While driving around the city of New Bordeaux over the weekend, the brilliance of the storytelling struck me; there are very few open-world games that have handled weighty themes like racial inequality as eloquently as Mafia III does, and through such interesting storytelling to boot. With that said, storytelling can only carry a video game so far, and unfortunately, the gameplay isn’t as spectacular. Let’s get right into it.
Set in 1968 New Bordeux (the game’s version of New Orleans), Mafia III follows Lincoln Clay, an African American Vietnam Veteran seeking revenge on the Italian mob, and more specifically a man named Sal Marcano. After returning from war, Lincoln has dreams of moving on from his past, but finds that his loved ones are having money issues. This eventually leads our protagonist to partake in a successful heist that ends in brutal betrayal. That’s when Lincoln decides he’ll stop at nothing to destroy those who unraveled his world.
The twist to the storytelling is that it is being told through interviews taking place decades after the events of the game. The characters closest to Lincoln will retell certain moments through an outsider’s point of view, and it’s slick, intriguing, and totally engrossing.
And be forewarned, there are some uncomfortable themes explored in the game when it comes to race. Don’t expect to be welcome everywhere in New Bordeaux with open arms. People, stores, and restaurants will give you more than just a dirty look. It’s refreshing for a AAA game to not ignore the reality of our country during that time, but to also make it a big part of the narrative. I’m all for social commentary in video games, so Hanger 13 deserves a round of applause for not shying away from a dark time in our country’s history.
As for Lincoln Clay specifically, he is an interesting character. He was an orphan who joined the armed forces because he was looking for a place to belong. Seeing how the world viewed him, and getting the perspective of a priest who was close to him, makes Lincoln relatable. Watching his downfall and rise to power rivals some of the best mobster movies. And to Hanger 13’s credit, the game does a great job of making you care about these people. On the flip side, you’ll also find yourself hating certain characters quite a bit.
While the story could have easily been a standard, contrived revenge story, Mafia III not only introduced an interesting character in Lincoln Clay, a black man during one of the darkest times of our country’s history, but also delivered a compelling narrative. The expertly placed cut scenes sucked me right in.
Now onto the gameplay. The final goal is to take New Bordeaux down one criminal racket at a time, in hopes of reaching the head honcho, Sal Marcano. You get more powerful via perks like being able to call a mobile arms dealer, or call someone to come pick your money up (because you lose it if you die and don’t store it), so it always feel like you’re progressing.
Whether it’s taking down a smack or prostitution racket, you’ll typically be taking someone out, damaging cargo, or stealing an item in order to lure out the mob boss in charge of the district. It’s decently fun the first few times you have to complete these tasks, but it gets old quick. With six districts on the map, you’ll be repeating these tasks over and over again.
When you finally do take down the districts, you must choose one of your allies (who don’t like you too much, by the way) to control the spot for you… but you’ll have to keep them happy to make sure they stay loyal. It’s a fun little twist, but really, it always turns into more work than anything else when having to complete side missions for them.
Even though the game can look dated visually in certain moments, I do appreciate the diversity in the districts in this fictional world. You can go from the suburbs to the busy city, and it does feel different enough from each other. There is also reasons to explore the world as there are a bunch of collectibles to seek out, including PlayBoys. It’s kind of random.
Other than the awesome story, he combat is the most surprising factor. The third-person shooting mechanics are decent, but you may find yourself taking a stealth approach more often than not. Lincoln quickly hides behind cover with a click of a button. Mafia III‘s almost resembles the cover system seen in the Gears of War series. When in cover, you can crouch around to keep hidden from enemies or even whistle to get them to come over; when close enough, you can take them out using your knife. It works surprisingly well, and is my preferred form of combat. Unfortunately, because you’re basically doing the same types of missions multiple times, there aren’t too many moments where you can experiment with the combat.
The best missions are actually the narrative-heavy sections that feel much more linear, like the first few hours of the game. Going from robbing a bank to escaping on a speedboat, while trying to blend in during Mardi Gras is a total blast. And credit is also due when facing the bosses from each of the six major locations in New Bordeaux, because these sections tend to show some great creativity. One mission will have you searching a creepy, partially destroyed theme park to get to the target. It’s a total trip.
While I didn’t expect Hanger 13 to revolutionize a genre that’s already well established, the repetitive tasks and unimaginative mission structures completely hurt the experience. For the most part, it all feels too generic. Nothing you do feels new or exciting most of the time. You’ve played open-world games, and this one doesn’t bring much excitement to the genre in terms of gameplay.
Luckily, I didn’t run into any major bugs, but the internet is already filled to the brim with some hilarious hiccups when just cruising New Bordeaux.
Mafia III isn’t groundbreaking. In fact, it’s actually quite the opposite. It’s a fine experience that unfortunately gets too repetitive for its own good. There’s a lot of game here, but not much of it is as exciting as its most thrilling moments. However, the narrative is incredibly impressive and compelling. At times, it’s enough to keep you going forward.
RATING: 3 OUT OF 5 BURRITOS.
- Smart, compelling narrative.
- Lincoln Clay is interesting.
- Narrative-heavy missions are the best.
- Boss fights.
- Doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable themes.
- Linear missions highlight the creativity of Hanger 13.
- Repetitive mission structure.
- Generic open-world experience.
- A lot to do in the world, but none of it is all that exciting.
This review was completed using an Xbox One copy of Mafia III provided by 2K. The game hits shelves on October 7, 2016 for the Xbox One, PS4, and PC.