Reviews

Mafia 2: Definitive Edition Review – Not Very Definitive

I remember playing Mafia 2 ten long years ago and being sucked into a world of violence and intrigue. Back then its storytelling amazed me. So I’m pretty pleased that this 1950s period piece about gangsters which got overlooked when it launched is getting another chance to amaze people. Ten years is a long time in the world of video games though, so has time treated Vito Scaletta well? Has D3T Limited done Hangar 13’s mafia masterpiece justice?

Before we delve into the review proper, there’s some good news: if you own Mafia 2 on Steam already then you get the Definitive Edition for free! And it comes packing all three chunks of released DLC, regardless of whether you owned them or not. Sadly console players don’t get the same deal, even if you have Mafia 2 on your account.

Available On: Xbox, PS4, PC
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: D3T Limited
Publisher: 2K Games

Unlike Mafia 1, which is getting a full remake in August and is looking amazing, Mafia 2: The Definitive Edition is just a remaster. But while the recent Saints Row: The Third Remastered was an excellent example of how an older game can be revitalized, Mafia 2: The Definitive Edition is a disappointing touch-up of an otherwise strong game. It can often feel like all the love and money has been poured into remake of Mafia, leaving Mafia 2 languishing.

I’m going to kick this off by talking about the remaster itself, so if you just want to know about the game scroll downwards. The overall visual upgrade is decent but with a few serious issues. The new textures have definitely sharpened up the world, so now there’s more definition in walls and even nice touches like footprints in the snow, although these are baked in and aren’t a result of NPCs walking around. And there’s some great new details in the character models, like Joe’s pockmarked face or Vito’s scars being easier to spot.

The lighting doesn’t seem to have been changed too much except for ramping up the contrast, which alters the tone of the game. Shadows appear deeper now, sometimes to a damaging degree. But the shadows are now softer around the edges, making them look more natural, especially during cutscenes. The color also seems to have been boosted so now everyone looks like they’ve come back from a long holiday on a tropical beach.

However, many of the faces you see in cutscenes haven’t been touched at all and stand out against the improvements. A lot of the clothing has not been updated either, so you’ll see a detailed face sitting atop a blurry suit with sharply-edged shoulders. Hands are the same, typically resembling blurry sausages. Likewise, there are many textures in the world that seem to be from the original and are quite prominent, so again it’s rather jarring to see them contrasted against the newer work. Also, character’s eyes no longer move correctly, either just staring straight ahead or only shifting when a character blinks. It sounds like such a small thing, but a character’s eyes can play a big role in scenes. Compared to the original game Vito and his chums will often stare into the distance, look cross-eyed and won’t focus on where they should be. That might not seem like a huge problem but Mafia 2 is very cinematic with its cutscenes, and you spend quite a bit of time watching people conversing. At one point a character spent a dramatic scene near the end of the game with their eyes rolled all the way to the right, like they were trying to spot an irksome fly. It kind of killed the drama.

Cloth physics don’t seem to be working in the main game right, although they are working in the included DLC, so that’s…strange. This feature being missing makes a bigger impact than you might think thanks to everyone’s clothing looking like it’s superglued to their bodies. It seems by modifying a file in the game’s installation directory cloth physics can be added back into Mafia 2: Definitive Edition, but only at the lowest setting. The weird thing is if you put on one of the jackets that comes with the included DLC, like Vito’s school jacket, the clothing physics will be turned on for that single item of clothing.

There’s also a lot of problems with debris flickering as well as lights, an issue that existed in the original game but is somehow much worse in the Definitive Edition.

And I’m a little annoyed that they didn’t take the time to make flames look remotely like actual fire. You don’t encounter fire too often, but when you do it looks hilariously bad. The worst example is when an enemy catches fire and you can literally see the little flame sprites copied and pasted across their body.

At least the framerate is fine, at least on PC. Over on console this ten year old game is somehow capped to just 30FPS, and even then it struggles to remain consistent. The PS4 Pro seems to be the worst offender of the bunch with massive frame drops occurring when driving or in interiors.  Thankfully on the PC version I didn’t notice any major problems with everything turned up to max. Although it is worth noting that there’s a substantial FPS drop between the original game and this one, despite the visual upgrade being fairly small.

There’s also a bunch of technical problems to talk about. One of the most baffling is that of dialogue only playing from the left speaker. This can be fixed, at least in my case, by heading into the options menu and changing audio from auto to stereo or to 5.1 or 7.1. Again, consoles players are experiencing similar problems. Also, while the audio is playing mono the entire audio mix seems to go crazy with dialogue volume jumping up and down.

During my time with the game I encountered a number of bugs, like an NPC crashing his car and thus failing the mission, enemies getting stuck or freezing in place, some random objects defying the laws of gravity, characters teleporting, things not triggering correctly, random deaths from a shotgun blast across the map and more.

Luckily I never ran into anything game breaking, but the most frustrating by a country mile was the 2K watermark that sometimes wouldn’t disappear if I didn’t login to my 2k account. It’s irritating enough that the game pushes you to create a useless 2K account, but that the watermark will sometimes remain on the scree is beyond annoying.

Ultimately the remaster is okay, albeit not up to par with some of the best remasters we’ve seen over the years. It’s certainly a step up in terms of its visuals but that seems to have come at a hefty price, with the Definitive Edition having more glitches and bugs than the original game. This is especially true on console, leaving PC as the format of choice.

Now that the remaster portion is out of the way, let’s get into Mafia 2 itself. The game kicks off with a Sicilian family making the voyage to America to chase the good ‘ol American Dream. But of course it’s just that: a dream. They wind up in a shitty apartment filled with rats and grim, and the father has to slave away in the dockyard for little to no pay, all the while taking out loans he cannot afford to repay. And so our protagonist, Vito Scaletta, grows up in poverty, knowing what its like to be hungry and penniless. He winds up meeting Joe, his best friend. Together, they enter a life of crime.

Later in 1943 a teenage Vito manages to get himself arrested and given a choice: go to jail, or enlist in the army. He picks the second one and fights in Sicily, where he watches in astonishment as his would be killers surrender to the American forces simply because Mafia boss Don Calò told them to. A while later, Vito takes a bullet and returns to America to heal up. Back home Vito reunites with Joe, who manages to use his criminal connections to get Vito forged papers that allow him to stay in the country. Vito finds his beloved mother and sister have a debt looming over them, so Vito teams up with Joe once again with the goal of making all the money he can and acquiring the same power he saw Don Calò wield.

This is classic gangster fare, a story of rising through the ranks of the Mafia, betrayals, politics amongst the families, friendship and the inevitable bloodship and horrors that the life brings. Not to spoil my own review, but it’s the story that you should play Mafia 2 for as the gameplay leaves a lot to be desired, especially by today’s standards. Although Vito and Joe are far from good people the writers do a stunning job of making them likeable. Even as they bury bodies, help wage wars on the streets, kill cops and rob stores you can’t help but get invested in them, and want them to succeed. More importantly, you can understand Vito: he doesn’t want to end up like his deadbeat dad, lugging crates around for $10 for the rest of his days. Even if his methods can’t be condoned, his desire to be someone important resonates. He knows what it is to be powerless and penniless in a world that simply does not care.

Over the past ten years I’d honestly forgotten how funny Mafia 2 could be, too. There’s a dark streak of humour running through the whole game, much of it stemming from the friendship between Vito and Joe. One mission in particular sticks in my mind. It starts with Joe taking Vito out to a strip club to celebrate, and winds up with Vito having to drive Joe and a mobster, both of whom are drunkenly trying to sing along with the radio, to somewhere they can bury a body that’s in the car’s trunk. Unsurprisingly, Vito is not impressed to discover the rotting corpse or by having his night ruined. It’s hilarious, despite the horrible premise.

It’s a riveting mobster tale filled with sharp writing, gripping characters and well directed cutscenes that give the whole experience a cinematic flair. And it wraps it all up in a terrific ending that still hit me hard despite having gone through it all before. 10 years after it came out Mafia 2 is still one of the best stories told in video games, up there with the likes of Mass Effect 2 and The Last of Us.

It’s combat where the game is showing its age the most. Even ten years ago taking cover, aiming and shooting all felt clunky and stiff, so in 2020 it feels downright poor.  This is cover-based shooting at its most basic form – you pop in and out, shooting whichever bad guy sticks his head out from behind a wall. You can try to be a little more mobile but it’s rarely worth it since the gangsters and greasers you fight will typically make short work of your unprotected body. The only thing that makes it a tad more exciting is the mildly destructible environments, meaning you can shoot through certain things.

The truth is that Mafia 2 is actually a linear, story-driven game disguising itself as an open-world title. Empire Bay is a lovely, atmospheric fictional city to drive around in while listening to classic music from the era, although due to the licensing a lot of songs are missing. The cars feel weighty and fun to drive, and you can even get chased by the cops for speeding if you aren’t careful, a feature some people will find annoying. And there’s plenty of little details to spot, too. Naturally you can get out of the car and go on foot, perhaps stopping at a gun or clothing shop. Or maybe you’ll just open fire and cause some mild mayhem.

The problem is Empire Bay exists purely as a backdrop and doesn’t serve an actual function in terms of gameplay. There’s nothing in it. Sure, there are cars driving around and people strolling the streets, and there are a couple of gun and clothing shops that you can rob, but that’s it. There are no side-missions or activities, nor are there any interesting landmarks to check out. Aside from the initial pleasure of driving around in classic machines there’s absolutely no reason to spend any time in the city. The game doesn’t even pretend, either, as one mission leads straight into the next anyway. There are a couple of shops where you can tune up your car, but what’s the point when the only thing you do is drive from one mission point to another? That’s all Empire Bay is: a place for you to drive while character’s hold a conversation.

On the plus side the Definitive Edition contains all the previously released Mafia 2 DLC, such as the surprisingly meaty Joe’s Adventure’s which covers the period of time Vito spends in jail. While the combat and driving may still be weak, there are some fun set pieces that spice up the action a little more. Meanwhile, The Betrayal of Jimmy has a more arcadey feel to it, and introduces missions that can be done in any order. Basically, this first piece of DLC for the game brings in side-missions that many people felt were missing from the game in the first place. I almost wish this remaster had integrated the Jimmy DLC into the main game.

So no, the actual game parts of Mafia 2 aren’t very good. This isn’t to say they are terrible or that they actively hurt the game as such, but it’s also fair to say that I never got a thrill from shootouts or the way missions are structured. It’s worth sticking with it, though, for the in-mission dialogue, the fantastic cutscenes and the feeling that you get that you’re playing through an excellently executed mafia movie.

This is a tough one to review and score. Not only do we have to take the game itself into account and how it holds up in 2020 but we’ve also got to consider the job that was done remastering it for a modern audience. Ultimately I’d still recommend Mafia 2 itself, not for the gameplay but rather for its story which remains one of the best in video games. It’s an interactive mobster movie filled with superb characters and sharp writing. Just be prepared for a lot of harsh fucking language, racism and some other tricky topics. This is, after all, a game set in the 40’s and 50’s featuring rather disreputable people.

But with that all said, I’d recommend waiting to pick up the Definitive Edition, whether you’re a newcomer or someone that already experienced the story of Vito Scaletta. With some updating this could be a much better product, and a worthy upgrade to a brilliant story.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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