Mafia 3 Review: Only Scratching the Surface

Credit 2K Games
Credit 2K Games /

Lincoln Clay is out for revenge, and he’ll stop at nothing to tear down the titular mafia.

Developer: Hangar 13

Publisher: 2K Games

Platform: PC, PS4 (version reviewed), Xbox One

Release Date: October 7, 2016

The very first thing you’ll see in Mafia 3 upon stepping into the shoes of protagonist Lincoln Clay for the first time is a sobering message from the developer Hanger 13 on the depiction of racism within the game:

“Mafia 3 takes place in a fictionalized version of the American South in 1968,” the opening message reads. “We sought to create an authentic and immersive experience that captures this very turbulent time and place, including depictions of racism.”

The message from the development team further states that while they find the racist views shown within the game to be utterly abhorrent, not to include them would be offensive to the millions of people who faced–and still face–“bigotry, discrimination, prejudice, and racism in all forms.”

Credit 2K Games
Credit 2K Games /

This is a big, impressive step for Mafia 3 to take, especially right off the bat. From here, you’d expect the game to provide a detailed social commentary on the American South in the 60s as a whole, perhaps even going so far as to outright attack those in American society who rejected and shunned the civil rights movement under Dr. Martin Luther King and other progressive movements under Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael.

But unfortunately, Mafia 3 sputters out fairly soon after bursting onto the scene in such a big way. The themes of the game become trapped within an extremely generic open-world title, and the entire racial commentary within Mafia 3 is confined to BioShocks approach of “here’s racism, look at how bad it is.”

Credit 2K Games
Credit 2K Games /

However, it could also be argued that Mafia 3 is performing to the best of its ability, having been dealt a bad hand from society in general. Big name projects that have a goal of talking about racism can arguably be bound by their audience’s knowledge of the matter, and if a certain amount of American society still chooses to disbelieve all the hardships that African Americans have ever endured (as evidenced by the rise of Donald Trump, and certain unbelievable comments made by Bill O’Reilly in justifying slavery), how can Mafia 3 expect to talk to that section of society in detail about racism?

The player will often be forced to journey for minutes across a lifeless map to do the smallest thing.

It’s a hard question to answer, and an even more difficult question for a major video game in the 21st century to tackle. Credit should rightfully be given to Mafia 3 for never shying away from depicting racial incidents, however, as the player will always feel themselves under the watchful eye of any cops within the vicinity as they fill the shoes of protagonist Lincoln Clay. One wrong move, no matter how small, and the police could be spurred into gunning down the player with little warning. It also helps that this response from the police can be random, so the player may never know what to do, and what not to do, while in the presence of any police.

Credit 2K Games
Credit 2K Games /

The writing and the acting in general from the cast in Mafia 3 is absolutely top notch, and it feels as though the game was given a good amount of time in pre-production by developer Hanger 13. This mostly contributes to the hot start from the game, as players are introduced to the character of Lincoln Clay through documentary-style interviews with supporting cast members in the game, one particular standout being Father James, a priest who attempts to pull our revenge-driven protagonist away from getting embroiled with the mafia.

Another aspect of the design that truly helps hammer home the setting of Mafia 3 is the music selected by Hanger 13. Under normal circumstances, such as in film or TV, the use of something like the Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black” in a dire situation would be seen as incredibly cliche, but Mafia 3 takes advantage of the fact that we so rarely hear classic songs like this in video games. They are instead able to get away with using the music to add a new dynamic to the scene, giving the game a unique design edge.

Credit 2K Games
Credit 2K Games /

The actual quest of revenge on the mafia, led by boss Sal Marcano, is decidedly pedestrian. It involves the player taking over portions of New Bordeaux step by step for Lincoln Clay and his cast of criminal associates by acquiring territory from the various mafia bosses that work for Marcano. It’s an entirely lackluster affair, made all the worse by the game repeating the same mission structure of ‘go here, kill person x’ for each takeover for well over ten hours, utterly draining the life and energy from a game that should have both in droves.

Combine this with the desolate and lifeless open world of New Bordeaux, and the minute-to-minute gameplay of Mafia 3 is completely lacking. With the exception of the occasional police car patrolling the streets, there are gaps of close to a minute where the player will be travelling around with absolutely nothing whatsoever to do. This, combined with the mind-boggling lack of a fast travel system within the game, means the player will often be forced to journey for minutes across a lifeless map to do the smallest thing. For example, there’s only one point on the entire map in which Lincoln can deposit his money for safe keeping–forcing constant journeys on the player for little gain.

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Despite all of this, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the solid writing in Mafia 3 would be able to produce a good lead character. You’d unfortunately be wrong in this assumption, as deep character elements for Lincoln Clay are only ever hinted at and are never fully explored in any capacity. When Lincoln first returns home from Vietnam to his adoptive family, he elects to sleep in the basement instead of a proper room, and this, combined with the passing comments of another character that “the war must’ve really fucked you up,” hint at the character experiencing PTSD from active combat duty. But Mafia 3 only ever hints at this, never detailing any  of Clay’s personality outside of the motivation for revenge.

One thing that Lincoln Clay is undoubtedly good at, however, is gunning down the bad guys, and the gunplay throughout the game is meaty enough to be enjoyed over a range of hours. Despite only being able to ever carry two weapons at once, the gunplay feels solid in Mafia 3. Each weapon has a robust feel, as well as dealing out a weighty amount of recoil per shot, making every bullet feel like it counts in the middle of any firefight. No matter how repetitive the general mission structure may be, there’s no denying that the combat in the game delivers an overall satisfying feel for the player.

6. Mafia 3 hits the ground running, thanks to a unique documentary format along with some strong acting and good writing. Unfortunately, it can’t sustain this burst, succumbing to a generic campaign of revenge, along with a dull open world and a repetitive mission structure.. Hanger 13. . Mafia 3

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