Disclosure ‐ This is NOT a review of the full game. A full review will be out in a few days, these are my impressions after 10-12 hours of game time.
I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the Mafia games, partly because of the setting, and partly because of the Mobster fantasy they share. Mafia III is set in 1968 in the city of New Orleans, a period and location that is rarely — if ever — represented in open world games. It’s with this setting that the developers at Hangar 13 have managed to create a gripping story, which expresses an unobtrusive portrayal of class division, and a strong performance from a diverse set of characters. While the narrative is enough to keep me plodding along, it seems that in an attempt to respond to critics of Mafia II, the city of New Bordeaux has been over-saturated with repetitive mission design, and lackluster interaction beyond brute killing and destruction.
I’m roughly 11 hours into the game so far, and I’m writing this not too long after passing an important milestone in the game’s story and setup; I’ve seen most of New Bordeaux, met the principle characters, and killed A LOT of people. Straight off the bat, the plot framing device is gripping. The story is presented in a True Detective-like style. Characters who have played a crucial role in the events of the game, take part in a video documentary, and Senate Committee inquiry years later. The voice acting is superb, and all the characters so far present differing interpretations and insight into the events of the game. I must admit, I was a bit tentative at the beginning when the opening scrawl included a statement that it deals with difficult themes of social inequality. However, Mafia III has so far handled these issues with grace and style; they give the time period the justice that it deserves. Themes of racism run parallel to the overall narrative, but it isn’t in your face constantly trying to make itself known. News reports over the radio highlight the tumultuous time for civil rights and quips from characters and civilians accentuate the deeply embedded level of racism and sexism in the country.
Even Lincoln’s aptitude for murder and Mafia strategy is given enough justification without painfully obvious exposition. Every one of his skills and mob savvy is portrayed as a pick up from an already experienced life of crime and war. He isn’t just an unlucky protagonist thrown into a terrible situation; he has lived a life that’s prepared him for this moment. In doing so, while the end result of this revenge tale is largely already known, the beauty is in the detail of this smartly presented plot. The back and forth between the Senate Committee and Lincoln’s associate, as well as the genuine performance by characters being interviewed, make every cutscene a joy to watch.
Set in 1968, the fictional city of New Bordeaux attempts to mimic that of New Orleans, which it accurately does, at least according to my own interpretation of the city. The districts are spread out well; each posses a unique presence, and make the class and racial division visible as you drive through neighbourhoods bolstering your mob. Similarly, the inclusion of the bayou is well placed, and missions that make use of it are always a treat to sludge through the murky waters and explore the downtrodden structures. There’s just something about flooded areas I really enjoy messing around in. When you hop into a vehicle you’ll also get a chance to listen to the game’s plethora of licensed music pertaining to the time period. This means a lot of Credence and a lot of Rolling Stones, but I’m okay with that. There’s something so satisfying about hearing Paint it Black play over the radio as you’re engaged in a high-speed chase, or catch part of Sympathy for the Devil after just murdering your target and setting everything on fire. Even the slow tempo original score tears at my heartstrings every time it plays.
Unfortunately, the mission design has been so repetitive it has overshadowed the more positive aspects of the game. The city is broken up into sections, and as you progress the story, you gain more Mafia associates and give them districts to control. Your goal then is to increase their racket and therefore their overall income, to provide yourself with upgrades. Sounds okay, right? Wrong. To gain favour with your associates, you need to kill their enemy, but to kill their enemy, you need to force them to play their hand. This process involves running around the streets of New Bordeaux and killing or interrogating their enforcers, destroying their product, or stealing their cash. You do these activities several times until you’ve brought down their racket, which results in another mission to kill their leader. This system is fine once or twice, and I’ll admit, it even tickled a bit of my completionist attitude, but 10 hours in and it is still the primary mission objective. Jumping from one associate to the other, the product is different, the enemies look different, but the missions are exactly the same. Overall, the mission structure seems like an attempt to respond to the criticism of Mafia II, in which the open world lacked interaction and merely provided roads from point A to B. Except now they’ve gone too far. A shining light for this repetitive design is the fairly enjoyable combat; the enemies react strongly to your shots, squirming in pain as they die, and pulling off accurate and quick headshots is very gratifying. But even too much of a good thing can be fatiguing after a while.
Mafia III is a mixed bag. On one hand, I desperately want to see more. I’d like to know what’s in store for Lincoln because so far it has been smooth sailing to topple a massive criminal empire. I want to see how far this documentary style narrative goes, and I want to see if the social issues begin to play an even deeper role in the main storyline. But the missions are just bland. I go into every conversation knowing what to expect, and objectives are fast approaching — if not already there — chores. There’s still (by the looks of it) a fair amount of the game left, so with any luck, the gameplay will diversify a bit, but I’m not holding my breath. A full review with my final opinion will be out in a couple of days.