There I sat, having placed the disc into my PS4, eagerly waiting for Mafia III to load up. It’s a game I’d been looking forward to for some time, a 60’s set open-world action game is something that holds a lot of promise, and with it being a period that I’m a fan of anyway (great music, brilliant films, unique fashion) I was hoping for a vibrant and unique playing experience much like the decade itself. As the game starts I’m immediately hit with a mood-laden shot of some backwater Bayou, Mafia III in big bold letters and the opening notes to All Along The Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix. “DUN-NUNN DUH-NUH-NUH-NUH! DUN-NUNN DUH-NUH-NUH-NUH!” hits me like a shopper on a Black Friday sale, and I’m immediately hyped. The games not even begun and its got me air-guitaring. However, as great as this opening slice of the game was (if you could even call it that), does the game hold up beyond this?
In Mafia III you play as Lincoln Clay, a man returning home from the Vietnam war to the people who raised him as a young orphan, a group of mobsters who run a small community within the city of New Bordeux, a re-imagining of the city of New Orleans. For reasons that I shall not spoil for you oh cherished reader, Clay finds himself caught up in a tale of revenge and betrayal set against the backdrop of a time when racial tension was high, police corruption was commonplace and people hadn’t fully understood the trauma that returning from the hellish experience of war to the mundane normalcy of civilian life can cause (If you can call running Mob Rackets “normalcy”).
Mafia III presents an engaging story told through an unconventional yet enjoyable narrative. Exploring the narrative through flashbacks, flashforwards and the use of old film stock does make Mafia III very unique on a storytelling level that some Open-World games are perhaps not quite so ambitious with. It’s also very brave in not shying away from issue of racism that was of course prevalent in 1968 America. There’s no political agenda and it never feels as though you’re being hammered over the head with this, but it’s there to add that depth and realism to the period. So in terms of its subject matter and themes playing the game can be a pretty powerful and at times affecting experience.
Another thing that adds this level of depth and realism to the game is the high standard of voice acting, which made every character completely believable. It certainly helps that the character animation is finely detailed, but the voice acting certainly gives substance to the characters which is something that is sadly not always the case in games like these. The character of Lincoln Clay is also a well crafted protagonist and something quite unique in games. He is a character who struggles with his own personal demons, both through his harrowing experiences in the Vietnam War and also his experiences growing up as a black man in 1960’s America. Director Haden Blackman and the people at Hangar 13 studios again don’t hit you over the head with this, but create a more nuanced character who is dealing with these issues under the surface that reveal themselves through the character’s own personal rage and the situation he finds himself in.
So on a purely narrative level this game does succeed. It also succeeds in providing players with a unique world to explore and live in. Map size can be an issue in sandbox games, as you don’t want something too excessive so there isn’t any substance to it. As my mother constantly reassures me, it’s not the size that matters, and this can certainly be said here. Mafia III’s world is big enough so that you can explore at your leisure but is also of a size in which the creators have been able to add little details and nuances that assist in making this more of a living breathing world. Also, Mafia III has possibly the finest soundtrack for an Open-World game that I’ve experienced. The variety of genres and artists from the era really adds to the fun of exploring this world without feeling “retro” or “tacked on.” With its colourful array of Psychedelic Rock, Swing, Jazz, Country and Folk it really captures the vibrant creative revolution that was taking place in the 60’s and makes for a memorable experience. The original score also, composed by Jim Bonney and Jesse Harlin, takes a unique approach to video game music, by again providing music that is of the time without feeling dishonest or dated. It adds to the depth of the world and likens the experience of playing to being in some of the great action movies of the period like The French Connection or Bullit.
Well this is all very positive, isn’t it? Given what I’ve written about the game so far you’d think it was the perfect game. But sadly not. Although the game does boast a strong narrative, well crafted world and a soundtrack with more fire than the towering inferno this game does have its flaws, and unfortunately they are big ones.
Simply put, the missions are repetitive. You progress through the narrative by building your rackets and gradually taking greater control over the city of New Bordeux. Unfortunately this does involve doing just about the same three things throughout the game: kill the mobsters in the area then take out the chosen target, kill the mobsters in the area then interrogate the chosen target and finally (and quite unsurprisingly) kill the mobsters in the area and then destroy cargo shipments that they have. There are also drug runs that you can carry out and the odd mission that does deviate from this somewhat, but for the most part the game is truly that repetitive. It really does pain me to write this, because when you have a great cast and intriguing story dealing with mobsters set in 1960’s America, how on earth do you manage to make it boring?
It’s not even as though the gameplay is what’s letting it down. The actual act of hand to hand combat in this game has a great weight to it, and shooting in this game feels really impactful. I was also a big fan of the car handling in the game, it actually reminded me of the fun of playing Driver for the first time on the PS1, and it gets the ideal balance between reality and fun. It’s just that the tasks you need to complete to progress do start to make these actions less enjoyable. It’s a real shame, but this really lets down the fun aspect of the game, and I did find that I was persevering through the lacklustre missions so that I could enjoy the great story Mafia III has to offer. Take a look at a game such as Grand Theft Auto V, from a series that essentially has the market on Open-World enjoyment. Not only were the missions varied and exciting, but there was a plethora of side missions and activities for you to enjoy. I must have spent 2-3 hours playing golf in that game! The lack of variety is what really lets Mafia III down and did make me less eager to return to the game each play.
There is also an issue with the game crashing and bugging out for many players. Although it’s not something I have experienced to a game-breaking extent (The game did crash for me once, and within the first 20 minutes of play), it is an issue that I’ve read many players have had greater problems with. The bugs and glitches also aren’t game-breaking in my experience, but it did at times spoil my immersion in the world. I mean, I wasn’t alive in the 60’s so do correct me if I’m wrong, but I wasn’t aware of there being flying cars back then. I also found the NPC’s to be at times pretty ignorant when I’ve been infiltrating their bases of operations. Again, not game-breaking and it wasn’t always the case,
but when an enemy decides its better to phase through walls and suffer an involuntary fit than prevent me from taking over their racket, you have to wonder whether their mob boss could have perhaps found better employees when putting an ad out in Mobster Monthly.
Overall I would say this game is a missed opportunity. Yes this game does provide players with a gripping story, detailed open-world and believable characters, but the repetitive nature of the missions, lack of variety and emptiness of this detailed world do stop Mafia III from being a great game. I would still recommend experiencing this game as it is still ambitious and unique in many ways, and Mafia III does have its own identity which easily sets it apart from the other titans of the Open-World genre. However it would perhaps be worth spending some time with the game before making a purchase to see if the story and setting is enough to keep you invested for the potentially 30+ hours of game ahead of you.