Born on the bayou.
Open world games come, and open world games go. Most of them are forgotten, as they never manage to sell their world to the player. Creating a memorable world is hard to do, which makes something like Mafia III all the more special. While it is certainly full of traditional open world tropes and bland mission design, I remember my time here. I remember the characters, I remember the locales, and the decisions I made seemed to matter. This is a sign of something special, and Mafia III is a game I am most certainly not to forget anytime soon.
Taking place in a fictional city in Louisiana called New Bordeaux, Mafia III follows the story of Lincoln Clay, a Vietnam War veteran who is returning home. It is clear early on that Lincoln is not the typical hero protagonist. He is a good man that does some very bad things. Without spoiling too much, Lincoln returns home and things go down that ruin his world, and the bulk of the game is spent taking over New Bordeaux from the local mob, one district at a time.
Platforms: XB1 (reviewed), PS4, PC
Price I’d Pay: $49.99
What makes this story so memorable is the presentation and performances. The entire game is laid to the backdrop of a fake documentary about Lincoln. Interviews with people involved are woven into sections of the game. It is really unique, and extremely well done. A lot of this has to do with the fantastic performances from almost every character, particularly Father James, who helped Lincoln, but also was weary of his actions.
Another facet of this story is how it depicts topics such as racism in the post-war environment. Topics like this could come across extremely offensive if not handled properly, but I feel like the team at Hangar 13 did an admirable job of depicting it, instead of exploiting it. It also affects the game play in interesting ways, for example if someone calls the cops on Lincoln in an upscale part of town, they are likely to arrive much more quickly than if they were called in a poor neighborhood, if they show up at all.
Mafia III is very much an open world game, more so than past iterations, and that is both good and bad. I like that there is a lot more to see and do, but it also feels forced at times. The story is stellar, but everything around it feels synthetically padded by repetitive mission design. Taking over different areas always involves the same host of mission types. Eliminate these people, destroy some cargo, or find a hidden item. Rinse and repeat for 30 hours. It gets stale, but the story kept me driving forward. At least there aren’t racing missions scattered around the world.
There are also plenty of dots on the map to collect. Playboy magazines return, but there are also Hot Rod magazines, provocative paintings, and even classic album covers to find. Much like an Assassin’s Creed title, Mafia III has a way to unveil all the goodies in each area. I love the narrative explanation of using wire taps to uncover all the hidden items, but I did not enjoy having to find parts in order to use them. Again, it feels like more padding than need be.
Taking over parts of the city is where things get interesting. Each section is assigned to one of Lincoln’s lieutenants, and each one offers up various perks and abilities – simple things such as mobile gun shops, to more complex items like shutting down the phones in an area to keep thugs from calling for backup. It is a neat system, and one that rewards doing the side missions for each boss. It is also extremely interesting that if players ignore one in favor of another, they may turn on Lincoln, leading to multiple endings for the game.
Visually the game is all over the place. I spent my time on the Xbox One version, and there are moments where it looks absolutely stunning. The sun rising, splashing a ray of light on a lightly soaked street, it is beautiful. Then there are times where time of day seems to change with every corner I took in my car. It is weird. The game also looks extremely washed out on Xbox One, but I never had any issues with frame rates dropping to extremely low levels, and although there have been reports of game-breaking bugs, I never ran into a single one in my time with the game.
The music and audio though are outstanding. The soundtrack perfectly mixes with the timeframe of the game. Hearing Creedence pop up on the radio is brilliant, while certain moments within the game are accompanied by a perfect track, let’s just say ‘Paint it Black’ will now resonate in my mind for a long time. Voice work is also incredible, each and every character is played perfectly, although some of the NPC dialogue is a bit repetitive.
Mafia III is one of the best stories in a video game I have played this year, heck I would go as far as to say this generation. It is wrapped around some pretty standard and repetitive open world game design though, which does do it a disservice. Still, the locales and world resonate with me, and the story kept me coming back for more, and that speaks volumes. This game will certainly be on my mind when it comes time to discuss the best of 2016, and I think it is more than worth looking past its blemishes to check it out.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.