This is the part of the Mafia Trilogy that people have been most excited about. Mafia III already looks good, and Mafia II already released to a tepid reception thanks to a fair share of issues, but the original Mafia game is getting truly transformed. This isn't an HD version of an old PS2 game, this is a legitimate and complete remake, taking everything that you know about the original game and bringing the visuals well and truly into the modern-day. But does the rest of the game stack up to the impressive but limited clips and screenshots we've seen so far? From our experience with an early preview build, the answer is yes.
If you take just a moment to compare any area or cutscene from Mafia Definitive Edition to the same scene in the original PS2 game, and the enhancements are obvious. The game has been completely remade - all animations, all environments, all aspects of the gameplay - everything here is brand new and looks up to par with any modern open-world game, and better in places. Cutscenes are the easiest to see differences in - they have been redirected with brand new voice acting and some impressive animations. At no point does this game feel like a product of its time, until you start playing.
The preview build we played was just under three hours long, and in that time you will do a lot of driving. Our protagonist Tommy Angelo is a driver by trade, but the driving sections of this game will take a fair amount of time, which is why you now have the option to skip all non-essential driving scenes entirely, and put you straight into the action. We haven't seen enough to make a judgment on how the missions in the rest of the game will play out, but they certainly seem like they will mostly conform to the traditions of game design circa 2002.
The original Mafia shone because it felt more grounded and realistic than contemporaries such as Grand Theft Auto III, and even in the modern-day that somehow holds true. Mafia's tale about Tommy getting caught up with the mob feels more back-to-basics and true-to-form for an open-world crime epic, and the beautiful sheen of polish poured on in this definitive edition makes this experience far more cinematic and engaging than the original was even 18 years ago.
After playing the recent Mafia II Definitive Edition I had low expectations of Mafia Definitive Edition. I found Mafia II to look bad and play worse, and I thought Mafia Definitive Edition would be the same thing, visual flair but zero substance to keep me engaged. Despite that, my first play through the demo was entirely uninterrupted, with the acting, melancholy story, and perfectly adequate cover-based shooting keeping me enthused about what was coming next.
Not everything is perfect, mind. This is an early preview, and there are certainly improvements planned ahead of the full launch of the game next month, but you could see a few minor issues. On one long drive, I slowed down on a bridge to gaze out at what appeared to be a gorgeous view, only to be met with a polygonal low-texture hill staring back at me. For just a moment, it felt like the PS2 game again. And in another instance, I saw a police cruiser hanging off of the overhead power lines for the tram system. But the fact is that these complaints are incredibly minor, there is still plenty of time for fixes and improvements, and even in the current PC build of the game, I find myself incredibly pleased and impressed overall.
The Mafia series has been troubled recently. Not all critics were fond of Mafia III, and the less said about the Mafia II Definitive Edition, the better. But Mafia Definitive Edition is a true return to form. The story is engaging, the cutscenes are beautiful, and I find myself far more interested in the series than I ever have been before. If you, like me, haven't really found yourself interested in the Mafia series in recent years, then this might be the game to change your mind. Without a doubt, Mafia: Definitive Edition is the next open-world game I'll be finishing.
The game is out on September 25th for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.