Certainly one of the bigger players in the crime themed open world genre is the Mafia franchise.
After Mafia 2 from 2010 the franchise is now back with Mafia 3, a new protagonist, a new setting and new problems the criminal underworld is facing.
This time the very Italian themed crime story of the franchise gets shaken up quite a bit with the help of Lincoln Clay, a black ex Vietnam vet turned criminal who engages in a long revenge driven killing spree through this 1960s set storyline.
After the big splash made by the competing GTA franchise with GTA 5 and the slow uprising of Ubisoft's Watch Dogs games, fans are curious what Mafia 3 has up its sleeve to stand out...
Mafia III is set in the year 1968, and revolves around Lincoln Clay, a black biracial orphan that was adopted by black mobsters and later served in the Vietnam War as a special forces soldier. After being discharged, he returns to New Bordeaux and reunites with his friends in the black mob, led by his surrogate father Sammy Robinson. However, an ongoing turf war between Sammy's gang and a rival Haitian gang has put him in debt with Sal Marcano, the Don of the Marcano crime family. Lincoln meets with Sal, who insinuates that Sammy is no longer fit to rule the black mob and suggests Lincoln take his place. However, Lincoln refuses, and to pay back the debt he works with Sal's son Giorgi to rob the Louisiana Federal Reserve. The heist is successful, but Sal betrays the black mob and has Sammy and all of Lincoln's friends killed. Lincoln himself is shot in the head and left for dead. Father James, one of Lincoln's close friends, rescues Lincoln and nurses him back to health. As he recovers, Lincoln then begins looking for allies in his war against the Marcano family.
Much like its predecessor, Mafia 3 presents itself as an open world action game with a big emphasis on its storyline. And with a focus on gangster and crime stories with a lot of movies the game can borrow inspiration from (on top with a great choice of setting) there's certainly a lot that Mafia 3 can do with that.
With that said, it only becomes the more disappointing in a way, that Mafia 3 doesn't completely use the potential its premise delivers. While elements like gangwars, betrayals, loyalty, friendship, family etc. can all be found in Mafia 3's storyline, the story revolving around protagonist Lincoln Clay quickly turns out to be extremely straightforward and a been-there-done-that typical revenge story.
After being betrayed by a handful of mob bosses and thought dead, Lincoln "rises from the grave" so to speak to seek his revenge on those who betrayed him, taking them out one by one. That's pretty much it.
|Mafia 3's very straightforward revenge plot is at least told very cinematically.|
And even despite the fact that multiple different gangs and Lincoln developing partnerships with other mob bosses to take over the city play a big part in the overall storyline, Mafia 3 oftentimes has a hard time really delivering that "Mafia-esque" feel that was so dominant and perfectly presented in the first two games of the franchise. With Lincoln not really having a traditional Mafia-esque background (even though the real Mafia was always of Italian descent anyway) it's oftentimes hard to get into a real Mafia-vibe through the game's story. Thus, seeing how Lincoln rises from the dead and takes out one mob boss and his entire crew of gangsters all by himself, Mafia 3 actually feels much more like a Punisher game than anything else. And while there actually is a big roster of characters involved in the game's happenings, it oftentimes is quite a bit hard to relate to Lincoln as a protagonist. Whereas he is presented as a usually peaceful returned Vietnam vet who sees himself forced to take such drastic actions, it's still mostly hard to relate to him seeing how he without any reasons still robbed banks and took part in other various criminal actions without any given reason whatsoever. Making it oftentimes feel like the writers couldn't really decide in what light to present this protagonist.
Other than that, Mafia 3 has fairly few highlights which is mostly due to its mission design and pacing problems (more on that later).
There is no denying that Mafia 3 still has a big story focus and even connects Mafia 3 to previous entries in the franchise. And with great acting and very neat cinematc cutscenes that tell that story in retrospect, it's also a nicely refreshing way of a narrative. Yet still seeing how Mafia 3's plot is such a painstakingly straightforward and predictable revenge story, its overall main plot just pales in comparison to its predecessor Mafia 2.
|"They call me The Punisher."|
Core Gameplay Mechanics - "Steps into the Right Direction"
Mafia 3 expectedly plays a whole lot exactly like any other given crime themed open world game - for better and for worse.
With that said, while everything Mafia 3 does again or "copies" from other games like Mafia 2 or most prominently GTA is pulled off pretty much flawlessly, from gunplay to its really excellent driving mechanics, Mafia 3 doesn't really bring anything too new to the table in terms of gameplay mechanics.
Whereas exceptions to this might include the ability to call an arms dealer or car delivery guy to your exact location at any given time or the mechanic to assign specific secured districts of the city to one of your underbosses, there's not really anything in Mafia 3 that hasn't been done yet in other open world games. Although the option to complete many missions with the help of the game's stealth mechanics (which are surprisingly functional albeit very simplistic) is a very nice addition not very often seen in crime themed open world games.
Nevertheless, Mafia 3 definitely made improvements in regards to the use of its open world as a whole. Whereas its predecessor Mafia 2 was actually more of a linear third person shooter set in an open world with nothing else to do in it (aside from following the main story), Mafia 3's world of New Bordeaux feels way more vivid thanks to newly added side-missions and a handful of side-activites you can engage in. While still far not on the same level of variety as for example GTA 5,s open world, Mafia 3 definitely made steps into the right direction of actually taking advantage of its colorful open world.
|Especially the driving mechanics in the game are excellent though.|
Mission Design - "Failure in Repetition"
Mafia 3's mission design however is what is most definitely the biggest weakness of the entire game. since almost all of the game's missions follow the exact formula of about 5 different mission types throughout the game's entire length.
Seeing how the main plan of Lincoln is to take out one mob boss after the other working himself up the rows to the big bad guy himself, Marcano, Mafia 3's missions follow that very same plan. With that said, Mafia 3 has you secure a total of 9 districts of New Bordeaux (not counting the Bayou) of which each has three crime bosses controlling it (two underbosses and one main district boss). To lure out the crime bosses and take them out, for each district you have to reach a certain level of financial damage to the crime bosses' individual criminal businesses or "rackets" like slave trade, prostitution, drug deals, smuggling, etc. You do this by doing a number of side-activites in the specific district.
|Somebody is not going to be happy about this.|
These side-missions range from killing a specific important criminal, over destroying certain crime goods, to stealing a stash of money. While there is nothing wrong with those side-activities as a whole, the huge problem is rather that those side-activites are pretty much exactly the same for each district, making them become extremely tedious and monotonous very quickly. No matter which district or which criminal business you are aiming to take out, the side-activies to cause the financial damages for the crime boss are always the same with almost zero variation whatsoever.
Considering that there is a total of 9 districts of which each has two crime bosses to take out to lure the main district boss out and take him out as well, you can do the math on how many times you have to do the same missions over and over again.
Even when the concluding killing missions of the main district bosses give much needed variety with actual set-pieces, those just come quite a little too late, since 80% of Mafia 3 quickly devolves from entertaining gameplay to just tedious busy work doing the same missions over and over again. Except for the occasional upgrades you gain from taking over districts and assigning them to your associate underbosses, there is little that really keeps you going through these districts. Gamers will quickly notice the repeating formula of Mafia 3's missions and will most probably at some point rather force themselves through the game's tedious repeating missions than really enjoy them.
|"Rinse and repeat" is the name of the game.|
While the decision to have Lincoln take over each district and take out each crime boss one after the other is not the main problem and actually quite fits the revenge storyline, it's the repeating and absolutely identical methods of taking said crime bosses out what kills the fun in playing Mafia 3 after a couple of hours. It's a quite thin formula stretched out to an overall very monotone playtime of about 17 hours total. Not only makes it finishing Mafia 3 in the end feel very much like a chore but it also very likely kills any sort of replay value the game has left.
Either these design decisions were made out of pure misguidance or simply because the game had to be rushed to meet a certain deadline. Either way, even with the game utilizing it's open world a lot more than Mafia 2 and feeling more open in terms of which order you want to experience the story, it all comes at the cost of a drastic lack of variety in missions.
|On a sidenote, the game is also very graphic.|
Side-Missions and District Management - "Organized Crime"
It all boils down to Mafia 3 using what other games call side-missions as its primary main missions. Nevertheless though, Mafia 3 also offers some "actual" side missions of its own in an attempt to shake up the monotony.
Despite not being overly fleshed out, side-missions in Mafia 3 offer a nice change of pace and have you engage in certain favors for your associate underbosses or do special deliveries of certain goods.
Certainly nothing to really write home about, yet side-missions which cause a specific district to increase in earnings, oftentimes help to balance out potential tensions between the underbosses that you work with. Seeing how underbosses actually can be jealous or angry of each other when they notice that their districts earn a lot less money that one of the other underbosses, underbosses can actually rebel against you and cause a mutiny when you don't keep them satisfied with their cuts of the overall profit.
The management of underbosses and district profits thus represents one of Mafia 3's most standout mechanics that give it a certain rare feel of organized crime and actual sort of strategy throughout the otherwise very repetitive gameplay.
Other than that, aside from collectibles like Playboy magazines, album covers and other memorabilia, there's only rather little else to do in New Bordeaux after main story is finished, although certain side activites to earn you money are still left open.
|Never forget to keep them all happy.|
Graphically, Mafia 3 definitely fits the bill of a solid current console gen game. Yet it does so with occasionally inconsistent results.
Whereas its general presentation, from its cinemtatic cutscenes to top notch acting performances is to be admired, a handful of graphical bugs that occur here and there tend to occasionally pull you out of the immersion. While certainly not drastic enough to be a deal breaker, some muddy textures (or not properly loaded textures), weird shadows and some inconsistent lighting can certainly be found in the game (mostly the graphical bugs seem to have something to do with the weather cycle not handling lighting all that properly). Nevertheless, for the most part Mafia 3 runs absolutely fine and can at times look really outstanding especially in combination with its great Louisiana setting that is impressively well designed and varied. From the vivid big city, over Mardi Gras, to the Bayou, Mafia 3 uses everything the Louisiana scenery offers both visually and thematically.
Soundwise Mafia 3 is straight up a 10 out of 10.
Aside from the aforementioned great voice acting work in the game, Mafia 3 offers a surprisingly huge amount of phenomenally great licensed music that will undoubtedly directly throw you into the feel of the 1960s era.
From Jefferson Airplane over Jimi Hendrix to the Rolling Stones, Mafia 3 is one of those games to get the soundtrack of. It very well holds a candle to the music choices of the GTA games and will definitely keep you having that car radio switched on constantly. Licensing all those songs sure must've been quite costly for 2K, yet it was definitely worth the investment.
|1960s Louisiana looks and sounds amazing in Mafia 3.|
All in all, despite its mechanics being perfectly servicable, Mafia 3 brings little and nothing really too new to the crime themed open world genre to make it truely stand out among its competition. With a very cinematically told yet predictable and very straightforward revenge storyline, the game has mostly a hard time really gripping the player with a true Mafia-esque feel and rather feels like a Punisher game than a Mafia game. Yet while this is actually nothing too bad since taking out mob bosses one after the other taking over the whole city is actually quite a fun concept, Mafia 3 very much shoots itself in the legs by drowning this formula in a big overdose of repetition. With that said, Mafia 3 only offers a very small amount of story-based missions that actually give you some variation and instead focuses very largely on the player engaging in the same repetitive side-activites to secure districts and take out mob bosses. Making this even more tedious is the fact that those missions can all be completed with barely any change of tactics or anything else, causing most of the game sadly to feel like tedious busy work after only a couple hours.
Sure enough some actualy side-missions and keeping an eye on the balanced businesses of your associate underbosses gives a nice change of pace here and there, but it's sadly not enough to fully redeem Hangar 13's decision to have most of Mafia 3's gameplay devolve into monotonous repetition that will eventually kill any desire to replay the game for many players after they finished it once.
Mafia 3 sure enough indeed has a small handful of neat highlights and embraces its 1960's setting in great fashion, both visually and soundwise, yet with very monotonous mission design throughout the vast majority of the game, Mafia 3's strenghts just constantly get prevented to truely shine through. Mafia 3 certainly does many right steps to take much more advantage of its open world setting (especially in comparison to Mafia 2), yet it's the boring mission design that sadly kills much of its potentially bigger fun factor, decreasing it's rating from a "good" to just an "okay" game overall.
Final Verdict: 6 out of 10
Big thanks goes out to Take Two Interactive for providing a review copy of the game.
Big thanks goes out to Take Two Interactive for providing a review copy of the game.