Picture this if you will.
You’re driving through a city that looks a lot like New Orleans. It’s 1968 and you’re behind the wheel of a beautiful lime green Cadillac, playing “Paint it Black” by the Rolling Stones on the radio. You’re feeling great, you have $50,000 in your pocket, another $100,000 back home in your safe, you’re king of the road, and the controller of two neighbourhoods with a load of criminal minions at your beck and call. Then you see a speedboat inexplicably, and uncontrollably, spinning in midair like it’s being possessed.
There you have the highs and lows of Mafia 3 in a nutshell. But the highs really do outweigh the buggy lows.
Mafia III is another entry in the great Mafia series that started on the PC before moving over to the old consoles with the second one set in 1940’s Empire Bay (New York). Now you play as Lincoln Clay, a US Special forces marine who has just arrived back home from a tour in Vietnam. Initially, Lincoln is back with his adopted family, trying to get them out of trouble with the local mafia boss. He has to complete a daring heist stealing over three million dollars…and then something terrible happens that turns Lincoln’s world upside down. Mafia III basically turns into a revenge story following how Lincoln controls the crime boroughs of the city, searching for the ultimate revenge, while at the same time killing everyone in his way. It’s a bedtime story for psychopaths if you will.
The story itself is absolutely stunning and one of the strongest things about Mafia III. The way the narrative unfolds and is told via flashback, in-game action and almost documentary style interviews and footage reminds me of a Scorsese or Oliver Stone movie. The troubles of the era and the racial tensions between warring groups are told in a brutally honestly way and done extremely well. The branching storylines and character arcs are some of the best I’ve seen on any gaming console, and that’s kudos to the acting and writing. When Mafia III is dealing with the main story you feel in safe hands and feel part of a big Hollywood movie. It’s just with the gaps in between which see it struggle a bit.
If you’ve played GTA or any other open world crime game you’re in for no new surprises regarding the gameplay. Lets break it down into sections: Firstly the missions. This structure is very familiar – you get a number of scenarios in which you enter a district, damage the underbosses livelihood by smashing up supplies, blowing up buildings or getting information from underlings. This normally ends up with a massive shootout with a boss and when that is completed you control the district. The main story is for you to take down the main mafia boss in a revenge story and gaining these districts all points towards that end goal. There are many side missions whereby you might run courier missions or “grab that and take it here” missions. These are a massive bulk of the game and you will find yourself taking over the same building again and again with slightly different goals. I didn’t mind this format so much because I attacked the same building in different ways for fun, but understand that for some they might find this lack of direction and variety stale.
Secondly, we’ve got the driving aspect. There are a wide range of cars, speedboats and trucks from the period – so vintage automobile fans should be in their element. The controls are standard fair for all GTA-type players, whereby you accelerate and brake while pressing a button to shoot out of the window. The cars handle fine, but they are old and don’t go as fast as modern cars or handle in the same way. I think that 2K are referencing this, like they did in Mafia 2, rather than just not being being very good at it. When you do get access to sports cars you notice the difference considerably. There are bugs which pop in regards to some of the cars physics – if they crash or jump a ramp – but there’s nothing to really seriously hinder the gameplay.
We also have some combat and this is what you’ll be spending most of your time taking part in. There is the gun blazing part where you’re basically giving a shotgun, rifle and handgun variations and left to shoot/cover your way through countless bad guys. You also have access to grenades and the like to make your killing go with a bang. There is also a stealth attack, which I found myself doing a lot in all missions, which is unusual because normally I get bored pretty quickly of sneaking. Because it’s quite easy to get killed in this game if one or more enemies start shooting, I found it a bit easier to hide in the shadows. You can whistle to bring them over and then perform a stealth takedown. The combat works very well; although the AI can be sometimes be very predictable and they have a tendency to do odd things like give up looking for you even when you’re right in front of them.
Last but not least is the exploration, something which you would expect in any open world game. But can you still have fun in the world without taking part in any of the missions? Well, the atmosphere of the late 60’s deep south America is fascinating to look upon and chancing upon conversations between people is great. Sometimes people are angry with you because of your race and sometimes they don’t trust you being around them. A lot of work has been put into this world with carefully researched geography and locations. There are a number of collectables dotted around the map ranging from Playboy magazines, which are dazzling things to view not only for the (ahem) artwork, but the vintage interviews with people of the time such as Stanley Kubrick. There are car magazines, soft-core porn artist Vargas paintings, propaganda posters and brilliant 60’s album covers. I loved trying to find them all and really have spent far too long looking at Playboy magazines then playing the main missions…for the interviews mind you and not the other things. Overall, the gameplay is what you expect from a game like this; there is nothing new to dazzle, but there is nothing broken with the format as well. The world, story, era and characters are the new things on show here and they do that very well.
The visuals of Mafia III come in two parts. You’ve got the cut scenes, which are quite remarkable with great acting and motion capture. When motion capture is done well, it can capture the slightest of expression in the performance and it really shows. Then we have the splicing and editing of the footage, which is marvellously done, and as I said before, run very much like a movie. The actual world itself is a mixed bag though. In Mafia 2 we had the beautiful snow city landscape of Empire Bay, but here it’s all sun, swampland and lowlands. You can’t help yourself, but you start to compare it to Los Santos. However the attention to detail in the interior design, costume and some brilliant set pieces are outstanding. Unfortunately though, it just doesn’t “wow” all of the time.
Sound wise it’s my dream come true. The actual radio tracks are the best of what the era has to offer, mixing Motown, rock and roll, country, prog rock, folk and every song under the sun. I loved driving around just remembering old tracks and adding them to my Spotify account. The voice overs work all round from the main characters, to the extras on the street, to the radio presenters is excellent, excellent, work.
Overall your time with Mafia III will be a long one. If you’re a completionist like me you’ll be looking at a good 25 hours or so, and for the most part it’s excellent. There are bugs – and mid air spinning speedboats will be a major put off for some – and the mission structure might just get very boring for certain gamers. But speaking from my own point of view, and I can’t talk for anyone else, I’m loving my time with Mafia III. I still have a few things to do, but there are nice surprises around every corner and the storytelling is to die for.
If you’re like me and want to step into a different time, immersive yourself in a new world and listen to the best music ever recorded, buy Mafia III.