Back in 2010, I was a different person. I could run a half marathon, I had a full head of hair and I could put on a pair of jeans without moaning about them being too tight. But the most memorable moments were found playing Mafia II back on the old Xbox 360. I have fond memories of the music, of the 1940s, of the snow-filled city and of the shooting, driving, and, well, more shooting. So when 2K announced they were releasing an updated shine to Mafia II with a Definitive Edition, along with a similar hit to Mafia III and then a complete remaster of the first game to come, my interest was piqued. So what’s it like to go back? Is it like a beautiful risotto con la luganega, or should it have slept peacefully with the fishes?
Mafia II: Definitive Edition arrives with the usual main campaign to play, along with all the DLC that has previously been involved; this includes three bits of story content and lots of additional clothes and cars. The campaign is first set in the 1940s as you play as American-Italian Vito Scaletta. You start the game in a sort of strange tutorial – in Sicily fighting in World War 2 – before you are then discharged and sent back home to Empire Bay (a version of New York). Here it’s winter, covered in snow, and you find yourself catching up with your old friend Tony, before heading on through your rise up the Mafia ranks. About halfway through though, the game shifts decades and seasons. It is here where everything goes crazy for Vito.
The story and writing are where the heart and strength of Mafia II lies. It has some very strong characterisations and the writing captures an American gangster movie brilliantly. There are bits of dialogue that are huge highlights – most notably a drunken singalong in a car on the way back from burying a body, for instance – and the action is superbly crafted throughout. There are a few moments where it feels as if the script hasn’t aged well though, especially as the world has changed over the years. Overall though it’s a very strong world that the developers have built, and they have certainly thrown in some heavy research into the eras where the game is set.
The gameplay is something that will be instantly familiar to all those who have played open-world games like GTA. You walk around the city in the third person, running, crouching for stealth and interacting with people in order to grab a fill of information. Then you have the driving, which is great fun as you get to experience some of the most beautiful old classic cars along with some sporty little numbers as well. You can pick up any car you like on your travels, mostly by yanking the poor people out of their beloved automobiles. If that fails, picking locks or smashing windows is the way to go. As you would expect, you’ll need to be on the watch out at all times though because the boys in blue won’t hesitate to chase you if you go too fast, steal something, knock someone over or go on a smash and crash spree. But even if they do manage to drive you off the road and action an arrest, the world of the Mafia is king, allowing you to bribe them should you not have been able to get your wanted status down. Failing that, Mafia II allows for you to go full-on Scarface; just grab a gun and go psycho.
Combat takes place across two parts. First is the shooting aspect, something which has a very Rockstar feel to it, letting you hide behind cover, popping up to shoot and hoping for the best. The weapons run a range of Mafia staples; from a pistol to a shotgun and a Tommy gun equivalent. It works well, and should you enjoy what the likes of Red Dead Redemption or GTA deliver with their mechanics, then you’ll be in luck here. In fact, the gun battles can be hugely entertaining, taking place in some great locations. But it’s not all about the weaponry, and hand-to-hand fighting is a key component to Mafia II – it’s certainly something which you will be doing a tremendous amount of throughout the game. This is where the game switches into a sort of fight club style one vs one set up, allowing you to deliver light punches, heavy punches, and action a dodge and counter. And once you’ve been able to wear your opponent down, some swift finishing moves that involve timed button presses conclude the job. I’ve found these encounters to be extremely engrossing; challenging at times but in a very engaging way.
There is some bad stuff with Mafia II: Definitive Edition though, I’m afraid. The open-world feel of the city doesn’t feel as full as it should be. There are minimal side missions, like some car collecting and the hunting down of Playboy magazine covers, but it just doesn’t feel as interesting or dynamic as some of the more recent open-world games. That is where its age starts to show. The game also has an unforgiving checkpoint system – one in which you will find yourself having to replay whole sections of missions again when you die. And then, even though the story is the main draw, after you finished the game there isn’t any real need to explore the city further, whilst the huge emphasis on driving to and fro is something which some will love and others will get bored of quite quickly.
Visually though and Mafia II has had an upgrade on both the lighting front and the textures found in the city with this Definitive Edition. It does look beautiful, and thanks to bits and bobs like the signage and the architecture on each building, it feels rather authentic. I particularly love the 1940’s sections in the snow, and even though the main characters themselves look good, there are other bit parts that feel very dated, lacking in features.
The soundtrack which pushes the action on is pretty damn amazing, with radio stations playing a mixture of delta, 40’s ballads, and the biggest of classics. Then when the action moves on to the ‘50s you’ll bear witness to a whole host of rock and roll numbers that will have you dancing away while shooting up the town. The actual original soundtrack is pretty cool as well, with some lovely orchestral sounds and epic builds. Further, the voice acting is of an extremely high standard, with the actors able to deliver the material with relish and ease.
It has been good to go back to Mafia II after a decade. The visual upgrades that have been implemented to the cityscape are great, and it has been hugely entertaining to be reminded of the story again, one that tells a great tale with enough twists and turns to keep any Mafia crime fan happy. It’s all helped by the fact that it comes complete with a brilliant soundtrack and voice acting that is a pleasure to listen to. Even though we are here with Mafia II: Definitive Edition on Xbox One, I do feel that the game has dated, and sometimes it is best to not go back to a game you loved, mainly because time can be unkind. But if you’ve never played Mafia II before then you’re going to have a lot of fun with this edition. Just be sure to remember my recommendation, because now you owe me a favor, and one day, even though that day might never come, I will come and collect that favor.