Ever wondered what it would be like to be a character in a mash up of Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and the Shawshank Redemption? Well Mafia III ticks all those boxes.
An ambitious and thrilling story is told in the third instalment of 2K Games’ Mafia franchise.
We follow Vietnam Veteran Lincoln Clay in his combat knife fuelled rampage through the fictional city of “New Bordeaux” (New Orleans) in the late 60’s.
A mixed race protagonist thrust into the grisly underbelly of the deep south of America during a turbulent time. Segregation and racism remain rife and Mafia III addresses this directly and without shying away. Featuring a disclaimer — right off the bat — warning the player that racism has been heavily included as omitting it would act as a disservice to those who have suffered from it, a fact I appreciated. Women grab their purses when you walk by and irate bartenders of segregated bars follow and hassle you to get out of their establishments. Some will even brave a brutal cross fire with a rival gangster to tell you to “go on git”.
Ok, so I set that last one up on purpose, but I didn’t feel at all bad about it.
It’s refreshing to see and play a different style of character in a Mafia title, not just another Sicilian American Mob goon. Lincoln Clay is a character with morals, goals and a family he loves. These pillars fuel his quest to take over New Bordeaux as for the first time you are against the Mob. Clay is driven to build his own empire on the ashes of what came before.
The story is told via an interesting interview style; reminiscent of a Netflix crime drama. Key figures of the game world impart their thoughts and feelings for the viewer. From the fast talking sarcastic CIA agent questioned by a review board, to the emotionally pained recount of Father James, the local preacher, the gamut of emotions and perspectives truly anchors the game as a drama vs. a sandbox massacre sim.
Combat feels punchy and raw. From the kick of a lowly handgun to the brutal recoil of a squad support machine gun, the player will not be disappointed when push comes to drive by. That being said, bringing a knife to a gun-fight is sometimes not only encouraged, but actually a legitimate strategy. A primary piece of kit for Clay is his trusty army hunting knife. The death animations are incredible and frightening at the same time. There’s certainly a grim satisfaction in driving the combat knife through the shoulder blades of a lank haired n-word spouting redneck. Especially when you get to see his posse recoil in horror at the brutality of his end.
The tale of Clay is compelling and divergent enough to satisfy the side quester in all of us. While not in the same league of things to see and do as some other open world titles, GTA for example, there are time period collectibles scattered through the world. These include vinyl album covers of iconic musicians of the era, Playboy magazines (with full nudity) and Alberto Vargas pin up art to collect and view.
The player is more than able to burn through the main arc without a care, or can immerse themselves in the Underboss and Earn mechanics. After recruiting several shady allies, areas of New Bordeaux can be divvied up for them to oversee. This in turn gives Clay Kick Backs which equate to hard currency he can spend on weapons and equipment. The more side missions you do for a particular underboss, the more their Earn increases. This in turn allows Clay to gain favours. For example, as the Voodoo Priestess Cassandra’s Earn increases Clay gains the use of her personal gunsmith, increasing the accuracy of all his weapons. Choosing which Underboss you favour more will essentially unlock different perks such as a vehicle on call, money laundering and cheeky group of roving gunmen…
Fine, fine, It’s a hitsquad.
Another key element is driving, which has featured heavily in the Mafia franchise. The player will need to steal cars and cruise around or, as in my case, running red lights and smashing every vehicle I drive into a pile of scrap.
Long gone are the days of the infamous car race of the original Mafia title. Seriously, that thing tilted me so hard when I played; it’s almost as bad as following that damn train. Whilst the semi realism of Mafia II’s car controls proved a rewarding challenge to master. The vehicles in Mafia III almost handle like clouds, floating around corners and gliding along the wide roads. This is going to affect some players more than others, but it will really depend on how you want to play.
The sound design is impeccable. The world around Clay is a vibrant place filled with licensed music and well acted dialogue. On the very first title screen Jimmy Hendrix “All Along the Watchtower” started blaring into my headphones and I knew I was in for a treat. Gone is the elevator music of the previous titles, your quest for vengeance and supremacy is set to such titles as “Paint it Black” by the Rolling Stones and Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”. Iconic moments like thrashing my airboat, while gunning alligators down with my sawn-off around the Bayou, set to “Born on the Bayou” by Creedence Clear Water Revival, frankly ruled.
No game’s soundtrack in recent memory has had me so pumped and immersed as Mafia III’s.
A feast for the eyes, ears and emotions, Mafia III lives in a vibrant, but brutal and blood-soaked world. The character models are beautifully sculpted and feel distinctively alive. It brings a familiar yet fresh take on the sandbox-crime sim; with a few nods to the previous titles. Mafia III will be a hit with fans and new players alike.
Mafia III was reviewed on PlayStation 4, using a promotional copy as provided by the publisher.
Game Title: Mafia III