Mafia III: Review

Ok as far as the new Deus Ex goes: it’s a great game. Play it. I know I said I’d write a review for it, but everyone’s accepted that the game is fantastic by now. I want to touch on a game that has been getting the most mixed reception and provide my own opinion. Because I do think it’s the right one.

Mafia III is a really difficult game to assess. On the one hand, it has some of the best writing and characters I’ve seen in a long time. The atmosphere and setting of the game is unique and enthralling, and the soundtrack has given me a new appreciation for the music of the late 60s. So why all the mixed reviews?

I’ll be getting to that soon enough, but I need to explain just how great the game is, at least in most respects. It’s 1968 and you play as Lincoln Clay, a Vietnam veteran who returns from the war only to find himself dragged into another conflict. When his adopted family is brutally massacred by Sal Marcano and his Italian Mob, Lincoln takes it upon himself to completely dismantle the organization, and work his way up to finishing Sal. The big twist with the game however, is that as Lincoln takes power away from the Mafia, he builds up one of his own. Each district of New Bordeaux (Hangar 13’s take on New Orleans) you take is given to one of your three underbosses, each one representing a different part of crime in the city. At first I was worried that these three would just be characters that were diverse for the sake of being diverse, but I’m happy to say I was very wrong. Cassandra, the leader of the Haitian Mob, is an enigmatic woman who keeps her past and her motivations a secret. Thomas Burke, head of the Irish Mob, is a borderline suicidal alcoholic who recently lost his son because of Sal. My personal favorite however, was Vito Scaletta, the protagonist from Mafia II. Following the events of II, Vito has been exiled to New Bordeaux and after he’s betrayed by Sal, Vito’s more than ready to help Lincoln remove him.

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There are nine districts in New Bordeaux, and taking them over is more complex than it looks. First, you need to identify what criminal rackets run through which districts and who enforces them: for instance, the French Ward is the headquarters for the sex and drug rackets. Once you identify who runs those rackets, then you destroy enough of that enterprise to force the head of the racket to show his face. Take out both rackets in a district, and then you can choose which underboss to assign it too. It’s pretty easy to divide the city among the three, but if you’re interested in throwing a wrench in he works, you can turn an underboss against you by neglecting them long enough, leaving you no choice but to finish them off later. It was a nice surprise to see how each underboss kept track of how I treated them, and how they would constantly remind me of previous decisions I’d made for or against them. With each district I assigned to one of them, I unlocked a new reward as well. It could be a grenade launcher to add to my arsenal, or it could be the ability to call a police dispatcher and have her call off the police pursuing me. Each underboss will offer unique upgrades and gives you incentive to spread power evenly among the three of them.

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From left to middle: a consigliere, a valet who delivers your cars and an arms dealer. Each one comes from a different underboss

Once you take out the two enforcers of a district, then you’re given an opportunity to assassinate the real head of the district. Each one of these missions take place in some incredible set-pieces, from an unsettling abandoned amusement park to a sinking riverboat. There’s a bunch of satisfying action and the final confrontation with each of the district leaders has genuine payoff. The only problem I had with the story of  the game came at the end. The final confrontation kept switching from dull to emotionally powerful, to flat out weird. It’s hard to explain without spoiling anything, but if the after-credits scene is any indication, Mafia IV is going to be a very strange entry.

So what makes the game so difficult to review? Believe it or not, a couple things. At first, the gameplay feels visceral and brutal. You can stalk from the shadows or engage in a frantic exchange of bullets. The takedowns are jaw-dropping and often badass.

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The cover takedowns are especially brutal in this regard.

Lincoln’s been trained to shoot with both his left and right hands, and Lincoln will do a quick hop after aiming a gun before beginning a full-on sprint towards a foe. All of this feels fun and unique for a couple hours, until you realize that this is it. Outside of the final confrontations with a district boss, the game follows this exact same cycle. Kill thugs, destroy product and enforcers, take over the district and repeat. After awhile, the cycle becomes so monotonous it becomes a painful chore to work your way up to the end of the game. Mafia III also suffers from a barrage of technical and graphical issues, ranging from poor lighting to…well…

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It still freaks me out each time I look at this image

The two things I found the most baffling though were the lack of a fast travel system and the absence of any side quests. Despite how incredible the city looks, it’s a tedious task to drive for ten minutes from one side of the map to another. It would be different if there was a quest I could take along the way, but once you’ve completed the game there’s nothing to do but run around and collect old magazines. You’ve killed all the enemies and presumable taken care of any favors for your underbosses to make them loyal, but because of this, the game ends up becoming little more than a postcard.

In the end, Mafia III has elements of a great game, and it’s hard to see how much the game excels in one half and drops the ball in the other. If you can muscle through some repetitive shooting mechanics and be comfortable knowing there’s no reason to return once you finish the game, there’s a fantastic story of crime to be told in Mafia III that reaches the heights of Goodfellas or The Godfather films. For their first game, Hangar 13 did a pretty good job; but hopefully they’ll be able to pair  a great story with some better gameplay later on.

I’m scoring it a 7.5.

 

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