Mafia 3 is a bold, intoxicating video game that while flawed in places, offers an open-world experience that we haven’t enjoyed in a very long time.
It’s set in 1968 in a fictional city called New Bordeaux (it’s essentially New Orleans) and tasks you, a Vietnam veteran, with the not inconsiderable task of taking over organised crime in the city.
You are Lincoln Clay, a man who has come back from the war to be welcomed with open arms by his mob boss father. While everything starts off well (as well as any organised crime outfit can start), events take a turn for the decidedly catastrophic.
The end result of which is that Clay is left without a family and an almost uncontrollable thirst for revenge against the city’s leading big cheese, Sal Marcano.
To do this he will take over the city, district by district, house by house, either crushing anyone who gets in his way or welcoming them in like a sibling.
It’s a potent starting point, and one that nicely hands you an incentive for travelling the full length of this vast city in order to take control of it.
And travel the full length of this vast city you will. The city is divided into nine huge districts, each filled with Marcano’s lieutenants and requiring your attention.
To take them down you’ll need to destroy each of their operations, whether that’s drugs, prostitution or just good old-fashioned racketeering.
To help you accomplish this considerable feat there are three Underbosses - main characters who will help manage the districts you overturn and provide you with extra abilities such as calling in reinforcements, or handling your finances for you.
Mafia 3 hands you some control in this regard in that you choose which districts go to which underboss. As the balance of power shifts they will react to you differently, either thanking you, or resenting you. It’s a powerful tool that Mafia 3 employs well and while the story remains firmly rooted in its destination, these diversions are extremely enjoyable.
While the initial premise (take over city, defeat minor bosses) is a fairly standard video game practise, what sets Mafia 3 apart from the others however is the city within which you live.
It’s a beautiful, disorganised, loud, aggressive world that paints 1968 with a brush that hides nothing.
Lincoln Clay is black, now normally that shouldn’t be relevant for a video game, but when it’s set in 1968 this simple fact affects almost every aspect of Lincoln’s life in within the game.
The police will notice Lincoln more in richer suburbs and will be far more likely to give chase or open fire.
Some shop owners will ask you to leave or will mutter quietly about your presence, eventually calling the police.
This attitude towards the colour of Lincoln’s skin is made apparent in just about every aspect of the game. It may have caused some controversy at launch, but ultimately Hanger 13 made the right decision to show the time period as it truly was.
What about the technical aspects of playing?
This is sadly, where Mafia 3 starts to confuse us. You see New Bordeaux is a mesmerising achievement in world-building.
Open world games live and die on the atmosphere that they can create, and in this respect it’s a vibrant, loud, living city that boasts plenty of life and actually feels like it could quite happily carry on if you weren’t there to blow everything up.
Unfortunately where it falters is in the little things. The graphics are not especially pretty, by which we mean at times it looks a little dated. Compare it to the PS4 version of GTA V and you’ll see what we mean.
Another area where it struggles is level design. While the game features a strong storyline, it tricks you into thinking there’s far more to do. Sadly many of the smaller side missions end up feeling a little repetitive and so outside of the game’s main plot-driven quests you may feel like you’re repeating yourself.
Finally Hanger 13 have included some smaller, more baffling features which to be honest, just feel unnecessary. Just one example is a feature which allows you to see the locations of enemies inside a building. To do this you need to wire tap a local phone relay
The logic is sound in that your CIA buddy Donovan can then listen in on their conversations and find out where sentries are placed etc. Makes perfect sense, except there are dozens of the boxes located all over the map, and each one requires an electronic part which has to also be collected. It was so fiddly a process that we gave up in the end and enjoyed the surprise whenever we entered a building.
Another annoyance is that there’s no fast travel. Odd considering this has one of the largest maps in a video game. If it helps, many of the missions are centralised around a district at a time so you shouldn’t have to travel too far as you work your way through the plot.
Who should buy Mafia 3?
There are parts of this game that are flawed, this much is clear. It is by no means worth writing off though. Hanger 13’s realisation of New Bordeaux is absolutely stunning, and thanks to one of the best soundtracks of the year the game’s plot and atmosphere make it worth the price tag alone.
Who shouldn’t buy Mafia 3?
We think there’s been some confusion over how this game has been identified. It is an open-world game but it is one that’s clearly at its best when being driven by a story. L.A. Noire was much the same. A side-effect of this is sadly that once it’s all over there’s not much more to do. If you want infinite side quests with endless playability this isn’t the game for you.
Mafia 3 is available now on PS4, PC and Xbox One
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