It’s easy to take an innovation like cover-shooting for granted. You snap behind a wall or a car or a bollard and stick your head out to shoot. How hard can it be? All the time though, these mechanics are being made to look more natural, a fact that was obvious when I booted up Mafia II: Definitive Edition. Only ten years old, the game is showing its age. The big boxy crosshair sticks out as you awkwardly snap behind your chosen piece of protection — normally something that’s been left, plainly, for the purpose — and line up enemies. There’s no way to blind fire, and no real way to finesse what you’re doing. The mobster flicks Mafia 2 admires have aged well, but in an interactive medium where there’s a tactile relationship with the product, it’s harder to hide your age.
A remaster should fix all that, of course. The good ones, at the very least, paint over the cracks. Charging money for someone to experience a game all over again? Some new content never hurts. But Mafia II has been rushed back to market with the minimum of effort. Beyond running at a higher resolution with better textures, it actually manages to make the base game worse.
As soon as you’re let loose in Empire Bay (New York City), things start to go awry. In my playthrough, a pedestrian immediately fell through the pavement and kept walking from the waist up. Ten minutes later, a car dropped from the heavens above. As time goes on, things float, faces contort, and it all happens so frequently. Lucky enough to miss these brushes with the paranormal? Well, you won’t be able to miss the audio bug. Pop a pair of cans on, ratchet the volume up, and enjoy Mafia 2’s cutscenes in all their mono glory. Yup, audio only comes out of one earcup for much of the story. How was this missed during testing? It’s inexplicable, especially when you consider how many cutscenes there are.
This is supposed to be a serious meditation on the perils of mob life, with an entire open-world dedicated to verisimilitude, and a fifteen-chapter story that charts the rise of Vito Scaletta. Fortunately, if you can look past the technical glitches, it still holds up. Partly written by the director of Kingdom Come: Deliverance, the script spans from 1945 to the early 1950s. Missions see you starting out as a lowly grunt intent on earning your stripes. As more dough comes your way, you need to grapple with tougher and tougher moral questions. The 10-hour story has plenty of variety, and while there’s a bit too much box-ticking — “a stealth section here, a revenge mission there!” — it’s all acted brilliantly.
The backdrop is Empire Bay, a proto-New York City that, on the surface, looks like a big open world. In reality, it’s not a sandbox at all, and if you go in expecting to hijack cars and wreck mayhem, you’ll be disappointed. But I like the focus on display, and in comparison to its sequel, which tried to please everyone, it’s light on filler.
As far as I can tell, the world is completely unchanged, and that means the old flaws are still present too. There’s still a laughable number of cop cars on the road and plenty of anachronisms in dialogue that don’t fit with the story. Over at Vito’s mother’s house, you still have to wonder where the poor woman sleeps. I’m not expecting the game to have been rebuilt brick by brick, and yes, the original Mafia remake is getting most of the love, but for $30, this is a bit of a joke.
If a patch is forthcoming, diehard fans might be tempted by the jump in resolution. Likewise, completionists will enjoy the fact that you get all the DLC content, the best of which is Joe’s Adventures, a standalone story that follows Vito’s friend over the course of four missions. The Playboy magazines are back too. When I first reviewed the game as a 20-year-old in 2010, I enjoyed finding the scantily-clad models on magazine covers. In a post #MeToo world, they feel oddly jarring. If I’m honest, though, you should wait for the aforementioned Mafia 1 remake. There’s a great level that connects the two games, and by rights, you should be playing them in order. If a patch has been released by August, and Mafia II has dropped in price, you could make a begrudging case for getting it.
Right now? Fuhgeddaboudit.
This review was based on the Xbox One X version of the game. A copy was provided by 2K Games.
Mafia II: Definitive Edition is anything but definitive. With its bugs, audio mishaps, and technical flaws, you could make a case for the 2010 original being superior.