I see what’s going on here. A Mafia game comes out and everyone just assumes the Italian guy from New Jersey needs to be the reviewer, like he knows something that everyone else doesn’t. Well, I might, but I’m no rat. The only thing I know and am willing to talk about is that Mafia III looks like it knew something, too, and somebody roughed it up a lot trying to find out what—because this game isn’t in great shape. If it had a mob nickname, it’d be called “Pretty,” but only in that ironic kind of way in which it really isn’t, you know what I mean?
Mafia III follows the story of Lincoln Clay, an African-American Vietnam veteran in 1968. After his final tour of duty, Clay returns home to New Bordeaux, developer Hangar 13’s take on New Orleans in much the same way Mafia II’s Empire City was based on New York and Chicago. Even amid all the racist glares, Clay is thrilled to be home, meeting up with his adopted family and father-figure Sammy—a mafia lieutenant in control of the predominantly African-American section of town called the Hollows in crime boss Sal Marcano’s empire. It’s not long before Lincoln is putting his military training back to use for Sammy, which catches Marcano’s eye. After pulling off the heist of the century to help square away Sammy’s debts to Marcano, the crime boss turns on them all and burns Sammy’s bar to the ground. Clay survives the double-cross, however, and after being nursed back to health, plans to burn Marcano’s crime empire to the ground like the mobster did to Sammy’s bar.
Let me start by saying that Mafia III’s main plot is one of the best-written stories I’ve played through in a very long time. At times it’s humorous, emotional, poignant, and with its willingness to tackle the subject of race during a tumultuous time in our nation’s history head-on, even reflective and analytical of the society we live in today. Its use of in medias res hooked me right away, dropping me right into the action, and then slowly developing the characters of Lincoln and his associates through well-timed flashbacks. Thus, allowing me to quickly care about or despise them depending on their relationship to our protagonist before smoothly merging Lincoln’s past with his present and moving forward from there.
A huge part of what made the main story so great was the audio aspect of the game. From tremendous voice acting by the cast, to one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard from a game, Mafia III is a joy to listen to. The soundtrack specifically is so deep and varied, compiling countless hits from the 1960s, that across the game’s three radio stations, you’ll be shocked when you’re still hearing new songs come on even halfway through what could easily turn into a 30-hour experience—not to mention their timing during story missions is a great way to help emphasize the emotion of the moment. Throw in original radio talk shows created for the game to reflect what’s going on both in the world at the time and the fire and brimstone Lincoln is bringing down about New Bordeaux, and driving around with the radio on has potentially never been better in a game.
Unfortunately, as good as the game is audio-wise, it falls off a cliff at times visually. In those rare instances where everything comes together, New Bordeaux is a vibrant, diverse city that is a joy to drive through. More often than not, though, it feels like a ghost town. Even during one of the early flashbacks that has Lincoln escaping police through a Mardi Gras parade, the city never feels as alive or populated as it should, and that scene made it all the more telling with only scattered handfuls of revelers celebrating.
Also, the glitches that occur are far too frequent and major to be forgivable. At times, Lincoln was hit with some sort of latency bug, so a weird particle-shadow appeared behind him as he moved. Others, like in the screenshot below, you’d see two models of the same character in one place. In this instance, Cassandra, one of Lincoln’s own lieutenants, is both sitting while reading a book, and staring at the back wall for some reason. Sometimes NPCs would pop in and out of existence in a blink, or merge with the cover they are taking in shootouts. Once, the sky even flashed different colors rapidly as if the day/night cycle had suddenly broken (and I’m not talking about the instances before certain missions where it does accelerate so that a mission is taking place during the proper time).
The worst aspect of Mafia III, though, has to be the liberation of districts gameplay. There are 10 districts in New Bordeaux, and as part of his plan to take down Marcano, Lincoln will recruit three lieutenants of his own —Cassandra, head of the Haitian mob, Vito, Mafia II’s protagonist, and Burke, head of the Irish mob—that he can then assign parts of the city to. There’s an interesting metagame where if you play favorites, the lieutenants might turn on you, but by evenly dividing up the districts amongst the three (the tenth district, the Bayou, cannot be assigned because no one tames the Bayou) you can avoid this.
By killing high-ranking Marcano goons and destroying valuable property, you’ll draw out racket bosses, and when you bump off enough of those, you’ll draw out Marcano’s nine lieutenants and capos one-by-one. Once you kill them, you’ll win the district. To do all this, however, you’ll have to complete these same objectives over and over again, just in different parts of the city.
This lack of mission variety turns the open-world aspects of Mafia III into a grind. There isn’t even fast travel, so for many missions you’re constantly forced to just drive needlessly back and forth across the city—again, made a little better by the radio, but still annoying enough—bringing the game’s pacing to a crawl. And while it’s cool the first few times Lincoln basically goes into special forces mode, moving through warehouses to silently slaughter unsuspecting mobsters like he was again wading through Vietnam’s rice paddies looking for NVA officers, I was done with it after a few times—even though I then had to still do it another two dozen times or so. Of course, you can also go in guns blazing, but the numbers are against Lincoln, so it’s not recommended. Similarly, the game’s handful of side missions boil down to one of two types: steal a car and drive it back to your lieutenant for more money, or kill someone on Vito’s special hit-list.
It’s funny how one of the major complaints people used to make about the earlier Mafia games was how linear they were. Mafia III is definitely open-world, but the lack of variety in mission design really makes me wish the game had stayed narrower in scope. If as much thought, care, and originality had been put into all the game’s missions—instead of just those revolving around when you finally hit the story’s main beats where Lincoln claims a territory—this could have been something special. As is, though, I’d say 20 of the game’s 30 hours are a grind, and there’s only 10 hours of really worthwhile content here that could’ve been streamlined into a really stellar experience.
Mafia III tells a terrific main story. The problem is the experience is bloated by repetitive, yet necessary busy work that requires a huge time commitment to draw out would-be targets to get to the next great story beat. This dichotomy is reflected in the audio and visual aspects of the game as well, with it being a joy to listen to, but chock full of glitches that snap you out of what would otherwise be an immersive experience. This review mob boss wouldn’t put a hit out on Mafia III—it’s not that offensive—but it sure would need to do some big favors to get back in my good graces after wasting so much of my time.
Mafia III’s main plot is one of the better-written stories I’ve played in recent history. The problem is the gameplay is bloated with a lot of busy work and weak side content that detracts from this great tale.
M - Mature
|Mafia III is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC. Primary version reviewed was for PlayStation 4. Review code was provided by 2K Games for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of one to five stars.|
Ray has extensive roots in geek culture, as he’s written about videogames, comics, and movies for such outlets as Newsday.com, ESPNNewYork.com, Classic Game Room on YouTube, Collider.com, and Comicvine.com before finally settling into his role as EGM’s reviews editor. His main goal in life? To become king of all geek media, of course!