Review: Mafia 3The worst best game of the year?
Coursing through the streets of New Bordeaux in a vintage car, Elvis blasting through the radio and the city’s lights racing across the night sky, it’s easy to fall in love with Mafia 3. With its recreation of the American Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and the brave discussions of racism that don’t happen all too often in major releases, it’s really easy to fall in love with Mafia 3.
When your map is filled with an unending torrent of identical missions in a sea of technical problems, it’s a bit more difficult to stay positive.
Mafia 3 is set in the deep south during the late 1960s, in the fictional city of New Bordeaux. After tragedy strikes, protagonist and Vietnam veteran Lincoln Clay embarks on campaign of revenge against the Mafia, recruiting his own lieutenants to take the city for himself piece by piece. Missions generally involve either taking down the various rackets going on in each district – smuggling, human trafficking, white supremacists, porn, stolen cars etc. – or by targeting specific members of the Mafia’s sprawling hierarchy.
I could spend hours and hours wandering the streets
I’m a sucker for historical games – I adored Mafia 2’s recreation of the 1940s and 1950s, and Assassin’s Creed is one of my favourite series going – and Mafia 3’s world instantly drew me in. The advertisements splattered around the city and on the radio feel adequately retro by today’s standards, the costume designs are great, and the music is top-notch. I could spend hours and hours wandering the streets, stealing vintage cars and driving along just enjoying the atmosphere of New Bordeaux.
Mafia 3 also gives an interesting look into organised crime in a way the likes of Grand Theft Auto and Saint’s Row fail to. While Mafia 2 showed “hero” Vito Scaletta moving up the ranks the old-fashioned way, Mafia 3 depicts straight up gang warfare, with Clay and his collaborators having to work together and negotiate terms of who will take which parts of the city. There’s a constant atmosphere between Clay’s leaders, with their loyalties constantly on a knife edge. This isn’t some criminal power fantasy, it’s tense.
Gaining control of a district will lead into a negotiation section where each of your three leaders will pitch their case for running the city. The Irish, the Italians and the Haitians will each bring their own upgrades and abilities to the table, but only if you pay them in territory, and having to balance between the three to keep all of them on board can be quite tricky. Mafia 2 made you feel like yet another cog in the machine, Mafia 3 gives an intriguing top-down perspective of the system.
Being set in the deep south in the 1960s with a black lead, though, simply existing in this world isn’t a bunch of roses. Mafia 3 is set in a world steeped in racism, and it’s surprising for a major release how no-holds-bar the representation of that climate is. Slurs are hurled at you in the street with terrifying casualness, you’re subject to intense segregation and profiling, and there’s whole missions revolved around taking down what is essentially the Ku Klux Klan.
I am a white, British guy and so am not going to pretend I know a whole lot about the history or experiences of being black in America, however critics who do (such as Dustin Seibert at VSB) have praised the game for its attention to detail and authenticity.
When games try and handle bigotry and segregation, they often take the whole Bioshock Infinite-style “maybe they’re both wrong” stance. They’ll present a problem and assume that the job’s done, that just showing something is the same as making a statement on it. Mafia 3 is the rare example of a game, a AAA game no less, that manages to go beyond mere optics to make damning criticisms of racism both in the 1960s and today throughout its story. It’s an incredibly refreshing thing to see.
Mafia 3 is the rare example of a game, a AAA game no less, that manages to go beyond mere optics to make damning criticisms of racism
With all this world building and the mature themes on offer, it’s a shame the actual “gamey” bits of the game fall so flat.
While each racket across the city is varied, the ways of handling them all are pretty much identical: find a coward who’ll rat on his lieutenant, cause enough financial damage to draw them out into the open, and then kill them. Rinse and repeat a few times until the whole district is a mess, and then it’s time to go after the Capo. Seeing the world map littered with dozens of missions you know are the exact same thing in a different kind of building is incredibly disheartening, especially when you know there’s some fantastic story hidden away behind them.
The Capo missions are the highlight of the game as far as mission structures go, as each one generally offers something different; one may be working your way up a skyscraper, another would be infiltrating a party disguised as a servant. But the methods of doing it are still basically the same as everything else you do, it’s just the environments are a bit more pretty and there might be a few extra cutscenes to ease the boredom.
Louder, more shooty options are available, but most of the on-foot missions are tackled stealthily. Creeping into drugs dens or body disposal outfits (which, like the rest of the environments, are well-designed) and slowly picking off each enemy one by one until only the target is left sounds fun at first, but it becomes readily apparent that the AI you’re going up against is absolutely moronic.
The vast majority of missions require you to play this charade over and over again
Whistling will only pull one enemy at first, and so it’s often too easy to just sit in one corner, whistle, kill the person who comes, whistle again, kill the next guy and so on. If you happen to be caught, just ducking behind some new cover for a little while until the enemies return to normal, or even calling in the hit squad one of your leaders offers you, can get you out of basically any situation. Sneaking isn’t fun or engaging when the enemies are this basic, and it doesn’t help that the vast majority of missions require you to play this charade over and over again.
Car-based missions aren’t much better. Some of the interrogation targets may need to be intimidated into squealing, and that’s pulled off by driving recklessly. However, that only usually amounts to driving on the wrong side of the road really fast and not much else. Police pursuits are an utter nightmare as well, as they often unfairly stick right on you and constantly call in reinforcements. If I ever got caught in a police chase, there was about an 80% chance that they’d eventually kill me, even if it was on the other side of New Bordeaux.
Finally, the game is a technical mess. While there have been a few patches since launch already, my Xbox One copy is still plagued by frequent visual glitches and the odd hard freeze. The lighting in particular is janky, with shadows appearing and disappearing in the middle of a sunny area and street lights flickering in and out of existence.
Mafia 3 is a game that gets in its own way. The city is beautiful, the themes are mature and the story, writing and performances are all easily some of the best we’ve had in games this year, but then the incredibly repetitive missions, wonky AI and technical glitches all make getting to the meat a royal pain in the arse. I’ve never loved and hated a game simultaneously quite as much as Mafia 3.
A review copy of this game was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
Platform: PC, Xbox One (reviewed), PlayStation 4
Developer/Publisher: Hangar 13, 2K Czech/2K Games
Release date: October 7, 2016
- Fantastic story that is well performed
- Brilliant, historical environments
- Tackles mature themes in a direct way
- Repetitive missions, and lots of them
- Dim AI makes stealth too easy
Mafia 3 has everything I liked about Mafia 2: a great story with interesting characters in a well-designed period setting. However its open-world elements get in the way with a map full of identical missions to wade through.