Mafia 3 is a game with some great ideas that ultimately fails to meet my admittedly high expectations for a 3rd game in a fantastic series. Some good gameplay shines through a sea of bugs, unlikeable characters, and an overall lackluster story. I’m disappointed to say the least.
The game takes place in the 1960’s in a fictional version of New Orleans named New Bordeaux. You play as Lincoln Clay, an African-American who just arrived back from the Vietnam War.
The story starts off strong with a documentary style recap of previous events. Lincoln quickly gets dragged into their money problems with the Haitians which leads to a bank robbery set up by Sal Marcano, the head of the Italian mafia in New Bordeaux. After the heist, Lincoln and his family are betrayed by Sal and his buddies as they kill off Lincoln’s group and burn his house down. Lincoln miraculously survives and teams up with his old war buddy who now works for the CIA to get revenge on Sal and his underbosses along the way.
The supporting cast of characters include Father James, a World War 2 veteran turned spiritual advisor at a local parish. James is Lincoln’s adoptive uncle who saves him from Sal’s betrayal. Over the course of the game James tries to talk sense into Lincoln and sway him off his undivided path for revenge. He quickly became my favorite character not just because of his performance and voice acting, but his realistic, wise, and intelligent thoughts about Lincoln’s actions. None of the other character’s come close.
Over the course of the game you will encounter a few characters that you can assign to run districts for you, therefore granting you some kickback. These 3 characters each provide different bonus abilities and perks as you assign more districts to their control. However, if you don’t split up the districts evenly they will start to question why they are allied with you and can possibly turn on you.
One of these characters is Vito Scalleta, the main protagonist from Mafia 2. Unfortunately Vito seems thrown in to appeal to Mafia 2 fans. His personality doesn’t match the way he acted in Mafia 2. He’s way more aggressive. His responses and retorts seem written just to create tension in the briefing room when selecting who you want to run a district. It seems very out of place when you think about the reasons why he’s even in the briefing room in the first place.
And this type of uncharacteristic behavior is a part of why I dislike a lot of characters in this game. Without going into spoilers, Lincoln Clay is especially guilty of this. Throughout the game Lincoln makes some pretty dumb decision for someone that is on a path for revenge. Decisions that seem very contradictory to the way he’s portrayed not only by his own actions, but by other character’s stories of him. One such example is how he would never hurt a woman. Lincoln’s friend in the CIA tells an old story of them being ambushed by a woman in Vietnam and how Lincoln stopped her and let her go. Lincoln tries to reinforce this when he meets one of the criminal bosses working for Sal. Guess how that goes. And that’s not the only example either. There’s plenty more.
The gameplay is mostly fine. The driving felt really good when switching to the simulation mode in the options. The combat portion of the game shines over every other aspect. Shooting feels great and rewarding. The impact of the shots are magnified by the enemies reactions. The melee kill animations are well done and some of the most gruesome I’ve seen in quite a while. The actually melee combat is lacking as you just spam one button until a prompt appears rewarding you with a kill scene or rarely asking you to counter an enemies attack. Sneaking around and playing stealthy is very fun and works only because of how poor the AI is. I played the game on the hardest difficulty and the AI will almost completely ignore you as you run from cover to cover, even when they are standing 10 feet away directly facing you. Enemies can be lured around corners by whistling resulting in an easy stealth kill. One after the other, bodies will stack in a doorway as enemies constantly investigate the whistle of death.
The gameplay loop inbetween story beats gets repetitive and boring very fast. Most of the game you will be tasked with doing 50-100 thousand dollars worth of damage to lure out a mob leader that will then bait out one of the important people on your kill list. Many times you will be asked to go right back to a warehouse that you just cleared of enemies, to see that every one of them respawned because of the scripted mob boss event. They try to differentiate the missions by asking you to steal money, save prostitutes, blow up cars, and destroy supplies, but they are all very similar. Roll up to an area and kill bad guys.
One aspect of the gameplay that I hated the most was the car chases. Sometimes you have to interrogate a criminal in order to get more information about his boss. If you alert him and let him run away, it will result in a car chase. If you have pistol ammo you can target specific sections of the vehicle to shoot at to try and stop them. Unfortunately this doesn’t always work out as well as it’s intended. The cops may be alerted to the shooting and start to chase you which creates a huge problem. Also, if you don’t have pistol ammo, you just have to get lucky and ram his vehicle enough times to make it flip. That’s if you have a fast enough car to catch him. It can be frustrating to say the least.
The graphics are pretty good when there are not visual bugs going on. The lighting in many areas can be jarring such as just standing outside. The clouds move past the sun so fast that it creates a distracting shadowy line across the city. The different districts all have a distinct feel and look for the most part. From the swamp filled bayou to the French Ward, there’s a good variety to the landscape. The soundtrack couldn’t really get any better. Licensed hit after hit. From Creedence Clearwater Revival to The Rolling Stones.
One of the reasons I enjoy the Mafia series of the Grand Theft Auto series is because it is a bit more realistic and not a parody. Mafia 3 leans more towards a GTA style with over the top and cartoonish set pieces. For example, early in the game one of the underbosses is holed up at a carnival. As you make your way through the carnival at night, killing off his henchman in the process, you go through some stereotypical haunted/scary buildings and structures as the boss is talking at you like a maniac over the loud speaker like a comic book villain. This wasn’t what I was expecting out of a Mafia title. Other examples are navigating a sinking and exploding ship, becoming a boxing champion, and disguising yourself as a waiter.
The other problem with this game is that it feels rushed and unpolished. There are bugs and glitches galore. Most aren’t game breaking, but lighting, clipping, and wonky physics are all over the place. Sometimes Lincoln will teleport to a different enemy rather than the one standing directly in front of you to initiate the stealth kill. I’ve had scripted events not trigger because an npc wasn’t in the correct place therefore having to restart my checkpoint. The game also had a 30 frames per second lock on the PC which is a big no-no. Most of the initial bad reviews on steam were because of this very reason. Fortunately it was fixed with an official patch 1-2 days after release. Floating cars, a UI prompt that wouldn’t leave my screen until I restarted the game, and counter attacks not working are just a few bugs you may encounter off the top of my head.
The other Mafia games were more linear in their story telling with little to no side missions to keep the player on a focused experience. The city was just the setting for the events that took place. Even though you couldn’t go around and play tennis or go to a strip club, the world felt alive because of the attention to detail and the pedestrians life like reactions. The previous games do almost everything better. Melee combat is more active and has more options, the car physics are more realistic, the attention to detail is outstanding, and the characters are more enjoyable. I hate to keep bringing up the previous titles but if you get a chance to play them, absolutely do so.
When people think of the Mafia franchise and, well, just hear the word in general, they usually think about the Italian mafia. Great crime stories like The Godfather, The Sopranos, Goodfellas, and Boardwalk Empire even. I want to do a drive by with my crew of gangsters on a shop that hasn’t payed their dues. I want to get immersed in a great crime story with corrupt cops and politicians working with the mob. Something the previous games granted me. Mafia III doesn’t provide any of that.
What it does provide is a glorified revenge story. One where you play as an African-American male returning home from the Vietnam War. One where racism and anti-war propaganda are rampant. One where if you get yourself in too deep, you may not be able to make it out unscathed. Unfortunately, I don’t think it does a good job of any of this either.
I applaud Hangar 13 and 2K Games for attempting to portray the issue of racism in the 1960’s by having the main protagonist be an African-American male. The way other NPC’s react to you and how segregated shops won’t let you in because of the color of your skin give you a peak into what it may have been like during that time period. Unfortunately this doesn’t dismiss the issues I have with the characters, gameplay, and bugs. They also used an already established franchise to experiment with a different type of story. One where you are not part of the Mafia like in previous games, but are wronged by them and trying to take them out. This was bound to displease some fans.
As a Mafia game, it’s disappointing.
As a standalone title, it’s a mediocre revenge story with passable gameplay and bugs galore. I wouldn’t recommend this game at full price.