Mafia 3 is the newest entry into 2K’s third person action franchise. Developer Hangar 13 has shaken things up considerably for this entry, but does it pay off? The game succeeds and fails in several different areas, which makes for an overall awkward experience. Mafia 3 is brilliant and foolish all at the same time, but it’s definitely unique. If anything, it’s the newest open world crime game since Grand Theft Auto V, so it’s at least worth looking into.
In Mafia 3, you play as Lincoln Clay. You’re a Vietnam War vet returning home from a tour overseas. The game takes place in New Bordeaux, a fictional version of a late 1960’s New Orleans. As a black man in the 60’s you face quite a bit of racial bigotry, and Mafia 3 is not shy about its harsh reality. Lincoln returns home with high hopes for a bright future, but finds himself helping clean up after his adoptive father, Sammy. Sammy runs the black mob in the poor neighborhoods of the city. After a deal with the Italian mafia goes sour, Lincoln is dead set on revenge. The majority of the game follows Lincoln as he systematically hunts down and brutalizes the Italian mafia, dismantling their hold on the city.
In all honesty, the narrative is excellent. There’s a large emphasis on racial discrimination, and it’s good to see these heavy controversial topics being discussed in video games. The voice acting also brings the writing to life, as most of the voice work is flawless. This lends well to the game’s style; a documentary style presentation that pops up in-between missions. These documentary scenes tell the story from in the future, recounting the tale of Lincoln’s revenge. These scenes are well acted, edited perfectly, and do a good job pushing the narrative through the eventual game-play repetitiveness (more on that later). These are standout portions of the game, and I was constantly excited to see more of the story unfold. I found the character Lincoln incredibly likable, and the game does a good job keeping him human.
The narrative also pushes a lot of the game-play. The first few hours of the game are very heavy on story, but it soon breaks open. Unfortunately, the game has a pretty repetitive structure. Each area of the city is run by different crime bosses. You want to kill all of them, and in order to do that you must flush them out of hiding. This is accomplished by completing missions that are usually variations on a few key themes. Regardless of the narrative reason for the mission, you’re usually doing one of these things: interrogating or killing a specific enemy, damaging or destroying caches, or retrieving vehicles or dead drops. Once you’ve inflicted enough “damage” by completing these missions, you’ll find the location of the crime boss for that area. You then break into his location, kill him, and repeat. There’s some small variations within that, but for the most part the game is repetitive. Eventually crime bosses started losing their narrative value, and became another tick on my checklist.
There’s some neat bells and whistles to the overall game-play though, which spices things up. You have three underbosses whom you assign your overtaken districts to. These underbosses have different upgrade trees, so choosing who gets what has a game-play effect. If you favor one underboss over another, they might resent you, causing some interesting narrative changes. The upgrades your underbosses unlock are pretty interesting. You might be able to get a car delivered to you, the cops wiped away, or a purchase weapons out of a van. These little upgrades are noticeable and ease game-play repetitiveness a bit.
Visually, the game is truly a teeter-totter. At some points, the game looks absolutely stunning. I’ve caught myself being lost in some of the vistas that Mafia 3’s distinct style can produce. However, there’s some fantastically comic visual glitches that muck up the experience. These are minor gripes, as the overall game looks good. There’s just so much inconsistency between the great visual design and the terrible. It’s also important to note just how graphically violent this game truly is. If you’re an adult purchasing the game for yourself, it’s a null point. However, parents and guardians should be aware of it’s overtly violent nature. Key game-play mechanics (like brutal takedowns of enemies) revolve around murdering mafia members in extraordinary brutal ways. Narratively, the violence makes sense. It does not make it less excessive or graphic, though. This is either a positive or negative, depending on how violent you like your game-play.
Overall, Mafia 3 is a conflicting game to have a concise opinion on. It has a great narrative, but the repetitive mission structure wears it thin. The game controls well, but visual glitches and physics bug outs can cause frustrating deaths or setbacks. It’s a rich game full of important topics and commentary, but it’s not super fun to play. I can’t recommend buying Mafia 3 at full price, but it’s worth playing in the long run. Mafia 3 has a lot of potential to be a great game, but falls just short.