked in) but I frequently had issues that impacted playability during those few indoor missions. With that said, the game largely ran well and wasn’t too glitchy.

Overall, Mafia: Definitive Edition really is a fantastic update to Mafia, foils and all. Graphically it looks fantastic, even with the terrible pop-in. The story and characters are still interesting today and the music is absolutely fantastic. The mechanics are average at best, while the fact that the game’s missions were designed over 18 years ago is pretty clear as you progress through the game. If you’re looking for a new third person mafia shooter and don’t mind the odd annoyance, this is the game for you.

Mafia: Definitive Edition was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro with a review copy provided by the publisher. It is also available on PC and Xbox One on its own or as part of Mafia: Trilogy. For more information, check out the official website.


- Story still holds up today
- Voice acting and facial animation are largely fantastic
- Environments and music are wonderful


- Mission and encounter design show their age
- Character visual quality is hit and miss
- Some technical issues

Overall Score: