It’s time to stop calling half-done ports to current-gen consoles “remasters,” starting with Mafia 2: Definitive Edition
I first played Mafia 2 either in 2010 or 2011, the year it originally came out or the year after. After hearing about the game again this year, in the context of a grand remaster, I was excited. I’m not entirely sure why though. It may have been a combination of setting the nostalgia vision to 10,000 percent, or my recent quarantine-caused binge of The Sopranos that made me want to experience the life of an Italian mobster again.
And while I did get that experience out of Mafia 2 — its narrative is its strongest part, don’t take that for high praise though — I was constantly pulled out of the detail-filled world of Empire City. Not by video-gamey aspects or pop up messages saying “press R2 to pop a cap in this guy.” Instead, the game itself constantly ruined its own immersion by being a technological failure.
Mafia 2: Definitive Edition markets itself as a remaster, and it’s time to talk about what that term really means. Because Mafia 2: Definitive Edition is not a remaster. In fact, the only reason you could call it one is because it at least runs on a modern console.
A remaster implies, well, a remastering of things. Some parts of a game are improved, from visuals to controls, to entire gameplay aspects, while maintaining the core of the game. That’s what separates a remaster or remake from a reboot. That core game is still there, but everything around it is spruced up, like fixing up an old house. The exterior shell is still the same, but the interior is vastly improved. Except, in this case, the vinyl paneling is falling off the sides, and rats have established an advanced society in what was the living room.
If you boot up Mafia 2: Definitive Edition on a PS4 Pro right now, you will face a long list of bugs, glitches, framerate issues, graphical issues, and even hard crashes. For a game that tries so hard to bring a player into its world, this is a death knell. It’s the exact opposite of what anyone picking the game up should expect, mainly because of that magical word attached to the game: “remaster.”
So let’s get one thing out of the way first; any remaster should not leave a game with framerate drops into the 20s, or character’s faces sloughing off because their textures didn’t load in right. Remasters shouldn’t come with spammy splash icons in the top right corner, reminding you that your 2K account isn’t linked until you close the game and open it again. And they certainly shouldn’t have hard crashes that occur consistently during missions.
Here’s the thing – I could forgive some of these issues. The small graphical bugs are usually funny rather than detrimental, and I’ve played through games with unstable framerates and still enjoyed them. But the frequency with which Mafia 2: Definitive Edition stutters, seizes up, or just freezes always ends up impacting gameplay. I’ve had the game drop frames during car chases causing me to crash into a light pole, or during shootouts by making it harder to put sights on an enemy. When these issues weren’t present, Mafia 2: Definitive Edition played alright; it is a dated game, but it’s simple and sometimes fun. It was always saddening or just infuriating when the game’s own technical limitations ended up hurting how much fun I could have had with it.
All that being said, according to a Digital Foundry video on Mafia 2: Definitive Edition, these issues are unique to the PS4 Pro. However, finding that out didn’t make me feel any better – in fact, it only feels more insulting. According to this video, even the base PS4 model handles the game better, a fact that flies in the face of everything that I know about how games run. This end result is either the product of a lack of testing or extreme apathy on 2K’s part. I can’t help but think that someone at the company ended up saying “Who cares if the game runs like hot garbage, people are going to buy it anyway.” And that’s because of the power of the word “remaster.”
When we hear that buzzword, immediately we can only think of positives, and that’s because of what a remaster implies. With a remaster, a publisher or developer sees a vocal group asking to experience a game again, and works hard to polish that product to fit current expectations. That’s the inherent danger in a remaster; without a single ad campaign or PR stunt, a game immediately has expectations set for it.
Except Mafia 2: Definitive Edition is antithetical to a remaster. Look at other remastered titles this generation, like the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy. It took the core concept of the original three Crash Bandicoot titles while slapping a new coat of current-gen paint on them. It even managed to improve some of the floaty-ness of the old games’ movement. While for some the difficulty spikes in these games were an issue, they had nothing to do with its redesign. Those games were hard, and that difficulty was rightfully preserved. The N. Sane Trilogy ended up being one of the prime examples of how a game should be remastered – with enough care for the source material while being conscientious enough to make the right improvements.
It is in both of those fields that Mafia 2: Definitive Edition fails as a remaster. On its way to current-gen consoles, there wasn’t enough care for the original game to make sure it runs well, and there wasn’t any will to make sure it was an actual improvement over its original iteration. The game runs around wearing the mask of “remaster,” while in reality it’s more of a half-baked port, and it’s about time we stop accepting those.
So for goodness sake, don’t buy Mafia 2: Definitive Edition. Don’t prove that minimal effort and a buzzword can make sales. Not until those that made it own up to the fact that this game isn’t a remaster, but a hack-job of a port, and one that doesn’t nearly deserve its listing price of $29.99.