“Mafia II takes place in a fictionalized version of the American South in 1968.
We sought to create an authentic and immersive experience that captures this very turbulent time and place, including depictions of racism.
We find the racist beliefs, language, and behaviors of some characters in the game abhorrent, but believe it is vital to include these depictions in order to tell Lincoln Clay’s story.
Most importantly, we felt that to not include this very real and shameful part of our past would have been offensive to the millions who faced – and still face – bigotry, discrimination, prejudice, and racism in all its forms.”
What you see is the first slide when starting Mafia III. It is a game that pulls no punches anywhere. It is part GTA on steroids, taking the basic open world frame and deepening out the experience beyond belief. The other part is a phenomenal story, pushing boundaries far more than any game I’ve seen in years and tackling topics most people dare even touch. In difference between Mafia III and Mafia II you’re talking miles; and this is looking to be a powerful game of the year competitor.
The warning with this game is entirely justified. Mafia III takes place in New Bordeaux in 1968. Your character, much like Mafia II, is a war veteran by the name of Lincoln Clay. After returning from the Vietnam War his attempts to regain his old life are turned upside down by the Italian mob murdering his comrades and family in the Black mob. In return Lincoln attempts the full movie style dismantlement of an empire; let him feel what it’s like to lose everything and then take his life away from him.
Mafia III continues the tradition of good storytelling from II. Lincoln is a relatable character; a man who lost everything and will stop at nothing to exact the justice he seeks. The perfect anti-hero. The journey he goes on is one of the most compelling and best written I have ever seen in a video game. When you consider this style of open world game the closest match would be GTAV in its storytelling. However Mafia III drives home with the storytelling, selling it from the perspective of a faux modern documentary interviewing people who know Lincoln Clay to slow moving cutscenes engrossing you in New Bordeaux, a city that Hanger 18 has made feel very much a living breathing 60’s city.
And with a statement like the above beginning the game I have to say that my earlier statement of pulling no punches is possibly a very large understatement. The more soft-hearted amongst you may feel ill-at-ease with just how racist the game can get and feel at times. From pretty much point one Lincoln and friends are subject to heavy abuses and plentiful use of the N word both as a term of endearment between friends and as a heavy-handed insult. While it would have been easy to shy away from doing this, the racial tensions and actions in the game don’t feel overused or glamorised at all. They feel real, a part of the driver in the game’s narrative and treated right, rather than a blind paste of actions of the time with no context.
New Bordeaux as a city is a city that both feels alive and rather dead in a strange ambivalence. Driving around the city is full of people walking the streets, cars driving around, and in one mission Mardi Gras. Climb over any fence and you’ll find an area that still feels as unique as the street you walked down, gardens with chairs under umbrellas which feel like they’ve been used to relax in on a hot summer day. Buildings you enter feel period correct and full of people drinking and socialising. New Bordeaux itself feels very much alive at face value.
However this depth suffers slightly when you look at the gameplay. Like Mafia II, the story is deep and engrossing, but the interaction with the city and the gameplay feels thin and simply there to push forward the story. Lincoln is clunky and slow, which while understandable in the real world for the brick outhouse of a man he is in a game is not a benefit.
The mechanics feel simplistic, disappointingly so. Enemies do not react and move enough, with them flanking on rare occasions but mostly grabbing cover and firing or standing in place and just volleying rounds at you. Outside of combat they tend to either stand still or walk in short, predictable patterns with no individuality to speak of. The cover system for the combat feels as barebones. Locking to cover is easy but from there manoeuvring between obstacles is only really an option for deliberately parallel cover.
Lincoln is quite capable of stealth however again this feels rather barebones. You hide behind cover and move slowly behind an enemy to kill or knock them out. You do get a reticule telling you if an enemy can see you but it is too easy to just slam to cover and just dive between them, taking count of how long it takes enemies to spot you.
The mob management system is the most in-depth piece of the interaction with the games world. Boiled down it’s a checkpoint system, give each mob boss enough territory to get their income to the next marker and you’ll unlock an extra bonus from them. To take these regions you need to usurp the previous boss by wrecking his income until they show up and then kill then. Here the systems boils down to being quite simple again. You kill and wreck you way through marked areas making a certain amount of monetary damage until they turn up. The system has been somewhat wasted though, with you doing the same ‘kill and destroy’ gameplay for pretty much every mob boss and area.
Mafia III is quite simply Mafia II on steroids. It again takes great pride in its story, going to great lengths to introduce you to its major players and themes and is one of the best, most engrossing stories that I have played in a long time. Unfortunately that deep story and world they create is held back by rather barebones gameplay with mechanics feeling simple and the world lacking reasoning for exploration. Despite this, Mafia III is a powerhouse of a game, and a strong contender for game of the year, earning an 8.
Did I mention the soundtrack? Dear God the soundtrack is glorious!