Mafia III is full of heady subject matter, set in the 1960s against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, with protests at their fever pitch. You expect an open-world crime game set in such a time period would tell a gripping tale more engaging than your average shooter.
Unfortunately, Mafia III is nowhere near as enticing as the games that came before it. Developer Hangar 13 kept its eye on the ball when it came to subject matter, but struck out when it actually came to keeping things engaging.
Mafia III follows the plight of Vietnam vet Lincoln Clay when he returns from his tour of duty to New Bordeaux, a fictional version of New Orleans. There, he discovers his father figure Sammy Robinson is in trouble with the Haitian mob.
Sammy’s in debt, and Lincoln agrees to help clear it by partaking in a heist. When the plan goes awry, Sammy is murdered before his eyes. Lincoln is left for dead, but manages to escape. Thus, this harrowing tale of revenge begins. Lincoln is out for blood, and he doesn’t care where it comes from.
In the end, Lincoln makes it his mission to take out Sal Marcano, the head of the New Bordeaux mob. It won’t be easy, but it’s your job to rise Lincoln up through the ranks of the criminal world. Unfortunately, this means you’ll be doing a lot of petty tasks and engaging in boring shootouts.
Lincoln’s thirst for revenge and the unique setting should paint an engaging picture for the gameplay itself, but unfortunately that’s not the case. It’s mostly pedestrian stop-and-pop shootouts as you make your way from one destination to another, while dealing with the police who seem to storm your location at every turn.
Essentially, the game plays mostly like this: head to a location, find your target; try to take them out; engage in a lengthy shootout; eliminate, capture, or question your target; and get the heck out of Dodge. It’s not exactly fresh, and we’ve seen it time and time again.
One interesting element is that the cops treat Lincoln differently based on what area you’re in. If you’re in a poor part of town, the cops might take a while to show up. But if you’re in a richer area, they’ll be there on the double.
It’s a chilling portrait of the segregation and discrimination of the times, and makes for an unorthodox game mechanic. Lincoln, whose mother is Dominican, also experiences racism throughout several of the game’s establishments, which is an eye-opening experience.
But despite these mechanics, Mafia III can’t help but feel like a boring, plodding tale that moves along at a snail’s pace.
We learn more about Lincoln’s past over the course of a series of interviews, but having to stop in the middle of each one to complete a boring heist or rescue mission doesn’t exactly keep things tantalizing.
Despite a strange filter that seems to add a bit of film grain and unwanted coloring to the game, Mafia III looks mostly serviceable. The character models are more realistic than past games in the series, and facial expressions are less exaggerated.
The occasionally-odd visual effects notwithstanding, it’s actually a pretty good-looking game. It’s nowhere near on par with other titles from this generation of consoles, but it’s still quite good.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the soundtrack, which doesn’t draw enough from the period in which it is set. Nor do you really need to spend as much time in a vehicle as you did in Mafia II to listen, so there aren’t as many tracks as I would have liked to hear in this entry.
Mafia III is the weakest of all three games in the series. Hangar 13 would rather craft a believable narrative than make a game that feels good to play. The racially-charged story is culturally relevant. But in the end, Mafia III just isn’t that much fun to play, nor are the characters as relatable as they could be.
If you’re looking for an exciting crime drama that pays off in the end, get this game’s predecessor Mafia II instead. Perhaps this series should go back to the drawing board and come back for a fourth round when it’s had time to get itself together. There’s still plenty of potential left in these games, and they deserve to shine again.