Available on: PC, PlayStation 4 & Xbox One.
Played on: PlayStation 4.
Developed by Hangar 13 and published by 2K Games, this third instalment in the Mafia series – and the first on current generation hardware – finds players in the combat boots of new protagonist Lincoln Clay in a story of betrayal, violence and revenge. Lincoln’s story takes place within the fictional borders of New Bordeaux, a New Orleans inspired cityscape, during 1968, and is told through the lens of documentary archive footage.
The first thing you need to know going into Mafia III is that this is a game that most certainly earns its 18 age rating. Before you start playing, Hangar 13 wisely warn you that they aren’t pulling any punches with their portrayal of the cultural themes of 1968. Racism, violence, and corruption are at the core of Mafia III and the language and actions of the characters around you constantly remind you that black citizens were considered to be second class beings purely because of the colour of their skin. This makes Lincoln’s journey one full of colourful language, but it also means his adversaries – namely Sal Marcano and his mobsters – constantly underestimate Lincoln and the skills he acquired during his time serving in Vietnam; skills that make Lincoln a very dangerous man with a knife, gun, or just his bare hands.
In terms of the gameplay, Mafia III is a third-person open world action game in the same vein as Grand Theft Auto. The central mechanics of the game see Lincoln taking down rackets across New Bordeaux in order to lure out Sal Marcano’s lieutenants, capos, and eventually Sal himself. There are 11 areas in New Bordeaux in total; one which you only enter in the penultimate stretch of the game, and one that makes up the swampy Bayou Fantom area. The other 9 districts can be taken over by Lincoln and assigned to one of his 3 under bosses; the Voodoo preaching Cassandra, the drunk Irish stereotype Burke, and returning Mafia II protagonist Vito Scaletta. Each underboss has their own upgrade path, but it’s not possible to unlock a full set of upgrades whilst maintaining balance between all 3 of the underbosses. The choice is yours – favour one over the others and risk dealing with the in-fighting, or work together without maximising Lincoln’s unlocks.
The choice should actually be quite simple as Mafia III isn’t that difficult and the upgrades never feel needed – you’re better off having a bit of fun with the underbosses. What’s more, Mafia III’s gameplay gets very repetitive, very quickly. Taking over rackets involves the same set of missions in order to weaken its financial powers and lure out the person in charge. You’ll have to kill or interrogate a handful of important men, destroy racket items (drugs, porn, weapons, etc.), and chase down vehicles time and time again. It’s a shame that there isn’t more variety on offer, but Lincoln’s story is salvaged by the lieutenant and underboss missions. These sections progress the story and add some variety into the otherwise samey gameplay, though for the most part they still boil down to shooting or stabbing your way to a target you need to kill.
As well as the repetitive gameplay, New Bordeaux seems lacking in activities in which to partake compared to most other open world games. It’s clear that Hangar 13 intended New Bordeaux to be a cultural backdrop to Lincoln’s story, and not a playground in itself, but it does feel strange to play an open world game in this day and age where the only side activities involve a handful of collectables. Still, the different districts of New Bordeaux offer plenty of changing scenery to enjoy, and the fact that each area has subtle differences, such as the police coming after you faster if you misbehave in a rich white area, is a nice touch.
Unfortunately Mafia III is a game that clearly needed more technical development time. Crashes, bugs, glitches, strange textures, and lighting mishaps crop up constantly, ruining the immersion. Some bugs can be entertaining (I once stopped and stared as a man I’d just blown up flipped around the room on his chair forever), but more often than not they’re just frustrating. On PlayStation 4 the frame-rate can drop frequently, though it rarely impacts gameplay too much or for too long (now that a patch has fixed the frame-pacing issues that were present at launch). At times New Bordeaux is simply stunning, thanks to the excellent weather effects and beautiful lighting model. At other times, however, low quality textures and a pixelated sky box make Mafia III look like a game that belongs on the previous generation of console hardware.
It’s important to also mention Mafia III’s music, which is carefully crafted to enhance Lincoln’s journey through a carefully selected mix of classic rock, rhythm and blues, soul, and country. It’s a wonderfully thought out soundtrack with classic songs from the era kicking in when the action picks up and when you’re driving around New Bordeaux -which is just as well considering there’s no fast travel options available in Mafia III. Still, you know you’re in safe hands when you first hear Hendrix’s All Along The Watchtower blaring out over the game’s main menu.
Despite the repetitive gameplay and myriad bugs, I did actually really enjoy playing through Mafia III. Lincoln is a strong character and his story is an interesting one worth playing – and you get to choose how it ends too. Lincoln is a badass who is out for revenge at any cost, and at times I felt like I was playing a video game based on Marvel’s The Punisher (both characters are gunslinging brutes, avenging their families, and taking down the mob, after all). It’s a shame that Mafia III isn’t made up of more spectacular moments that help strengthen this analogy overall, but when they do happen they are truly memorable and brilliant nonetheless.
Overall it’s hard to recommend Mafia III to everyone. If you’re a fan of the Mafia series, or Godfather-inspired fiction in general, and can put up with the technical bugs and general lack of polish, then there is a really good story, set within a memorable and culturally significant time period, to enjoy.
Mafia III is far from the perfect game, but there’s just something about it’s story, of which New Bordeaux is an intrinsic part, that will stay with you long after the credits roll.
Images from www.mafiagame.com