Mafia III originally released back in 2016 to a rather resounding “ehh, it’s okay”. But were we a “Chain of Fools” or did we “let a good thing go by”?
In Mafia III, you play the role of Lincoln Clay, returning home from Vietnam in 1968 to his old neighbourhood of New Bordeaux. Upon seeing things aren’t so good at home, and his surrogate father Sammy is in a war with the Haitian Mob, you decide to stay and help out. You also find out Sammy is in debt to mob boss Sal Marcano. As Lincoln, you take out the Haitian mob and agree to pull off a bank heist to pay off Sal. This is about as in-depth as I can go without spoiling one of Mafia III’s best features – its story.
Luckily, this is not the only way Mafia engages with narrative; its dedication to historical accuracy is rather wonderful, using time appropriate clothes, speech, music and culture. Racism, sexism and general prejudice naturally rear their ugly heads, but Mafia III deals with it in a mature way, engaging with the racism inherent in New Orleans, the place New Bordeaux is based on. It cleverly contrasts racist rhetoric with black advancements and culture through music, literature, and movies. Driving through a living, breathing world filled with music, conversation and people going about their day is something Mafia attempts to achieve. What it delivers though is a bit of a mixed bag. The ideas are certainly there and, with a little more work, its systems could have been realistic and brilliant. However, even now with the Definitive Edition of Mafia III, it has far too many bugs and glitches to really let you get immersed.
Despite this, the world of New Bordeaux is an impressive one, only made better by its best story moments. It offers a dark, gritty but ultimately empathetic tale pondering the cycle of violence, systemic issues of crime and the people behind it. This is told with a fantastic movie-style pizazz. The story is conveyed in a documentary/testimony style analysing different characters and their motivations. This gives way for great storytelling moments as characters hint at greater plot points before you get to them. It also allows Mafia III the chance to tell a non-linear story, leaving plenty of room for DLC.
Excluding small and cosmetic add-ons, the story add-ons have their ups and downs. As self-contained two-hour stories, they all work well to characterise Lincoln and his crew in interesting ways. They also play with the formula of the game and offer new ways to enjoy what the game has to deliver, such as the “Sign of the Times” DLC that could be a missing mission taken straight from 2019’s The Sinking City. They offer brief but memorable cutaways from the brutal story taking place around you and, as part of the main package, make themselves a worthy addition to the base game. Unfortunately, they also work to highlight some of Mafia III’s worst features.
The general gameplay is sluggish and clumsy, which diverts from the game itself in annoying ways. The gunplay is imprecise and oftentimes the parkour system isn’t nearly refined enough to add anything meaningful to the base gameplay. Most missions and areas have high walls and open windows displayed but no feasible way of getting to them, teasing what Mafia III could be rather than what it is. When you take away this facade of choice given to most encounters, they become very linear in design, often having an intended way of finishing them. Not only does it do this but creativity in finding new ways of getting into areas is often punished through glitches or enemies appearing in the wrong place.
Speaking of glitches, they are far too prevalent for a game that has been republished and is approaching 4 years old. For instance, the missions “Union Extraction” and “Contraband” did not appear for me. This was not something i was aware of immediately, instead taking 40 minutes of wandering around, one Google search and suicide via a molotov cocktail to find out.
This appears to be Mafia III’s biggest issue. The scope it aims to achieve is just too broad, and many aspects of the game seem thin as a result. The world is so preoccupied with filling it up with electronic parts and Playboy magazines (HD articles and all), that it lets fundamental flaws slip through the surface. The moment to moment gameplay is wildly inconsistent, from decent driving, to mediocre gunplay, to downright awful character movement. The mission structure can also fall flat as it focuses on a long story by taking down individual rackets and bosses. This could work if it followed the mould of Saints Row or Crackdown, where each entity has a distinct feel and unique weapons. Instead, the majority of the first 10 hours of gameplay is spent accomplishing the exact same mission formula of “Kill this bad guy, steal this money, destroy this merch, then kill this even worse guy”. This gets tedious rather quickly.
Mafia III: Definitive Edition on Xbox One has distinct charm in its narrative, world-building and conceptualised understanding of socio-politics and the military-industrial complex but, ironically enough, it fails in its combat and general movement. Whilst it is clear a great deal of care has gone into its writing, I wish I could say the same for its gameplay. This is essentially the exact same package you get with the deluxe edition of the game so it is not worth the purchase if you already own it, but similarly it’s certainly not a bad addition to the Mafia Trilogy as a whole.