Mafia: Definitive Edition is a game of extreme highs and crushing lows. As I mentioned in my review, it’s a title that works right up until you actually have to play it. But regardless of where I ultimately fell on the game, one thing is undeniable: this thing’s stunning.
Mafia is one of the prettiest games I’ve played this year. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, no other 2020 AAA release has come close to matching Hanger 13’s winning combination of visual parity and historical accuracy. Despite Lost Heaven not actually being a real city, the expert texture work and the beautiful dynamic lighting bring it to vivid, almost tangible life. Cars glisten and gleam like freshly painted model kits, and passerby go about their business in a way that never feels like AI just acting out their routine.
While, as better writers before me have said, visual fidelity isn’t the end-all, be-all when it comes to aesthetic beauty, the money thrown at this game makes the art direction come alive in a compelling way. When the spectacle wears off, you notice the finer details, like the vibrant color palette, the distinctive character designs, and the fantastic use of chiaroscuro lighting in both cutscenes and story missions. Whether you’re a passive viewer or an active participant, it’s hard to look at Mafia’s art direction and not walk away somewhat astounded.
Which is why the lack of a photo mode really hurts the overall package. Photo modes are getting more and more prevalent in the AAA gaming space, and that can only ever be a good thing. If developers are going to throw thousands of hours of human suffering at an expensive product, it feels right to give players the chance to admire that product on their own terms. Certainly, my own enjoyment of big-budget games has historically been boosted by a solid photo mode.
So it’s a shame, then, that Mafia doesn’t have one. This is one of the most compelling period pieces in gaming, and unlike something like Red Dead Redemption 2, it backs its expensive visuals up with a dynamic art direction that does more than invite players to look at big, realistic vistas. There are so many little details in this game that I wanted to dwell on, and so many exhilarating setpieces that I wanted to capture on my own terms.
Unfortunately, you’re left with hammering F12 in Steam, mashing the PS4 share button, or doing that weird byzantine thing you have to do on Xbox in order to get any captures of this game. Now, that’s fine – not every game has to have a photo mode. But if a game wants to market itself on the merits of its entrancing, expensive world, it would be great to actually look at that world through a finer lens.
Mafia: Definitive Edition is out on PS4, Xbox One, and PC tomorrow.
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