Mafia has always been a unique open world crime series as it has found the right balance of being a video game while telling an unforgettable story. Mafia III breaks from the tradition of its predecessors by having gamers survive the criminal world as an African-American in the Deep South during the final years of the Jim Crow era.
This break from tradition allows the game to tell a story that examines a dark chapter in American history while also connecting it to the social issues of today. At the same time it’s the classic Horatio Alger story seen in so many crime dramas about the little guy either rising through the ranks or establishing their own empire.
A Different Crime Story
Mafia III is what the 1976 blaxploitation film, Brotherhood of Death, would be like if it was written as a crime drama and directed by Martin Scorsese. It’s the story of an orphan looking for acceptance in life but when his world is shattered by greed and racism, he seeks vengeance using the skills he learned in Vietnam.
Presented in a documentary style, the story revolves around the rise of Lincoln Clay as told by those who knew him or helped him. Clay has returned to New Bordeaux (a fictionalized version of New Orleans) after fighting in Vietnam to say goodbye to his adopted family, Sammy Robinson and the Black Mafia. Plans change when he learns that Sammy is in debt to Don Sal Marcano. To settle the debt, Lincoln along with Giorgi Marcano work together to rob the Louisiana Federal Reserve. The heist is successful, but Sal betrays the Black Mafia and has everyone killed. Lincoln manages to survive the massacre thanks to the help of Father James.
Vowing to avenge the murder of his family with the help of John Donovan, a war buddy and CIA agent. Using the skills he learned as a member of the US Army Special Forces (Green Berets), Lincoln embarks on a guerilla war against the Marcono family by crippling their operations while establishing his own criminal empire.
Blood on the Bayou
Before the game starts, the first thing players will notice is the cleaver dialogue that help introduce them to New Bordeaux. Its a cleaver script that takes gamers to another part of the country during a different time. To the faint of heart, be aware that racial slurs are used very nonchalantly. A solid script and a thought provoking story should be expected from the same publishers who gave us Spec Ops: The Line.
To cripple the Marcono family, Lincoln will need to gather intelligence on the operations of the underbosses and capos. Once enough information is collected, players will take over or disrupt the operations while recruiting people to oversee the new operations. The overall goal is tear apart Sal Marcono’s criminal empire before killing him.
The setting in New Bordeaux is fresh break from the traditional settings of fictional cities based on New York or Chicago. Players are immersed in a world the recreates 1960’s New Orleans by mixing the urban setting with the what has made the city a landmark along with the surrounding swamp land. Gamers could explore the city for hidden collectables or just checkout the many landmarks.
It will be almost criminal to talk about Mafia III without acknowledging the amazing sound track. The start menu greets you with the beat of “All Along The Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix. Once you get into the game, you get the grove to the works of The Rolling Stones, James Brown, Buffalo Springfield, Jeffersons Airplane and other icons of the era. Not since the soundtrack of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City has a game featured such an impressive collection of artists from the time period.
Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli
In terms of story, Mafia III has a solid one but its weakness comes with the quantity of its gameplay content. Compared to other open world titles (such as Grand Theft Auto V or Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain), the it feels really outdated.
New Bordeaux is an impressive city but it feels like an empty shell with nothing to do but the missions or find hidden collectables. It really doesn’t feel like a vibrate city that one could interact with. Going into shops or bars offer no real experience other than to check it out or it’s part of the mission. This would all be impressive if this was the Seventh Generation era of gaming.
An issue that has never changed is how the driving is still the least interesting feature in the game. There is nothing really interesting about driving other then to get from Point A to Point B while the car chases are just dull. While the cars do reflect the time period, crashing them feels like a game of bumper cars while you struggle to get them to go faster then 30MPH. Not helping is the fact that Rockstar Games (which is also owned by 2K Games parent company) raised the bar with Grand Theft Auto V.
Despite its shortcomings, Mafia III is still a solid game that offers players an unforgettable experience in terms of story and characters like Lincoln Clay.
Gamers who enjoy a title with a solid story while wanting an escape from the typical crime dramas will enjoy Mafia III. It’s a solid look into America’s past while also reflecting on our current social issues.
Final Score: 8/10
Disclaimer: The game used for this review was purchased at GameStop.