Do you remember back in 2010 when Mafia 2 was released? It was met with a ton of praise in regards to its story, world building, and characterization. The biggest complaints volleyed against it however, were in it’s mechanics and empty world. Six years later, Mafia 3 treads the exact same path. At its best, Mafia 3 is a fantastic period piece that pulls no punches in depicting the racial and political tones of a late 1960's America, and at its worst it’s a standard open-world game that is repetitive, bordering on mundane.
You take on the role of Lincoln Clay: A half black Vietnam War veteran returning to his home in the fictionalized version of New Orleans: New Bordeaux. Without diving too deep into the plot, the basic motivating force behind Lincoln is revenge. The people closest to him were killed in a mob hit orchestrated by a man named Sal Marcano.
With clear motivation in place, Mafia 3 establishes its core, repetitive, and almost mundane gameplay loop. You are presented with a district led by one of Sal Marcano’s captains. In order to get to this captain and their well crafted story mission, you’ll first have to eliminate two people important to them. To do this, you’ll have to go into a place, shoot some bad guys, and kill one bigger bad guy. Or you’ll have to interrogate him, then either kill, or recruit him to make more money for you in the long run. This pattern happens in each of the 9 districts in the city. The first 3 districts are automatically assigned to your lieutenants, of whom you’ll have to divvy up the remaining six districts to as you capture them.
Your lieutenants represent the Haitian, Italian, and Irish mobs in the city, and each of them wants a piece of the pie that is New Bordeaux. While I was able to balance their needs throughout the whole game, I missed out on the cool side missions that would come out of them quitting on you. Say you piss off the Irish mob too much and their leader leaves you, suddenly a mission will pop up tasking you with killing him and removing the Irish from your game. Focusing on balancing my lieutenants wants and needs however, limited the upgrades and perks I would get throughout the game. If I had focused on building up the Italian mob, I’d have more health and armor in the later game, which is something I desperately needed. There’s a good push and pull here and I found this to be some of the more engaging content in the game.
Also engaging is the story Mafia 3 tells. Thanks to some top notch acting and incredible presentation, the already solid story is brought to life. It’s all told through a fake documentary with Lincoln’s friend, Father James, and deposition with an old friend in the CIA reciting the things you’ve done. It’s all very well done and easily the high point of the entire game. The mechanics also serve to help immerse you in the culture of 1968. There are shops Lincoln can’t enter because of the color of his skin. The second you enter an establishment like this, the game will notify you that you’re trespassing. Stay there too long, and you’ll get the cops called or have a gun pulled on you. If you steal a car in an affluent neighborhood, the police will be on you in a heartbeat. Steal that car in a poor or black neighborhood, and the cops might not even show up. If only the story and mechanics were paired with a more interesting game.
Don’t get me wrong, the gameplay isn’t bad by any means. It just isn’t anything special. Gun play is adequate yet uninspiring. While there is a fair amount of weapons, I found myself using a silenced pistol and a sniper rifle for most of the game because they were the most effective for my play style. The stealth combat is super basic and easy to exploit. You can hide behind things and then stab dudes as they come around a corner all fine and well, but the enemy AI is extremely dumb and has no sense of self preservation. You can endlessly lure enemies to your position by whistling, and one by one they’ll keep coming at you. I’ve managed to clear out hideouts this way. If you aren’t being stealthy though, they’ll just run at you in the open, mid firefight.
The biggest thing working against Mafia 3 is it’s open-world. While beautiful and well designed, it’s empty and nearly lifeless. Sure there are some Playboy Magazines and album covers to collect, but aside from that there’s barely anything in New Bordeaux to do. Having this big open-world serves to do nothing more than make you drive more. And drive you will thanks to no fast travel options. Normally I wouldn’t care so much, but because the world is so empty, and because several missions just make you drive across the map, interact with something, and come back, fast travel suddenly becomes a sorely missed feature.
One of the bigger topics of discussion around Mafia 3 since it’s release has been it’s performance and bugs. I played through the game on my PC which has got a 970 in it and even after a day two patch to unlock the framerate from 30 and lowering all of my settings, I still wasn’t able to hit 60 frames per second, nor maintain anything aside from 30. There were also a fair amount of glitches from the lighting blowing out the scene making everything white, to textures not loading, and even the classic falling through the world glitch. Never did I come across anything game breaking, but I did have the game crash on me once during my 35 hours or so with it.
While Mafia 3 is a technically unimpressive and uninspired open-world action game, it does manage to build an incredibly believable world, establish some truly amazing characters and tell a phenomenal story that only stumbles a little bit at the very end. While I wish there was more to do in New Bordeaux and the missions were a little more varied, I’m glad I stuck with it just to see how Lincoln’s story played out.