Mafia III was a game that I really wanted to enjoy, a 3rd person cover-based shooter set in late 1960's New Orleans, sign me the heck up! Developed by Hangar 13, their first official released video game, it shows just what kind of storytelling prowess and experience this studio has to offer. That does not save it from all of the technical and gameplay issues that should have been fixed before the games release, however, you will get an amazing story, not much substance, but a great story nonetheless. Welcome to New Bordeaux (modeled off of New Orleans) where there are people waiting around every corner and there is crime abundant. In a time where open worlds games such as GTA V and Fallout 4 exist gamers have their options, so does Mafia III stand out in the open world Genre? Let's find out!
Mafia III's story is one that could be seen as a very typical and uninspired story, but because of smart usage of plot devices, that I have never seen before in gaming, along with great pacing Mafia III's story stands out as a gem in this generation of gaming. The Mafia Series has always been a much more story focused game series than its bigger and super polished older brother, GTA, however where GTA fails (in my opinion) its story, Mafia more than makes up for in spades. The story is told in such a unique way, a documentary that follows main protagonist Lincoln Clay and his life before and after the main stories exposition. I feel that this style of storytelling will be seen a lot more in the industry, it is really a great plot device that allows you to see more insight into the main character as you complete story missions.
This story would be useless however if the entire experience in its world fell flat. There are so many aspects in the open world that help to build a 1960's post-Vietnam racist New Bordeaux. One of the very first screens that keeps this personification alive is the game telling you that this takes place in a racist 1960's era America and that to make this as accurate as possible this is offensive but not reflective of their own personal beliefs, but rather it is accurate to the time period. That feeling of racism and post-war emotion is in fact present throughout the entire story and it helps to build the world that is believable. This narrative is built into gameplay aspects so well and in multiple ways, whether it is the response time of police in predominately black neighborhoods or the colorful commentary on the way that Lincoln is taking care of certain rackets in the city, it all goes to build just one big cohesive city.
A great thing about the story is that you are constantly fed little pieces of Lincolns back story in the Vietnam War. You never get to experience it directly, but the documentary talks about the type of changes he went through as well as the type of soldier that he was. You constantly get that feeling that he was a killer and that he learned all of this through his time in the military. You have a CIA handler who is relaying this information to what looks like a council after you complete every story mission. This type of plot device really makes you feel like Lincoln is a killer, and it does naturally explain why he is such an efficient killer in the game. If you compare this to other game protagonists like Niko Bellic or Michael from GTA this does feel like a much more believable reason on why he is a threat.
The story does seem to take a breather towards the middle of the game and allow for the focus to become gameplay, unfortunately, the gameplay is not varied enough to make up for that and it does start to suffer because of it. With a 30+ hour game, you are looking at a good 7-10 hours of almost no story when the game really needs it, however, those that stick through the middle section will be paid off with a great ending.
Gameplay in an open world game can always cause issues and in many cases, it can be the death of an otherwise great game. Mafia III's gameplay is the complete opposite of the story, where the story is very innovative and uses new styles of storytelling that I had never experienced before, the gameplay is as common and cookie cutter as any other 3rd person cover based shooter, not that it is a bad thing, however with a lack of gameplay and tasks to do, some more inspired gameplay would have been a welcome addition.
The cover shooting functions and it works, but moving from cover to cover is very awkward and does not work so well. It does not get in the way of the gameplay because of how simple and easy the enemies are. So don't worry, if you play this games on higher difficulties you will have no problem at all. One of the many examples of this is in the stealth kill system. Most enemies will not raise an alarm based on finding a dead body, and you can usually go into an area, kill every bad guy without much of a fuss in stealth. You can actually hide behind a wall, whistle and slowly pull one enemy at a time and kill them. Only one enemy will come to a whistle at a time and that means that you can easily clear out an entire room with very little difficulty. However, the gunplay in this game is quite impressive in the way it feels. When you pick up a shotgun, or a revolver, every time that you fire it you can feel the pull of the hammer and sense just how hard the bullet impacts the enemy. It is some of the best feeling gunplay I have experienced in recent years. It does still feel uninspired and cookie cutter and some more fun mechanics would have gone a long way to making it feel much more natural.
The lackluster combat would be okay as well if there were any satisfying side missions or just random things to do as you venture through the game, however, that is not a luxury you are going to receive. There are some side quests, unlike Mafia II, but these just really feel tacked on and unnecessary, especially with such a great single player story that is present. These side missions are as simple as running drugs from one side of the map to the other, but they just get tedious and boring quickly. These are the chore style missions that we are accustomed to seeing in games such as Assassin's Creed or World of Warcraft, but in here they just get in the way. The worst part is that you can complete a side mission just to find out that one of your underbosses has already met their max money allowance, so you have to do the mission all over again once you raise their allowance.
This is also the problem once the game starts to back away from its more narrative driven story missions. You have to go and find the places where the rackets minions are either doing illegal activities or where their lieutenants are. Once you find these you dismantle or kill them and then keep going until you have done enough damage to the racket to call out their boss. This is boring because you literally do the same activity in every region with the only variety being the looks of the enemy. It's not a bad gameplay hook, but some more specific missions for the different types of crime rings would have been interesting. It is an old callback to Godfather II, it's not a bad gameplay mechanic, but it does feel quite dated.
One of the main systems in the game tied to your specific underbosses are the upgrades. Every one of your underbosses gives you specific upgrades tied to their loyalty level. These upgrades are quite simple and don't add a whole lot to the gameplay, but they are there. Every underboss has a specialty like firearms or money. These upgrade decisions are designed to make you want to go with one underboss over the other, but if you decided to stick with one more than the others, one underboss will leave you and then you will have to fight them, and possibly lose out on all the upgrades they have to offer.
The world of New Bordeaux is extremely believable and everything about it screams Louisiana and New Orleans. If the introduction to the game does not grab you, then just driving around the different districts and swamps of New Bordeaux will sell you on just how much time and love went into the design of this game. From alligator-infested swamps, broken down poverty stricken hovels as well as the upper-class mansion-sized houses, New Bordeaux feels as lifelike as possible. However, that falls apart when we start looking at some of the most detailed nuances of the game.
The people that are present in the game do not feel alive. This is not GTA where the groups that are talking feel alive and natural. They feel stiff and more like a common NPC in an MMO. Then we talk about the lack of interactivity within the world itself. There are bars and stores, and you can steal money from them, but very rarely will they ever call the cops on you, but they will threaten you with it. I found it quite odd that I could go into a bar, but not buy a drink, it's those types of small details that are present in the GTA series that are extremely missed here. This emptiness also comes into play with the collectibles. There are playboys to collect, car magazines and artwork, but it's all pointless. It gives you no experience, no trophy progress, and it is all just useless junk at the end of the day. So why add it?
However, the cars are some of the best parts of the presentation this game has to offer. The cars feel alive and they really do add into the believability of the game itself. However there is no fast travel system, so be prepared to drive everywhere. The cars feel like the old fashioned muscle cars and they drive like it too. There are so many great presentation aspects in Mafia III, but they are also bogged down by some of the bugs and just lack of interactivity within the world itself.
Is Mafia III fun, though? This is going to change from person to person, but I found it quite enjoyable. It isn't a game that trophy hunters are going to be crazy about, you would probably have to play this game at least 3 times, and that's if the bugs don't mess up your progress. The story is great, however, but it comes at the price of having a subpar gameplay and some weird bugs and presentational issues. If you can get past these little hiccups, though, you will definitely be glad that you picked it up.
Mafia III is a great game, but it is held back by a few issues. The story is amazing and it hooks you in right from the very beginning. The gameplay though is a very different story. The presentation goes from being amazing, to okay, to bad, but you will be pulled into a different time and different world. With the holiday season just beginning, Mafia III might be one game you want to wait for until a game drought, but you will not be let down by the quality of the story. This is one game you don't want to miss, put it in that gaming backlog, because once you have time, it will be one game to experience.
|+ The story is a work of art||– Gameplay is uninspired|
|+ Characters are all believable and have motivations||– Technical and graphical bugs|
|+ Guns feel powerful||– Some "dead" presentational issues|
|+ New Bordeaux feels like a real time and place|
|+ Driving American class muscle cars|