There’s always been something compelling about mid-century mafia stories. Well-dressed men pontificating about honour and family as they go deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness and sacrificing their humanity in the continuous pursuit of power. There’s something morbidly fascinating about these foul-mouthed heavily accented men sending each other horse heads and waving their Tommy Guns around while wearing expensive suits. It’s for these reasons why I initially loved Mafia II when it first came out.
Even back when it released, Mafia II was a bit of a diamond in the rough. It had this sprawling open-world yet there wasn’t much to do in it and it was mainly just a backdrop for the game’s pretty linear story. However, the story had some excellent writing, good twists and a likeable protagonist in Vito Scaletta. Not only that, but the game also managed to beautifully capture that mid-century New York aesthetic and it was a hugely immersive experience to just ride around the city, soaking up the period-accurate tunes and drinking in the scenery.
A remaster of the game was one that I was very excited for. Finally, the game will get its due with improved visuals to highlight its beautiful backdrop while refining it for the current generation. What we got instead was a sad, lazy attempt at a remaster that is so devoid of any effort that I’m frankly shocked how it exists in this state and nobody was there to pull the plug when they saw just how poor it was.
Sleeping with the fishes
Initially, I was extremely excited to relive the story of Vito Scaletta. Mafia II does an incredible job of taking you through the various stages of a gangster’s life. Starting with nothing but a traumatic childhood thanks to a deadbeat dad, working for scraps just to get by and falling into crime as a way to make ends meet and then finding a criminal organisation that accepts him as family. It’s a powerful story of rags to riches while also losing your humanity as you kill and backstab your way to the top.
Mafia II‘s story deserves a ton of praise for its pacing as well as its fantastic dialogue. Each chapter has exciting setpieces and great sequences that keep you hooked on its tale and the struggles of Vito become your own as you go through his complicated life. It’s not entirely perfect, but it’s a tight narrative that isn’t shy to spread its wings and take you to unlikely places, and it still holds up today.
It would be a shame if we just ruined the game
Where the story suffers is with the remaster’s horrible audio mixing. Some cutscenes are extremely loud to the point where they sound like someone put a speaker against a microphone and just recorded the audio like that. And then the most baffling problem is the fact that if you’re wearing headphones, like I primarily did, the audio only comes through on the left channel. So all the fantastic dialogue that I praised earlier only happened in my left ear and it’s an immensely frustrating experience.
I have to wonder what they were smoking for this audio to pass all testers, all quality assurance and then finally make it onto storefronts where they charge money for this broken excuse of a game. The audio is mostly fine in the gameplay sequences, but all the magic that the game might have had in its myriad cutscenes was shattered because of these incredibly preventable problems.
I’m actually late with this review because I foolishly thought that they were going to issue some form of patch and fix the problems and I can get to playing the game how it was originally intended. However, a week after launch they seem to not be interested in fixing these easily fixable problems, so sadly I have to punish it thusly.
Start shooting, wise guy
The gameplay of the original game wasn’t much to write home about even back then. The shooting is your standard cover-based affair with not much in the way of excitement beyond just shooting guys in the face and the fighting consisted of a couple of punches and a dodge. The driving is a little more interesting because the cars in the game have a lot of weight and you can’t just mow down lampposts like it’s GTA since the vehicles behave relatively realistically. Cops will also try to pull you over for speeding or vehicular vandalism, but they’re relatively brain dead and you can lose them in no time.
The gameplay hasn’t aged well and you can really feel the clunky controls when you compare it to more modern experiences. Not much was done in the way of improving the combat and it ultimately just became a relatively boring obstacle in your journey. But the remaster didn’t allow this to be unscathed either as the performance is absolutely horrendous as well.
Mafia II: Definitive Edition is an insulting excuse of a game that tarnishes the game’s legacy.
Playing on a PS4 Pro, I’ve had constant frame drops. When I say constant, I mean it literally as no scene was ever just the smooth 60 FPS like I thought it would be. During combat and heavier sequences, the game chugs to a crawl with near unplayable framerates and everything just feels terrible. It’s maddening when you’re in the middle of an intense firefight and you’re trying to aim with 10 frames to your name and you just end up getting bodied because of the awful performance.
The game really stretches the definition of a “remaster”. A remaster is supposed to run better than the original but the original didn’t have all these issues and I’d honestly prefer to play those older versions instead of this mechanical travesty. If audio issues aren’t enough, there are also various bugs that plague the game. I’ve seen a man in a cutscene turn into one of those Assassin’s Creed Unity monsters, every time a cutscene with music plays, the music keeps looping after the cutscene is done until you get into a vehicle and turn on the radio.
The saddest thing about all this is that you can still see that diamond in the rough that is Mafia II. Empire City looks gorgeous across the various seasons that the game takes place in and you can find yourself being in wonder as you drive around this fascinating part of human history. Then the framerate makes the game a slideshow and you only hear the characters in your left eardrum and you lose all that magic.
It pains me to give the game such a low score, but it deserves it. In the state it’s currently in, I have no reason to recommend it to anyone, even those that loved the original game like I did. Its myriad problems are so frustrating and needless that it sullies the entire experience, even if there’s still some magic to be found. They tried with the improved visuals and you can sometimes see the game they were going for through the wall of horsecrap that you have to endure, but as it is right now, it’s not worth it.
Perhaps there will be an update shortly after this review that fixes all of these easily fixable problems, but I gave them enough opportunity. Mafia II: Definitive Edition is an insulting excuse of a game that tarnishes the game’s legacy and nobody should buy it in the disastrous state that it’s in. For shame.