It's been six years since 2010's underrated gem, Mafia II. Fans have been waiting eagerly for not only a new addition in the franchise, but also answers to many of the questions raised in Mafia II. Hangar 13 have big tasks to complete with their first release. Especially since their first release is of a sequel to a beloved series and one of the biggest AAA releases of 2016. Let's cross our fingers and see how they did.
In Mafia III, players assume the role of Lincoln Clay, a Vietnam veteran returning home only to find his crime family owes a lot of money to the wrong people. After completing a job for them, Lincoln assumes all debts are paid, but is betrayed and forced to watch the death of his family. Down but not out, Lincoln swears vengeance. And in order to exact his revenge, he needs to recruit like minded criminals. These criminals come in the form of Cassandra, the leader of a Haitian gang, Vito Scaletta, previous main character of Mafia II and all around badass, and Thomas Burke, a father seeking revenge for the death of his son by the Italian mafia.
Lincoln starts out interesting enough. He's a man that just wants to do right by his family, and if that means having to kill some people in the process, he won't hesitate to do it. Lincoln doesn't necessarily want to kill, but it's just something that has to be done in his world. That is until the Italian mafia kills his entire family and seriously wounds Lincoln. Then he becomes just another generic, angry guy out for revenge. Anything that made Lincoln interesting, or even likable, is completely thrown away after only an hour or so of playing.
The entirety of Mafia III's narrative hinges on players sympathizing with Lincoln and wanting his crusade against the Italian mafia to succeed. The problem with this is that none of Lincoln's family are likable, none of his allies are likable (with the exception of Vito), and the villains are so over the top with how evil and dastardly they are that I almost forget that I'm not watching a Saturday morning cartoon when playing through Mafia III's story. Interestingly, Mafia III has the opposite problem that Mafia II had. Mafia II had boring, tedious combat sections, but had a brilliant story. Mafia III, on the other hand, has a boring, tedious story, but fun combat sections.
Race, violence, and oppression are heavy themes in Mafia III. 1968 was a difficult time for anyone who wasn't white, in both fiction and reality. Mafia III's depiction of racial prejudice is much better than, say, BioShock Infinite's disgustingly simplistic depiction of a serious subject matter, but I don't know how authentic it was compared to real life. It was a bit jarring at first hearing the "n-word" being used pretty casually, but I wasn't alive in a time in history where words like that were commonly used. Ten hours into Mafia III and I stopped even noticing that word being used. So either Hangar 13 did a great job taking me back to 1968 or I need to take another trip to the Museum of Tolerance to re-orientate myself. I knew Hangar 13 were afraid to dabble into those themes from the very start of Mafia III. What does it say about the state of the video game industry when we can't even have a game depict a real, appalling matter in an informative way without it beginning with a actual trigger warning?
Every Mafia game had a message. It may have varied from depending on interpretation, but it always came down to, "Crime doesn't pay." It may seem all well and good at first, but it always ends in disaster. In Mafia: The Lost City of Heaven, Tommy Angelo is forced to become a rat for the FBI and is ultimately killed by the mob. In Mafia II, Vito realizes that he may have gotten his best friend murdered by the mob in one of the most ambiguous cliffhangers in video game history. In Mafia III? Well apparently crime does pay because Lincoln gets away with an untold amount of money, guns, drugs, and women from running an entire city through crime. Not only that, but Hangar 13 also had to go and completely undermine the message of Mafia II's cliffhanger ending. Talk about not understanding your source material.
If there's one saving grace for Mafia III, it's the gameplay. As I previously stated, Mafia III's combat section are much better than II's. Where Mafia II had linear corridor cover shooting, Mafia III has larger more open areas allowing for more variety in tackling your objective. Stealth has been improved on tremendously from the last game, but that isn't saying much. Stealth was completely useless in Mafia II unless the mission specifically required it. Even then it was still so barebones that it made Skeletor jealous. Now stealth can be used whenever you want for almost every mission.
The guns feel great as well. Every weapon sounds and feels as weighty as they would in real life, and are just all around fun to use. It's just a shame that Lincoln is built like a tank, but can take less hits than a glass hammer before dying. Effectively turning full frontal assaults into "cowering behind chest high cover until the color on your screen comes back" assaults. Luckily Lincoln is able to carry medkits so that isn't too much of an issue, when you have them.
The same can be said about vehicles as well. Every car feels different and has a nice mix of real world car physics and arcade car physics. This makes car chases feel cinematic without going over the top. Speeding around a corner and watching your pursuers from your rear view mirror slam into a building at high speeds is always enjoyable. Vehicle laws are supposedly in place, similar to the first two games, but I never noticed them. I found myself speeding and crashing into cars and other objects in front of the police, but was never chased until I killed a cop.
Remember the surprisingly in depth hand-to-hand combat from Mafia II? Where you could chain together light and heavy attacks to form devastating combos? Well, good news! Just tap the melee button three times to win every time in Mafia III. What a strange omission. Hangar 13 give Lincoln the build of a brawler, but restrict him to simple punches and kicks? That fighting mechanic would have been much better suited for Lincoln than Vito. I have to admit that I'm curious to see who would win in a hand-to-hand fight between Lincoln and Vito in his prime.
So what's the catch for gameplay that's actually enjoyable? Tedious, boring mission structure. With more of an emphasis on gameplay, you would think Hangar 13 would build missions that would take advantage of that. Instead you get another helping of Generic Open World #72521. Damage racket, kill racket boss, damage racket, kill racket boss, rinse, and repeat. 10 hours later and you've completed Mafia III. It may sound like I'm over simplifying Mafia III, but I'm really not. Every mission is either destroy some stuff or kill some guys with an occasional car chase to break up the monotony. I found myself turning the game off every other mission because I was getting so burnt out doing the same thing over and over again.
The graphics really are the difference between night and day. They don't look too bad at night, and seeing the lights of the city bounce off of buildings and cars will cause you to drive a little slower to enjoy the view. During the day though, lighting is flat, textures are ugly, and the framerate dips out of nowhere. Outside of cutscenes, Mafia III looks like a game that could easily run on PS3 and Xbox 360.
That's unacceptable for a AAA game. It's been 6 years and Mafia III only manages to look just barely better than II? Perhaps this is only something that afflicts console versions, but if Mafia III looks this bad on consoles, it can't fair much better on PC. It can't possibly be hardware limitation because, for example, a like Grand Theft Auto V not only looks better, but was also ported from 7th generation consoles. I repeat, a much bigger game from 2013 looks better than this state of the art of AAA release from 2016.
Don't make the mistake of looking in the rear view mirror for too long during the day. You'll quickly notice an orange void consuming the world. You can't out run it. No matter how fast your go or how hard you try to hide, it's always there. I know it's October, but I didn't know this was a horror game. Yes, the view distance seen in the rear view mirror is shockingly short. It's like the fog wall from the Silent Hill HD Collection constantly following you.
One tradition in the Mafia series Hangar 13 managed to continue in Mafia III was the great soundtrack. Instead of the light classical and smooth jazz from the first two titles, Mafia III features early rock from the 50's and 60's. It feels good driving through New Bordeaux at night with Paint It Black by The Rolling Stones playing from your stolen car. The soundtrack fits the time period and, surprisingly, fits the mafia vibe in a new way.
I'm hesitant to even call Mafia III a "Mafia game." Just because a crime family happens to be in a game, doesn't mean it's a "Mafia game." If that were the case, any of the GTA games can be retitled "Mafia." What made the first Mafia game unique was that it was one of the first playable mafia simulators. Everything you would attribute to mafia films and the mob in real life were present in Mafia: The Lost City of Heaven. Suits, ties, old timey setting, long sitdowns, and Italians. Even Mafia II, with all the content that got cut, had all that and more. Mafia III has very little to offer in that regard. Sure, there are some characters that wear suits with ties, 1968 New Bordeaux is an old timey setting, sitdowns were few and far between but did still happen, and italians are present as the main villains, but none of those things are the main focus. The focus of Mafia III is a generic revenge tale under the guise of a Mafia game.
In the end, Mafia III is incredibly disappointing as a Mafia game and taken on its on merits. A dull, uninspired story, mixed with repetitive missions and graphics that would hurt a blind guy's eyes can't be saved by decent gameplay. Mafia III is without a doubt one of the most disappointing releases of 2016 and not worthy of the Mafia name.