As huge fans of the first two Mafia games, we were excited when Mafia III was announced. We saw the game at a couple of events and were finally able to check out review code for the game.
Thinking back to last year’s announcement, we remember turning our Gamescom schedule upside down just to be able to attend one of the Mafia III sessions with 2K. What we saw was excellent, with both a cinematic teaser for the game as well as a live gameplay session by the developers. What impressed us most was the game’s incredible atmosphere and the intense delivery of its narrative content. A little over a year later, these are still the game’s strongest elements.
Mafia III takes places in the 1960, in a fictionalized version of New Orleans that is called New Bordeaux. This moves the franchise forward in time yet again, as the first game had a 1930s backdrop and Mafia II took place around the time of the Second World War. Mafia III also shifts its focus away from the traditional Italian mobsters that dominated the first two games, focusing instead on a biracial Vietnam veteran called Lincoln Clay who is identified as a black American by the people in the city he lives in.
This creates racial tensions that help fuel the game’s plot, which sees Clay betrayed and on a quest for revenge. Growing in power is difficult for a man like Lincoln Clay, who can’t even enter certain shops freely due to his race. With the aid of stealth and his trusted lieutenants, Clay slowly but surely takes control of the city – getting ever close to his ultimate revenge.
The story is absolutely stellar – both in terms of character depth and development and in terms of plot progression. Mafia III is cinematic storytelling at its best, and few games come close. If you were to record your entire playthrough of the game and cut out a good chunk of the game, then you’d quickly think that this is one of the greatest games of all time. Sadly, the non-storytelling aspects of the game aren’t as strong.
Mafia III, like its predecessors, is an open world game – and falls into the same traps that other open world games have done. There’s not too much to do outside the scope of the main story, and moving from A to B can become tedious (especially without a fast travel option). Mission types quickly start to repeat themselves, and missions rarely soar to the heights that the major story missions bring to the experience.
Combat and stealth elements are well done, but limited in nature. Enemy AI goons are too easy to fool, and head-on combat feels a bit too formulaic at times – with the same cover shooter tactics usually being enough for most of the missions. Driving is generally unspectacular as well, and will get a tad boring once you’ve heard the bulk of the soundtrack. Having said that… the soundtrack is one of the best we’ve ever heard, with a ton of famous tracks included that help paint a picture of the 1960s – including the likes of House of the Rising Sun.
Do these negatives make Mafia III a bad game? Definitely not – this is one of the most atmospheric games we’ve ever played, and its story makes it well worth the 15 or so hours it takes to complete the campaign. It’s just a shame that Hangar 13 couldn’t maintain the incredible highs and momentum of the key story missions for the rest of the game. Mafia III had us wishing this was an on-rails experience – with some tweaks to the combat it would be one of the best ever. Now, it’s an okay open world game with a brilliant story.