In 2002, I watched Goodfellas for the first time and became enamored with the stylish yet thick-skinned group of mobsters who would do anything to show loyalty amongst their peers. That year, two of my favorite videogames of all time were also released — Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Mafia. Both of those titles have a plotline which involves working for a mobster and taking revenge on people that betray you, though the plot in Mafia was so fitting that I still haven’t found another game of similar form to top it. I eventually grew to enjoy various classic crime dramas, yet wondered, what is the Mafia really all about? Little did I know at the time, there’s plenty more to it than fancy suits and tommy guns.
As I sat down to play Mafia 3 last week, I already harbored a good prediction of what’s to come but remained skeptical due to a vast difference from the typical mobster storyline. Mafia 3 takes place in 1968 New Bordeaux, a fictional New Orleans that never stops sleeping. You play as Lincoln Clay, a young African-American male that happens to be a former Vietnam veteran. In association with various gang leaders, your job is to organize a syndicate that will assist in eliminating a faction of the Italian Mob which killed Clay’s family and left him for dead.
Unlike its predecessors, racism plays a big role in Mafia 3 and challenges the industry by breaking a barrier that most gamers would not be comfortable with. During my tour of the River Row district, I tried to enter a certain bar but an employee felt unsafe around Clay and demanded I leave immediately. A message also appeared on the screen, informing me about the segregation issue involving certain businesses. Instead of leaving, I stole about $24 from the register and had the cops called on me anyway. At this point, I hopped into the nearest muscle car and drove a good distance away from the bar until the cops called off the search.
Considering the era that Mafia 3 takes place in, everything seems to feel very grounded. There is a surplus of racism in New Bordeaux, ranging from confederate flags hung high inside of businesses to chit chat about segregation over the radio stations. Some pedestrians give Clay a rough look on the streets, while police officers act xenophobic around him. The late 1960’s held plenty of racial tension among Americans and I think it’s quite brave of Hangar 13 to show a portion of this in a game about guns and territory.
Welcome to the Deep South
The city of New Bordeaux has a charming presence within each and every district. From the murky Bayou Fantom to the high-rise buildings looming over Downtown, there’s a living breathing city waiting to be fully explored. History is taking form throughout the entirety of the game and even taking a casual stroll down the block feels surreal. There’s something special about witnessing an artistic rendition of a notable era that most of us have not lived through. With a myriad of landmarks to explore, there’s no shortage of timeless architecture to lay your eyes upon.
However, when it comes down to Mafia 3’s art style, I have to admit the visuals are slightly off in comparison to most modern open-world titles. During daytime, the bland color palette seems to be in favor of creating a vintage look with desaturated tones. This does not look considerably great if you’re steadily driving through the city and peering at the environment. Whether it’s raining or not, New Bordeaux seems to truly shine when the sun sets. Colors seem to be highly accurate and the variety of lighting helps bring detail into the after hours of the night. Outside of the color issue, most of the texture assets seem to be using a 512×512 resolution, meaning they’re of low quality. I would like to see a high-definition texture pack as a free update in the near future.
Most of the missions in Mafia 3 revolve around taking rackets and earning money, with an end goal of gathering the appropriate funds to execute your revenge against Sal Marcano and his associates. The money that you earn can be deposited into a safe or stashed by the Consiglieri, a valuable associate of Vito’s. Once you take over all the rackets in a district, you can confront the district boss who is being heavily guarded by a small army of gang members at a secret site. Upon arriving at the location, you’ll realize there’s no shortage of enemies to take out. When you’re ready to confront the boss, you will receive the ability to kill him for a set amount of money or add him to your racket, where you will earn more money in the long run.
There are a total of nine districts in New Bordeaux with exception of the Bayou Fantom. Each district is controlled by a rival gang that’s operating out of there. To overtake a district, Clay must locate and bring down the rackets controlled by these violent rival gangs. Some of these rackets include prostitution rings, weed farms, smuggling contraband and other illegal activities. In order to take full control of a racket, the game assigns you with tasks such as breaking into a liquor store, killing other gangsters and stealing money that is stashed all around the city.
Big Guns, Big Money
The business of taking over rackets can become repetitive over time, but the story finally starts to take shape once you gather all three lieutenants for a sitdown. A variety of missions suddenly unlock and the cinematic cutscenes gain a dramatic improvement. Occasionally, in-game events will transition to cutscenes of your CIA associate answering questions for the government in past tense. Mafia 3’s story dialogue is a very strong selling point on its own for any gamer that enjoys impeccable character development. Associates such as Burke and Vito display a classic Mafioso attitude and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty the least bit when it comes to pulling off a job.
One of my favorite things is the dynamic combat system. This may sound absurd but killing each enemy feels immensely satisfying, almost like an achievement. In most situations, Clay will be surrounded by dozens of tough gangsters and plenty of objects to conceal himself behind. I’m not usually in favor of cover-based shooters but Mafia 3 seems to pull it off quite well, with zero complaints on my end. You’re given the option to pull off every mission by using stealth or going in with guns blazing. I prefer applying Clay’s militant melee skills on enemies that are in close-range, while using an arsenal of guns to execute headshots from a further distance.
When you overtake a racket, you’re granted a new perk based on the lieutenant controlling the surrounding area. Some of these perks include the ability to call for friendly reinforcements who will back you up during an intense firefight, while others can unlock additional weapons and explosive equipment. As you progress through the game, your lieutenants will continue earning a lot of cash and upgrading your perks to a higher level. Unique perks will also unlock once you take out a target on an associate’s kill list. Bonus unlockables include high-end vehicles that will be at your disposal once you complete each mission within a district.
Speeding to the Bayou Fantom in a sports car is a captivating experience, full of exotic scenery and barren roads that seem to endlessly stretch onward. From muscle cars to jeeps, the vehicles in Mafia 3 come with arcade and simulation car handling. Although there is minimal difference between the two, I’m a fan of simulation handling due to the bulky feel that is reminiscent of GTAIV’s vehicle physics. Driving feels like it can use a bit of work but I find it to be more attractive than Mafia 2’s shoddy vehicle handling. My only real concern is the absence of pure car deformation upon crashing into an obstacle. What can I say, racing games such as Forza have spoiled me to no end.
Until Next Time
There are plenty of brilliant gameplay elements incorporated into Mafia 3, including the ability to feed humans to ravenous alligators lurking in the depths of the swamp. To contradict this, I’ve witnessed a number of missing features that would otherwise be considered a requirement in today’s open-world gaming formula. There is no option to get rid of the distracting rearview mirror or HUD customization, no vehicle modding, no bicycles to ride, no manual saving and much more. What really bothered me was the lack of outfits for Clay to wear, as seen in various gameplay previews leading up to release. Apparently these outfits will be added in a free future DLC update if Hangar 13 uphold their promise.
During some of the missions I played, there were a few bugs that seem to be tied to the physics and animation of character models. Upon throwing some molotov’s at a group of gangsters seated at a table, they stood up and froze while being burned alive. There was no death animation at all and I was completely shocked at what I had witnessed. Another bug was during a mission with Burke, where Clay has to snipe rival gangsters and keep them away from Burke’s property. In the middle of that mission, the enemies completely stopped spawning. After patiently waiting over fifteen minutes for someone to start blasting away, I eventually restarted the mission.
Mafia 3 seems to be a great game that was rushed to meet deadlines. Whether this decision was based on meeting quarterly expectations for parent company Take-Two or if it was due to the development budget running out, this game would’ve greatly benefited from a couple more months in development. Sadly, it's paid the price for its rush to market with a noticeable lack of polish across gameplay and presentation.
The future of the Mafia franchise is questionable. I would be interested in seeing a different studio try their hand at moving the series forward in an attempt to realize its potential. It certainly had style this time around, but not substance.