Mafia III drives hard down a familiar road with fun combat and an honest, gritty cast of characters. Too bad it’s a bumpy ride.
Game – Mafia III
Platform – Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Windows, macOS
Developer/Publisher – Hangar 13, 2K Czech
Release date – October 7th, 2016
Price – $59.99
“You put people against the wall… They’ll do anything to survive.” – Lincoln Clay
Hangar 13’s message in the first opening screen is intriguing. It explains their decision to keep harsh racism in the story as a genuine representation of the time. It’s much more than a gimmicky caveat to begin a story about feuding mobs of varied ethnicity. It takes time to digest, but this message was a notice to all gamers that Mafia III rides out its honesty until the wheels fall off, and it’s a trip every Xbox One owner should take.
Mafia III opens up on Lincoln Clay driving an armored truck to the Federal Reserve. It’s a huge job set up for Clay and his partner Giorgi by the black mob boss Sammy Robinson. It’s a group job to settle debts with the city’s Italian mob boss, Mr. Marcano. Things quickly unravel, and the narrative switches to decades later where Federal agent John Donovan and black mob friendly Father James are being interviewed about the tragic events. Mafia III is a story of vengeance, principles, and hatred. Loaded with unique characters, and a familiar Mafia II criminal, it may be the closest I’ll ever come to playing a Scorsese epic.
Honesty is Mafia III’s strong suit. Dialogue is laced with coughs and lugie spits. Lawmen have interoffice squabbles and feuds. Donovan, for example, refers to the FBI as “Hoover’s faery brigade.” During a time of racial divide, tension presents itself in blatant and subtle ways. Some segregated bars won’t allow Clay inside. Offhand remarks like “Affirmative Action, you know how it is” are found all throughout the story and freeplay.
There’s the old adage ‘there’s no part too small’, and Mafia III’s grandiose stage practices this mantra in every character. Mafia III features a cast of dingy, dirty, grungy, ugly people. We’re talking unkempt haircuts, chapped and split lips, pockmarks, blemishes, zits, scars: all these ever changing facial landscapes are highlighted by grease and sweat. Ellis, Marcano, and Burke to name a few of the more interesting characters, but many you only see but once. One of my favorite “Extras” moments came from a raggedy old lady in the gumbo line who says to Clay, “Don’t get old son. It’s a f****** shitshow.” She walks away in awful, dirty rags… sort of slumped over her tray of food as she walks away. Like true creators, the dev team loves their flawed children and it’s evident in every detail.
One of the best examples is Father James. Father James is featured in his 30s-40s during the main storyline and as an old man during the ‘present day’ interviews. His transformation could tell a story all by itself. Father James begins as a middle-aged man whose face lights up when he sees Clay. He latches onto the youthfulness in Clay’s eyes like a man of faith seeing hope for a better future. Old Father James is snowy haired and lost. His eyes wander above his deadened facial features, everything just beneath a thin layer of politeness that wears thinner when he reminisces about Clay. His frown lines and sharp smiles have a pendulous swing like a man praying that his broken faith isn’t a crapshoot ticket into heaven. Every character has been given a story, and individuality is the masterful framework Mafia III has to offer its players. The realism in the characters is a beautiful mess, and it’s also a great summation of the gameplay.
The plot involves overthrowing the Italian mob, and the fastest way to do it is to kick the legs out from under their resources. The staple of any solid mob is racketeering, and Mafia III gives you a laundry list of rackets to develop. Each racket is already owned by opposing factions and must be broken down, claimed, and developed for a slew of in-game items and perks. Some targeted racket enemies can be recruited or killed depending on how you want to divvy up your cash flow. Your allies are given all the rackets you ‘liberate’ and more and more perks unlock. The title is much more than crime building and story missions, too.
Mafia III is loaded with extras for quality added gameplay. There is the return of the hidden Playboys and the addition of a wide array of Vargas pinup girl posters. Find and tear down propaganda posters for Donovan. Find hidden notes and scattered letters that add to the story. Find TL-49 Fuses scattered across the city to increase your wiretapped areas. The coolest part about the wiretapping is that it corresponds directly with your intel. I love when side missions actually impact the quality of the main gameplay, and the intel is much more effective in wiretapped areas. Request vehicle delivery and unlock new cars by dispatching Italian mob Lieutenants and Capos.
This is where Mafia III starts to get shaky. The driving system is possibly my least favorite piece of Mafia III. I would like to mention I wasn’t a big fan of Mafia II’s either. Instead of rebuilding the sluggish driving mechanics, they incorporated a sliding action camera, which only makes it more frustrating to nail sharp turns. There’s a simulation mode intended for ‘advanced’ drivers that I found more appealing than the veering action camera. It’s essentially a shaky top-down camera angle with a vibrating stutter on hard brakes. Mafia III does however sport one of the coolest waypoint systems to date. Off to the side, like regular street signs, are waypoint update indicators that show what direction to proceed toward the waypoint destination. It’s not a nuisance, easy to read, and doesn’t detract from the action of the game: perhaps one of the best waypoint systems ever. There’s also a wide variety of vehicles to find. Breaking into vehicles is also a bit more action packed with the abundance of bothersome witnesses reporting your grand theft auto. There’s nothing that will compel you to want to drive around for hours, but it’s entertaining enough to keep you engaged between combat missions.
Mafia III’s replay value comes from its layered combat. Sneak behind unaware enemies to perform silent takedowns. After Clay’s betrayal, the game hands you a hunting knife, and things get graphic. You have the option to switch back down to nonlethal takedowns, but most of Clay’s enemies are basically asking for full-force brutality. The stealth sequences are fluid and Clay’s wartime skillset for guerilla tactics resurfaces with a vengeance. The cover system is mostly reliable and smoothly integrates into the gunfights. The shooting system is painless, and the HIGH AIM ASSIST gives a chance for even the most uncoordinated players to progress quickly through the story. Things start to snag a little when you have to run away from cops or climb obstacles during combat. Improvements here are usually the difference between a great game and a perfect one.
The world stands out as the most diverse, immersive Mafia title to date. The marshy wetness of the swamplands, the high-rise buildings in the downtown area, and the hustle-bustle of the suburbs are some of the many ways Mafia III earns its place among the console open-world top dogs. The soundtrack especially sets the tone for the era. The view is consistently beautiful thanks to the stylized gleam on most surfaces. Mafia III suffers from typical open world visual issues: flat shrubbery and plant growth, matted or generic foreground in less traveled areas. New Bordeaux is enjoyed at a distance or picked apart under a microscope, and the game doesn’t do itself any favors.
More often than not the title gets bogged down when too much happens onscreen, and all rendering flickers. It’s especially bad when it rains and even happens during certain cutscenes. If I could go back in time and stop playing after the first hour, I would’ve died thinking this was an instant classic.
- Mafia III has its noticeable share of glitches and hiccups much in the way of any early stage open-world title these days. Luckily, the glaring issues I saw could be easily fixed with an early patch or two.
- I experienced no game ending crashes.
- The Interrogate missions, if the subject escapes, become unreachable for a time. And by unreachable, I mean the subject tends to disappear miles beneath the map and cannot be chased until they reset over time.
- It doesn’t feature a multiplayer, and that’s personally alright with me but might turn you away if you’re looking for those added online hours.
I find myself drawn to titles that take bold risks in design or content. Mafia III doesn’t strike any nerves with its standard ops open-world gameplay. In fact, it’s more likely to strike the nerves of people unwilling to overlook its sporadic glitchiness. And while the story itself is one that’s been told many times, the characters compelled me through the standard gameplay so fiercely that it felt greater than the sum of its many parts. Then I stepped back, looked at the parts, and I realized this is just an average game saved by well-crafted storytelling and fun, basic gameplay.