The third reboot of 2K Games’ Mafia series hit stores this month and expectations were high to say the least. The previous instalment of the franchise captivated gamers through its exceptional narrative and performances. While gameplay elements were far from perfect, they were functional and felt purposeful; driven forward by the story.
Now, a few weeks after release, it’s time to see whether Mafia III is able to carry the mantle and give us more of what we loved about Mafia II and more.
From the promotional material shown prior to release, I was expecting a somewhat clichéd tale of revenge, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that the game was teaming with social commentary and scope on America after the Vietnam war; tackling sensitive themes, while again creating believable and interesting characters.
The premise this time around is obviously a large departure from Mafia II – where Vito and Joe ran the roost in a fictionalised version of 1940’s New York (Empire Bay) – but I’d have to say exploring a 1960’s fictionalised New Orleans (New Bordeaux) and its varied landscapes is equally intriguing.
There were significant time lapses in Mafia II, in which we played as Vito during World War 2, through his return, and then again after a significant spell in penitentiary. This not only provided
fresh and interesting environments for the gamer to keep playing in, it also provided further social context and a richer narrative.
This time around unfortunately we have less of this effect, in that we don’t physically embody Lincoln Clay at different points in his life. We are instead presented frequently with snippets of a faux-documentary, in which long term father figure Father James describes his experiences with Lincoln. The cut scenes are interesting and were certainly well received, but I thought it would’ve been fulfilling to briefly play as, or at least see Lincoln during the Vietnam war, further fleshing out his character on the same level as Vito Scaletta.
Clay’s interesting story is somewhat betrayed and hindered by some of the decisions made by Hanger 13 in Mafia III.
During Mafia II we were provided with a number of role-playing type missions, in which you would perform day to day tasks as Vito; for example attending your mother’s funeral, putting a beating on a wise guy that disrespected your sister and convincing dock workers to pay extortionate fees to a dodgy boss.
Most of the missions were also unique and followed the Rockstar Games type formula: cut scene – unique mission – ending cut scene. This kept the game-play refreshing and immersive, as you were hardly ever doing the same thing.
This formula however is largely absent from Mafia III. Instead they have been replaced with repetitive, sub-categorised missions such as assassinations, steal money, or destroy some contraband, in order to unlock the more linear and frankly better missions. These were recycled far too often. At times you were even forced to return to a building you have already cleared because a ‘lieutenant’ had appeared there, to do it all over again. This largely hindered the immersion that was ever-present throughout the prequel.
That being said the combat this time around is certainly a huge improvement on its predecessor. Clay plays as a form of lone fray train. The executions are brutal and viscerally satisfying and there seemed to be enough variation to keep me entertained, so long as I switched it up often. The introduction of a solid stealth system is also a godsend, as far too often in Mafia II altercations descended into arduous cross fire from cover. You can now attract and bait enemies into executions by whistling from behind cover before using your trusty knife to silence them, or decide to shoot and rush enemies, using your physical prowess to take them out.
One of the main features that people got side tracked with during Mafia II was the customisation of both Vito’s outfits and stolen cars. Coming out of the store sporting a fresh three-piece suit, or new black rain coat and top hat was a welcome distraction. It was cool when the next in-engine cut scene rolled around. This is – I’m truly sad to say – completely missing from Mafia III. In fact, stores in New Bordeaux seem to serve as a place to steal health from and little more.
It’s frustrating that they’ve chosen to scatter stores all over the open world, but made them entirely pointless. As far as a 2016 open world game is concerned, these features are a must have. Considering a large criticism of the last Mafia was that the open world was baron outside of the main story, it’s odd that they seem to have ignored this aspect.
Visually, Mafia III is obviously a large improvement since Mafia II’s release in 2008 on last-gen consoles. New Bordeaux is visually diverse and interesting: From gambling tours, and street parades to murky rivers inhabited by alligators, the city is aesthetically varied and pleasing. The frame rate is also relatively consistent, which can’t be said of Mafia II.
Having considered all facets of both games, I feel as though it’s safe to say that Mafia III is a worthy predecessor and does a good job of continuing the franchise, although I can’t say I wasn’t expecting more from Hanger 13. Many thought Mafia III would stand out and potentially receive game of the year plaudits, if they had progressed the franchise in the right ways. Instead people are posting frustrated comments on social media and review threads, about what could have been and what they were expecting after such a significant wait.
I think Hanger 13 and 2K Games are guilty of trying to fix what wasn’t broken in one too many aspects. Mostly in terms of the mission formula – clearing districts to unlock the main story missions, instead of implementing unique missions with different objectives and accomplices. By no means is Mafia III a bad game, but the massive potential this game had just hasn’t materialised.
The result is that Mafia III will be largely forgotten about by most, after a number of highly anticipated releases towards the conclusion of 2016.