Firstly, click here and have this YouTube music running quietly in the background….to set the mood.
Righto, now we have the right tunes. The Mafia series of games have always had a strong sense of time and place and Mafia 3 is no different. In fact it is literally defined by its 1960s New Orleansesque setting. It has some of the best characters, themes and music I have experience this console generation. Unfortunately, there are a few missteps along the way that will stop Mafia 3 from being a long term classic. But this GTA clone is certainly nipping at the heels of the giants in the genre.
The opening 2hrs of Mafia 3 is stellar. Simple as that. The characters, gameplay variation and its core game mechanics are great. In those opening hours, the motivations that will drive the main character Lincoln Clay, are laid bare in a brutal betrayal by the local mob boss, leaving Lincoln shot in the head. Lincoln is an African-American soldier and has returned home from Vietnam after serving in Special Forces. Those military skills have allowed him to slot straight back into the family business, low level crime and racketeering. So to be clear, Lincoln is no angel in this game. This anti-hero has one goal, to carry out his vendetta and destroy the mob in New Bordeaux.
As with the greats of the genre, the game is built around the typical open world; go anywhere, drive anything aesthetic. The combat is third person shooter with a heavy leaning towards stealth, which I personally loved. It’s almost a Splinter Cell-lite, with access to silenced pistols, distraction devices and the classic luring enemies over to doorways for brutal knife kills. ‘Going loud’ with an array of rifles, shotguns and automatic weapons is solid also. Lincoln’s movement under fire can feel a bit imprecise or ‘tanky’ though, resulting is some frustrating deaths. Mafia 3 has some of the best hit detection on NPC enemies I have seen. Shooting a wiseguy in the knee or arm will cause the appropriate screams of pain, also causing him try and crawl away or just writhe around in pain grasping at his wound. It’s actually pretty dark, but like I said, Lincoln’s no hero.
Destroying the Mob operations in New Bordeaux and killing the Godfather type figure is the overall aim, but the way individual missions are picked up and accomplish is the weakest part of the game. Unfortunately Mafia 3 suffers from an infuriating amount of repetitive mission types, aka ‘Assassins Creed 1 syndrome’. So, to kill off the various Mob Lieutenants, and later on, the Captains who are in charge of the criminal rackets, first you must disrupt their operations. By causing enough earnings loss makes the Lieutenant/Captain missions activate. Unfortunately this becomes a very repetitive loop, as it has to be done for every district of the city. It baffles me why the developer intentionally designed so much repetition in a game that would have, could have, rivalled any AAA title in 2016.
As you dismantle the mobs operations by killing off the leadership, you hand control of the rackets over to allies who manage them on Lincolns behalf. Depending on which ally you choose, they will give you access to different perks and weapons. These include a mobile arms dealer, an A.I. hit squad or vehicle upgrades. The more interesting aspect of this allies system, is the trust you show to each character and how other allies respond to being passed over and if they turn against you. The allied crime bosses are a bit clichéd for sure. Such as the Irish gang leader being a drunk and the Italian gangster being ripped straight out of the Goodfellas, but the voice work is excellent.
Overall, the characters that revolve around Lincolns quest for revenge are brilliantly realised. In particular is the character John Donovan, voiced by Lane Compton. Donovan is an ex-CIA operative and helps Lincoln with logistics and other ‘spy-stuff’, however his real worth is in the clever cutting comments and black humour he brings in each scene. He’s just a joy to watch and is a credit to both Compton and the voice director at Hanger 13 games. Being set in the 1960s in southern USA, when racial segregation was still clinging to life, was a brave decision by 2K. Playing as an African-American character and having NPCs talking down to you, abusing you and calling you the ‘N’ word in the street is visceral. I commend the developers for not shying away from what is a big subject to take on in a video game, and sure there are some inevitable hamfisted moments. But the feeling of being considered a lower class of citizen and told things like “Hey boy, move along, this is for whites only”, did add to my drive to fulfill Lincolns brutal mission and seize control of the city.
Mafia 3 is brilliant but suffers from what many openworld games suffer from, GTA included. Too much driving, very repetitive mission types and a distinctive drag in the middle stages of the story. By mid game, the lack of a fast travel system and mindless repetition almost made me quit. But as I thought about hitting the power button all was forgiven, when I got into a car for another long drive…..and the radio played some of the best music from the 1960s. The stunning music of the period is the final character in this overall pretty well made game.
The city of New Bordeaux is a glorious living city, Mafia 3’s actual gameplay mechanics are rock solid and the overarching story is great. It is a solid attempt to portray a complex social period in Americas history while telling a simple crime story of becoming what you hate. Its easy to follow and absolutely worth persevering, even just to get to the oh soooo very satisfying ending.