I have a confession to make. I like open-world games, and I have nothing but respect for Grand Theft Auto, but I’d take a Mafia game over GTA any day of the week. It’s not because one is inherently better than the other. It’s mostly because I’ve already preferred the mafioso style storyline and setting compared to the modern day shock and awe that GTA offers.
So, that being said, we’re not here to compare apples and oranges. Today, it’s all about Mafia III. Is this a game that stands on its own as a great open-world experience and story? Or does it stray too far from the Italian mob-focused settings of the first two games? Only way to find out is to join the family or read this review. Your call.
Lincoln Clay’s Revenge: A Documentary
Mafia III’s greatest strength by far, is the story. The game is structured like a documentary, with frequent jumps in time to the future to show clips of interviews where characters are much older, or clips of Senate hearings after the fact.
The present day cutscenes are no slouch either. Lincoln Clay and all the supporting characters are all incredibly well presented and animated. Their dialogue is rough and authentic for the 1968 time period, and the performance across the board is stellar.
The unique documentary structure keeps the story moving at a nice pace and the long, but extremely well-done prologue only lays the groundwork for what’s to come. The overarching plot here is revenge, but it’s done so well and it feels so authentic, that it’s easily the most justified revenge story I’ve seen in some time.
All of the prologue elements come together in a climactic scene that is tense, emotional, and beautifully structured. When it comes time to set out on your quest, you want that vengeance just as much as he does.
From here, the game is about tearing apart the current mob in New Bordeaux and replacing it with your own. It’s a satisfying climb from the bottom to the top, and every step of the way feels real, and authentic.
Of course, this is the 1960’s, and developer Hangar 13 didn’t shy away from the facts. The game even opens with a message from them about how they didn’t censor or remove any of the racism present during this time period. They make it sure that they don’t support it, but they believed that ignoring it was a greater crime than being true to it.
I couldn’t agree more. Racism and prejudice happened and continue to happen. As you play Mafia III, you’ll experience downright racism, but you’ll also see it happen more subtly since you play as an African American man yourself. Certain bars or establishments will call the police if you stick around too long.
Poor neighborhoods will have more lenient police efforts than ones which are more affluent and populated with rich caucasian people. All of this combines to create a uncensored and completely authentic take on American history and more importantly, on the things that happened to people like Lincoln Clay.
It’s not pretty, but it’s real, and it’s raw. That’s what makes Mafia III’s story so incredible. It feels completely authentic, and the world around you feels like a true representation of 1960’s New Orleans, but keep in mind that it’s been tweaked slightly, which is why the fictional city is called New Bordeaux.
This game earns its M-rating and then some, but Hangar 13 has succeeded in capturing a time, a place, and a way of thinking that most games would stray away from for fear of backlash. It features a diverse character, a unique perspective, and faces the sins of the past head on. I couldn’t be happier with the story it told, because it was undeniably real.
Many Roads, Leading to One Goal
Mafia III doesn’t reinvent the open-world formula, but it does think about things in a different way than most other games in this genre. Many other games like this one will have a bevy of side activities. Some of them could be bowling, tennis, racing, and perhaps a few missions that flesh out the world or the story, but not many.
Mafia III’s focus from the beginning is to give you activities that make sense. Everything you do contributes to the overall goal in the game. Your side missions involve taking down rackets, pulling apart mob operations, and generally making everyone’s day worse.
These missions can be repetitive in the sense that there’s only so many ways to take apart a racket, but I personally found them to be fun. Really, I just appreciated that everything you were doing made sense in the grand scheme of things.
There are also side missions that typically involving moving product or contraband for your underbosses, which again, can be repetitive in nature. All of this makes way for the story missions which are the true stars of the show.
These missions drive forward the story with unique and exciting set pieces. The cover system works well, and the shooting is punchy and visceral. The takedowns are intense, so much so that they offer the option to do non-lethal takedowns in the options.
Some would argue that this is an odd choice, after all why not give the player an option to choose? My thinking is that Lincoln Clay’s story is one that doesn’t leave room for enemies to be left breathing unless they can work for him.
The driving works well for me, but there is an option to turn on simulated driving which makes the driving more realistic and more difficult as a result. The lack of fast travel is somewhat annoying, but this is also a world that you’ll want to explore and take in.
There are services like car delivery, weapons dealers, and hit squads you can call for backup. These make the journey easier from one place to another and help you with some of the more intense combat encounters.
When you start building your mob empire, you’ll have to assign districts to your underbosses and maintain loyalty. All of this continues to add to the game’s systems that reward you for being good to your underbosses by giving you upgrades based on earn. You’ll be able to recruit racket bosses and turn them to your cause to increase income from your efforts.
It may not reinvent the wheel, but Mafia’s world is a joy to explore and it feels great knowing that your efforts are contributing to the greater cause. There are also collectibles in the form of vintage Playboy magazines, album covers, hot rod magazines, and more.
It’s a gameplay loop that worked for me, even if it was a little on the repetitive side. The biggest win here was the game’s ability to always keep your eyes on the prize, no matter what you’re doing. Well, that, and you can feed dead bodies to gators in the bayou. So satisfying.
Welcome to New Bordeaux, A Fictional City Made Real
New Bordeaux is a fictional version of New Orleans, but you wouldn’t know that unless I told you. Mafia III’s world feels real and authentic. From the attention to social issues, to the detail in the various districts, all of it has an incredible sense of place.
This is combined with an absolutely amazing soundtrack to create a city that feels as real as the city it’s based off of. Unfortunately, everything isn’t perfect. The game has its fair share of bugs and glitches. For me, there wasn’t anything that broke the game, but I’ve seen complaints ranging from minor to major in size and scope.
Perhaps the most frustrating glitch was one that told me I had a side mission available when I didn’t. I spent a good amount of time traveling to the location, only to find nothing there. Little things like this can be frustrating and detract from the otherwise fun and authentic experience.
Perhaps some patches can remedy some of the bugs and fix a few visual glitches as these things would go a long way towards making the entire experience feel as polished as the story itself.
So now we come to the big question: should you buy Mafia III? Well, it offers a lot of bang for your buck, and while the missions outside the story can be a little repetitive, it all contributes to an amazing and authentic world. It’s not going to dethrone Grand Theft Auto, but I don’t think it needs to.
GTA fans will compare this to their game and find a lot of differences, but just because they’re both open-world, doesn’t mean they have the same goals in mind. Mafia III set out to tell Lincoln Clay’s story, and it does so with respect, finesse, and some really fun gameplay. I imagine everyone will have an opinion like usual, but me? I loved it.
Final Score: 9.0/10