It’s been an agonising 6-year wait for the follow up to 2K’s phenomenal gangster sim Mafia 2 – a game that depicted down and out Italian war vet Vito Scaletta’s journey through the ranks of the Italian mafia in a stylish 40’s era New York. Apart from the name and the inclusion of the previous instalment’s considerably more aged protagonist, Mafia 3 couldn’t be further removed from its predecessor, unless of course it followed the politics and power struggles of a bunch of alley cats.
Mafia 3 moves the story to a different time period and location – New Bordeaux – a virtual version of New Orleans in the year 1968. This time around you’re in the shoes of Lincoln Clay, a coloured man on a quest for revenge after your mob and surrogate family are betrayed and massacred by nefarious crime boss Sal Marcano.
Mafia 3 displays an unparalleled level of progressiveness with its depiction of the racial prejudice rampant at the time. Done in a documentary style, the story constantly leaps between past and present, as key figures offer their perspective on events that transpired during Clay’s revenge-fuelled murderous rampage. It’s serious and gritty subject matter is executed in a skilful and, at times, uncomfortably crude yet accurate manner and bears all the styling’s of a silver screen flick.
Despite the oppressive tone and bleak circumstances that leads to Lincoln going after the city’s most corrupt inhabitants, there’s an obvious effort to make sure the game doesn’t buckle under the weight of its own substance. The sombre tone is brilliantly offset by Lincoln’s cool demeanour, aided by offbeat ex C.I.A agent John Donovan, who uses his intel to inform Lincoln who’s cranium is most deserving of a few holes.
Your time in New Bordeaux is almost exclusively taken up with securing districts from those loyal to Marcano and establishing rackets run by those swearing allegiance to you. After a linear yet delightful starting mission involving a robbery gone wrong, the game’s world opens up and the objective – to take down Marcano’s empire by killing him and his associates is quickly set out. In this world filled with drugs, prostitution, money laundering and other unsavoury endeavours, regrettably it’s the gameplay that establishes itself as Mafia 3’s biggest crime.
Securing rackets quickly becomes a boring and monotonous chore and feels all too much like busywork rather than actual story missions. You’re given information on a racket and taking it down involves causing enough damage to lure out its boss. Put a bullet in him and it’s basically rinse and repeat until the credits roll.
There are various options when it comes to damaging rackets, but it’s the same few objectives – kill ringleaders, interrogate informants, steal money and destroy property – repeated for each and every racket in each and every district. This repetitive, uninspired mission structure harks back to the first Assassin’s Creed and the same fact rings true; no matter how rich and alluring the narrative and world are, variation in gameplay is crucial in order to truly captivate and excite.
The few cinematic and narrative lead missions that occur when taking out some key members of Marcano’s posse, such as infiltrating a wake dressed as a waiter and drugging the guests Hitman-style or chasing down your target through a rundown amusement park, are an absolute joy and were there more moments like this Mafia 3 could have been something truly special. It’s a shame because the world itself is a skilfully crafted version of New Orleans that offers a remarkably authentic depiction of the time period. The locations, vehicles, soundtrack and atmosphere all seek to engage and the world feels wasted on missions that didn’t use to it its full potential.
Despite the repetitive nature of the gameplay, the combat itself is solid. Enemies are numerous and stealth is usually the best option, at least initially. This is due to Mafia 3’s unforgiving nature; once spotted enemies will quickly hone in on Lincoln, their affinity for flanking and making optimal use of cover makes firefights intense. The lengthy missions with minimal checkpointing, reliance on health kits and loss of half of your income should you be killed makes Mafia 3 all the more merciless.
Luckily, you’re given bonuses, such as increased health and better weaponry from your underbosses for assigning districts to them, which make life easier as the game progresses. Exactly what perks you receive are dependent on who you assign districts to and the more affinity you have for one the better the rewards you receive. Constantly overlooking an underboss can cause them to turn against you forcing you to think tactfully to get the most useful benefits while also keeping everyone on your side.
Optional side missions can also be completed to raise affinity with an underboss and gain access to better perks, however, these prove to be an almost never-ending string of the same mission type for each character and the extra benefits aren’t really worth the lofty time investment.
The vast divergence from the formula of its predecessor is the result of a change in developer. No longer in the hands of 2K Czech, Mafia 3 was created by Hanger 13, the studio’s first project, and the end result sadly highlights its lack of experience. There’s no denying Mafia 3 is a well-thought-out game with an intriguing premise, engaging characters and an encompassing world, but the lack of ingenuity and diversity with missions means that fatigue will inevitably set in regardless of your affinity for the former.
Mafia 3 is available now on PS4, Xbox One and PC. For more information visit https://mafiagame.com/