When you think Mafia, you think wise-guys, Al Capone, 1930s, Sicilian gangsters and all that sort of thing. You don’t think Louisiana, Vietnam vets and under-privileged black communities.
Unless you are 2K and the game is Mafia III.
The first game in 2K’s Mafia series features the San Francisco/Chicago-inspired city of Lost Heaven with a traditional depression-era gangster narrative. The second game, 2010’s Mafia II, switches the action to post-war Empire Bay- an amalgam of New York, Chicago, Boston, Detroit and L.A. Again, the story is all about rising through the ranks of the mafia.
It’s all change for Mafia III as 2K Czech takes the game off in a new direction.
Mafia III tells the story of Lincoln Clay, an African-American Vietnam War veteran returning home to New Orleans-inspired New Bordeaux in 1968. He soon gets mixed up with the wrong crowd that leads to his family and close friend being killed by the local Mafia.
The Mafia games are all based around a fictional open-world city. The protagonist has the ability to hop in and steal any car but, like any transgression in the game, players risk the full force of the law if spotted by the boys in blue or reported by a witness. The action is in the third person, with an emphasis of driving and driving, sometimes at the same time.
This latest entry is a tale of revenge that follows Lincoln on a path of destruction as he hunts down those responsible for his father and brother, and endeavours to take over the city’s criminal underworld. Linking this game to its predecessor is a cameo by an older Vito Scaletta, the protagonist from Mafia II.
The game stays faithful to the time period with some quite confronting language and racial slurs. 2K haven’t sugar-coated the institutionalised racism and the second-class status of African-Americans in the deep south. Whilst it’s shocking to observe in the game, it’s doubly shocking when you think that this sort of racist behaviour still exists in redneck enclaves.
Lincoln’s violent rampage and one-dimensional characterisation are a bit ham-fisted, not really doing the time period, the location or the subject matter justice. Casting a black dude as the protagonist may tick the diversity box, but how about a black character that isn’t quite so clichéd?
Gameplay sequences are interspersed with documentary footage and interviews with the much older supporting characters looking back as they recall the events in the game. It’s really well done and adds a level of intrigue into the game alluding to the dark path that Lincoln is following and the wide-reaching effects of his actions.
Whilst it’s all change with the story, the gameplay mechanics don’t really stray from the previous games. The open-world nature of the game and the process of taking over of the city’s criminal activities means that there is a rinse and repeat element to many of the missions. But the gunfights and the overall story make up for this.
If you are happy with Ubisoft-style gameplay, you’ll be happy with Mafia III, which borrows its neighbourhood capturing mechanic from the likes of Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed. I found that there were enough available weapons and different approaches to the mission to keep things interesting, though. But it wasn’t a game that I was able to play continuously. I get the same sort of gameplay fatigue with Assassin’s Creed (which I love- in small doses).
The visuals are superb; the city and surrounds of New Bordeaux look real and lived-in. All the cars are meticulously detailed, each with their own driving characteristics. With a full day/night cycle as well as changing weather, looking out across the vistas of New Bordeux never gets old.
The game’s 1960’s soundtrack is fantastic and packed with songs from the likes of Sam Cooke, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boy and Creedence Clearwater Revival, to name a few. Truly a soundtrack that defined a generation.
Mafia III is a competent addition to the series and very enjoyable to play. The game world feels real, even if the protagonist doesn’t. There is a fair bit of repetition, but this is often the case with open world games. If you liked the previous games, you are going to like this one.