Mafia: Definitive Edition Review — An essential gangster flick in video game form

Mafia elevates the classic thriller with stunning visuals and a more immersive story delivery.

Mafia Definitive Edition Review
(Image: © Windows Central)

The original Mafia launched all the way back in 2002 for PC, and later for the original Xbox. Mafia commanded heaps of praise for its gritty, realistic take on Grand Theft Auto's formula, which by contrast is notorious for its satire and parody. Mafia felt like something that had emerged from the best minds of Hollywood back then, and I'm happy to find that modern tech only elevates this thriller classic.

Mafia: Definitive Edition is an essential buy for anyone that enjoys a gangster flick, with some of the best story delivery in recent memory.

Here's everything you need to know about Mafia: Definitive Edition for Xbox One.

Mafia: Definitive Edition Visuals, performance, and setting

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CategoryMafia: Definitive Edition
TitleMafia: Definitive Edition
DeveloperHangar 13
GenreAction Adventure
Xbox GamePassNo
Launch Price$40

Mafia originally launched on PC and was later ported to the Xbox and PlayStation 2, so you can imagine what it looked like all the way back then. A simple remaster wasn't going to cut it in 2020, so 2K opted to do a full ground-up rebuild, painstakingly recreating the fictional world of Lost Heaven, many of its iconic missions, and all of its memorable characters.

Lost Heaven is a port city that features a variety of locations, internal and external. The open-world isn't really designed to be a traditional sandbox, but instead serve as a backdrop for mission-to-mission conversations and relevant radio broadcasts, adding tone and context. You won't be running around playing golf or doing side missions in Mafia. This is very much a tight, choreographed experience.

The game world is very detailed, though, complete with impressive lighting and reflections. Weather effects leave reflective puddles on the ground, and night-time scenes are complimented with great HDR illumination. Often I found myself taking a moment between gangland murder and racketeering just to take in the view.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The only issue I really had with the visuals on the Xbox One X was the odd shimmering technique they use for anti-aliasing in some scenes. It seems to kick in when the game is struggling, performance-wise, along with dynamic resolution scaling. If you're sitting far from the TV you probably won't catch it, but once you notice, it's hard to ignore. My only other regret is that there's not much of a reason to explore the game's detailed world, since the story pushes you in a very specific direction throughout.

The game runs at dynamic 4K with 30 frames-per-second (FPS) on the Xbox One X, and holds that target pretty well over all. I had the occasional frame rate dip during some car chase scenes, but there is a day one patch on the way, promising to bring further optimizations.

The graphics refresh extends well to the game's character models too, which are expressive in their delivery of the game's truly great script. Often, in Mafia, it's what characters don't say that really makes the moment, letting the visuals do the talking instead.

Mafia: Definitive Edition Story (Spoiler-Free)

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Without going into spoilers (which is tough, given that the story is really the top selling point of this game), Mafia really is one of the better story-focused games I've played this entire gen, due to the effectiveness of its character acting, even if some of the tropes are a little familiar.

Mafia sits up there with the best Hollywood crime thrillers.

Mafia follows Tommy Angelo, a Lost Heaven cab driver who, by chance, winds up helping the mob make a speedy getaway. The allure of a better, higher-paid high-life seduces Tommy fast, who quickly accepts the Salieri crime family's invitation to join them as a driver, fixer, and eventually capo. Angelo gets very rapidly acquainted with big money, and even bigger violence.

Mafia's overarching plot is fairly familiar to anyone who's ever seen a gangster flick. A romanticized vision of noble thieves, brothers in arms, subverting the system for a chance at a better, more hedonistic lifestyle. The prohibition era of the 1930s created a perfect atmosphere for organized crime, and like many others, the Salieri family jumped at the opportunity. Like many other crime thrillers, though, the risks being taken by the characters have a tendency to multiply, rather than dissipate. As income grows, so do the stakes, and the enemies. It's not long before Angelo finds himself surrounded by violence on all sides, with no way out for him, or his young family.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Mafia Definitive Edition Review (Image credit: Windows Central)

Mafia Definitive Edition Review (Image credit: Windows Central)

Source: Windows Central

The way Mafia's story is delivered is truly top-tier for the gaming industry and something you typically expect from the likes of Naughty Dog, CD Projekt RED, or Rockstar. All too often it feels like there's a disconnect between the way a game is written down on paper, and the way it's presented on screen. Characters are animated in a way that often feels independent of their intent, creating an almost subconscious disconnection between the presentation and the dialogue. Thankfully, Mafia sidesteps this trap. Were it live-action, Mafia sits up there with the best Hollywood crime thrillers.

Like I mentioned earlier, it's often what the characters don't say that truly captures the mood of a scene. It's in a dropped telephone receiver, a blank stare with dead silence, or subtle frustration. The way the characters intersect and interact as they navigate through their violent world is enticing to watch, and reason alone to pick up this game.

Mafia: Definitive Edition Gameplay

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Mafia: Definitive Edition's strengths certainly aren't with its core gameplay, I would say, although the gunplay is satisfying enough.

Most of Mafia's story campaign is a very tight, linear experience, and designed to be as such, as it keeps the story pacing well-served. I feel like there must have been some opportunity to branch out from that though, especially after building such a gorgeous open world that really only serves as a (beautiful) backdrop.

The game has a mission-based structure, where you'll cruise from point to point, triggering a set piece mission which often takes place inside unique interior locales. There's a small set of activities generally, from cover-based shootouts, challenging car chases, and the occasional stealth segment or assassination beat. Each of these performs well enough in their own right, but for those wanting a little spice may find Mafia's gameplay systems to be a little on the "safe" side.

The gunplay is steeped in realism, much like the game's story, with fairly hefty sway that gets even more aggressive if you try to move and shoot at the same time. The recoil is also considerable, requiring you to really pay attention to your shots, and judge where your crosshairs may land after the recoil ends.

Some may find this to be a little clunky-feeling, but I think it gives the gunplay sequences some much-needed differentiation against similar cover-based shooters. When you unload a shotgun into an enemy's chest, they clutch in and get thrown back by the kick, which is effortlessly satisfying. You generally feel a real sense of vulnerability when the bullets start flying, which is only a good thing in my view.

That being said, the cover system isn't the best in the world. Regardless of where you're aiming, Tommy will stand to his feet and potentially get shot, even if you're trying to shoot someone on your flank. This isn't very intelligent design, and shows that combat may have been a bit of an afterthought. It's also a bit sticky to get in and out of cover easily, which can be problematic given how aggressive some enemy archetypes are. Additionally, Mafia suffers from bad-checkpoint-syndrome, where the game might save for you at a very inopportune moment, either at low ammo or low health, forcing you to replay segments with a bit of a handicap.

Overall, though, I felt myself satisfied by the gameplay segments offered by Mafia. Landing a tricky headshot or blasting an enemy down a flight of stairs with a shotgun doesn't get old, although at times I did feel like I was just playing Max Payne without the stylish excitement of personal bullet time.

Should you buy Mafia: Definitive Edition?

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Mafia: Definitive Edition's gameplay doesn't reinvent the wheel, but I feel like they could have brought more ideas to the table to make it feel fresh in 2020. Ultimately, though, it doesn't really matter, because Mafia's story delivers in such a big way.

It's not often we get single-player story-oriented experiences of this calibre, typically reserved for the Red Dead Redemptions and The Witchers of the world. Mafia's timeless story may tread familiar ground, but it doesn't matter. Mafia presents its story with such rare quality, oozing with authenticity ripe for the savoring. And if you're a fan of crime thrillers and gangster movies, savor Mafia you must.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!