Mafia III Review: Crime on the Bayou

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Posted October 18, 2016 by Thomas James Juretus in Video Games

Publisher: 2K Games

Developer: Hanger 13, 2K Czech, Mass Media Games

Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One (reviewed)

Release date: October 7, 2016

Open world crime games first got their biggest introduction with Grand Theft Auto III, and since then gamers have been able to explore their inner criminal in a variety of games, including the GTA sequels, The Godfather, and 2K’s Mafia series. Mafia II was a fairly well received game with a well done story and a memorable character in Vito Scaletta. 2K Czech handled that one entirely, but for the latest sequel publisher 2K Games had newly formed studio Hanger 13 handle the bulk of the development duties for its debut. Mafia III is the result, and it is a game with one of the best—if not the best—stories in crime games to come out, with well realized and developed characters brought to life by top-notch voice acting. Add to this a stellar soundtrack featuring the likes of The Rolling Stones, Steppenwolf, The Beach Boys, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Johnny Cash, among others, and an interesting setting in New Bordeaux (modeled after New Orleans), and you have one great foundation for a fantastic open world crime game. Unfortunately, that foundation has a few flaws, which hold this game back from being as great as it could have been. Still, there is plenty of fun to be had over the 30+ hours it will take you to complete the game, and despite the flaws, this is a game well worth your time and money.

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The game’s plot focuses on the character of Lincoln Clay, a black man returning to New Bordeaux after serving in Vietnam. The year is 1968, and so key themes of racism in the Deep South and the divides between rich and poor come into play. Lincoln reunites with his foster father, Sammy Robinson, who he finds has some issues involving local Italian mob boss, Sal Marcano. A betrayal results in bloodshed and Lincoln being left for dead. They should have made sure, as Lincoln rises up and sets out on a path of bloody vengeance, aided by his former CIA compatriot, John Donovan, and tempered by his priest, Father James. The story unfolds in a documentary style, with missions interspersed with cut scenes showing interviews and Donovan testifying before a Congressional committee. The style serves the game’s story well, giving it a sense of history and aiding to immerse us into Lincoln’s tale. The story moves around nine territories across the city, each with its own main boss, and the bordering vast bayou, a place filled with alligators and camps of illegal pursuits. Lincoln makes a few allies, including a returning character from Mafia II, and as Lincoln you can choose how to divide up the territories amongst your allies. You need to be cautious here, however: Ignore one ally too much and they may turn on you. Your decisions do impact what ending you get, so you need to choose wisely.

The gameplay of Mafia III can be a lot of fun, but as it soon falls into a routine pattern some may find it a tad repetitive. Basically with each territory (once past the superb prologue) you’ll have two people to talk to as you learn about that area’s crime rackets. The next step is going out and disrupting said rackets, which could mean killing drug dealers, destroying contraband shipments, or wiping out enforcers. The game gives you the option on how to accomplish most of these tasks (only a couple force you to use a specific method, which in one case involves a car chase). You can certainly go in guns blazing, with pistols, rifles, shotguns, and machine guns at your disposal. As you progress you’ll receive perks that you can call in, like a consigliere to pick up extra cash so you don’t lose it should you fall in combat (expect that to happen several times over the course of the game). You can also call for a car, a van to resupply your ammo and weapons, and later on you can call in hit squads or call off police pursuit. These options give you a nice variety to employ your strategy for any given situation. You can also choose to go in quietly, dispatching foes by lethal means (a hunting knife) or non-lethally (knocking them out). You’ll have explosives to make a big impression and adrenaline shots to be administered to replenish your health. As you assign territories to your underbosses, more perks open up, and the game does a nice job of presenting them clearly so you can make an informed decision. I chose to treat my underbosses fairly equally, but you can chose to do things different, favoring one over the other. The choice is yours, and you can tailor your crime family to suit your individual playstyle.

The gunplay is handled nicely, and you’ll get upgrades to your weapons over time as perks unlock (these can include larger ammunition clips or greater stability when firing). The cover based system works well for the most part, though there are occasions where I was spotted or shot at through cover where I shouldn’t have been able to be seen or hit. Some cover is destructible, which can be used to your advantage. However, it works both ways, so you need to be mindful of that and ready to move if that crate you’re hiding behind is being shredded by machine gun fire. Enemy AI can be a mixed bag. Sometimes it will be brilliant, with foes flanking you and vaulting over objects to get to your position. Other times the AI is dumber than rocks, and you can lure them in with a whistle, piling up bodies as they all blindly proceed through a doorway. This is a lot of fun for a while, but for some it may wear thin as it makes missions easier than maybe they should be. Driving works nicely, and can be modified to your tastes, as to whether you prefer a more arcade like driving system or more of a simulation. The cars do feel weighty, as cars in the late 60s were made of heavier materials than their present day counterparts. As a result expect not to have the same level of control you would have in a game like Forza Horizon 3. The AI for other drivers on the road can be frustrating in spots, as the traffic doesn’t always move as it should. Patrolling police cars will notice you, and at first may engage you if you run a traffic signal. That fades as the game goes on, and then police will only pursue if they witness you hitting another vehicle or opening fire on an enemy.

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Cops walking a beat will notice you as well, and in keeping with the times (and sadly, a reflection of the current political and racial climate) they will harass you. NPC civilians also have a mixed AI, as some will walk directly into your path when you’re driving or run into your line of fire. These civilians will run for a phone to call police if they witness a crime, so you need to be aware of your surroundings so there are no witnesses. Some people will exchange pleasantries while others react more fearfully to your presence. Others can be hostile, as you’ll find certain businesses won’t allow you to enter because you’re black. Pushing your luck in these establishments could result in the police being called in, and the cops do arrive prepared to kill. You’ll then have to run and evade them until pursuit is called off. Being aware of where you are in New Bordeaux also figures into how quickly the police arrive. Do something in a poor section and they will take their time, if they show at all. Do something in a more affluent section of town and they will respond swiftly and brutally. It’s a nice touch, and makes for some good social commentary on both race relations and people’s economic backgrounds.

Visually, the game can look beautiful in spots and can be a bit more muddied in others. I had no real issues on my 720p television, but those with higher resolutions notice a bigger lack in graphical fidelity, especially on the Xbox One as compared to the PS4 and PC. I did have lighting issues, as no matter how I’d adjust my brightness settings, the lighting could flare up and make things too bright. On occasion this did impact gameplay as it made things harder to see. Some of that is realistic, such as when inside a burning building or driving along a wet road at sunset. But other times it could be an annoyance, and some have even found that these issues made gameplay much harder than it should have been. Most technical issues I encountered were those familiar to most open world games. NPCs would walk in place or twitch spasmodically after being shot. One guy I shot floated up to the ceiling and disappeared. Most of these tend to be of the more amusing variety and aren’t game breaking by any means, though they can ruin the immersion. Other things that affected my immersion were my car moving after entering a building (it didn’t always stay parked as I left it), and one mission I tried blocking a garage with vehicles to prevent my target from escaping, only to have said cars disappear and force me to engage in a car chase. I experienced no game crashes but others have reported them. The closest I came was at the end where I hit a temporary freeze which resolved itself in about 30 seconds or so.

As far as sound and music go, Mafia III is excellent. The sounds of the bayou, the crunch of gravel under your feet, and the roar of car engines are all realistically depicted here. The voice acting is among the best in a game this year, and the dialogue is well written. There are a couple of occasions where NPCs will be yelling loudly and be nowhere in sight. I experienced one creepy moment as I walked through a cemetery only to hear sobbing, yet no mourners were to be seen anywhere. Again, these are more amusing and minor annoyances at worst, and didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the game. But it’s the soundtrack where Mafia III really shines. The original soundtrack features an appropriate mix of blues, country, and rock, and the licensed soundtrack reflects that as well. Featuring over 100 songs from the 60s, you’ll hear familiar gems like “Fortunate Son,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” and “Ring of Fire” alongside lesser known goodies like “Black Ghost Blues” by Lightnin’ Hopkins or “My Eyes Are Gettin’ Heavy” by Parish Hall. A great remake of Creedence Clearwater Revival‘s song, “Bad Moon Risin,” by Mourning Ritual plays out over the final mission, giving it an atmospheric feel and fitting perfectly your objectives of vengeance at hand. The great soundtrack even mitigates the fact that there is no fast travel system in place, and makes those long drives to far points on the map a bit more bearable.

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In all, Hanger 13 have a winning debut with Mafia III, but the game is held back by its faults. Poor design choices (like no fast travel) and repetitive gameplay (attack rackets until you do enough damage to draw a boss out, rinse and repeat), along with inconsistent lighting and AI mar would could have easily been the best game of its genre in recent years. Add to that technical issues of hard freezes, dropped framerates, and outright crashes, and the game loses what luster it should have had. I was fortunate, along with many others, where I hit no game breaking issues, so my enjoyment of the game wasn’t hampered as much as it was for others facing those problems. Despite the flaws, the game’s strengths are more than enough to provide a reason to buy and play this game. The story is one of the best in any type of game, the voice acting is superb, and the soundtrack is an absolute joy to listen to. There’s a lot of fun to be had here, and with multiple endings, there is some incentive for replayability. There are also plenty of collectibles for completionists to find, like Playboy magazines, album covers, and Vargas paintings. There are also some levels which are just outstanding to play, like hunting a boss in an abandoned amusement park or fighting foes on a sinking steamboat. These moments, along with strong story beats and richly developed characters, lift the game up from being just another routine open world action adventure. The story alone makes Mafia III worth your time, and that time is mostly an enjoyable one. Just watch out for gators when traipsing about the bayou. They’re not very friendly.


About the Author

Thomas James Juretus