Mafia III (PlayStation 4) Review

By Gareth F 08.11.2016

Review for Mafia III on PlayStation 4

Ever since Rockstar Games laid bare its blueprint for the third-person/open-world shooter with Grand Theft Auto III way back in 2001, a template was unwittingly created that has been replicated and revisited countless times as the video game industry evolved. The capacity for instant anarchy alongside the easy facilitation of casual freestyle violence seems the perfect fit for any title intent on portraying some kind of criminal activity as its main focus, and indeed, the likes of Sleeping Dogs, Saints Row, True Crime and Watch Dogs do attest to this. Ploughing a slightly more earnest furrow in this genre has been the Mafia series, consistently nailing the period minutiae and telling a story loaded with an interesting cast of characters, yet somehow falling short with some of the less important padding found in its contemporaries. Has new developer Hangar 13 found the right balance of narrative and variety in Mafia III?

The third chapter of the Mafia series takes place in gator-ridden New Bordeaux, a huge fictional city split into ten districts and loosely based on New Orleans. The year is 1968, a particularly volatile period in American history as spiralling poverty, civil unrest, racial tension, the Vietnam War and the assassinations of both Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert F Kennedy were all factors that greatly fed into the zeitgeist. As an era, it's ripe for the picking thematically, and Hangar 13 has pulled no punches in presenting a warts 'n' all portrayal of the hardships and prevalent racism that existed during this epoch. It's an inspired backdrop to play out the classic tale of betrayal and revenge and for the most part it succeeds in what it sets out to do.

The main protagonist of the piece is Lincoln Clay, an orphan of mixed race heritage who spent his formative years growing up with an adopted family that just so happened to have connections to the Black Mob. Clay, sensing an escape route from a preordained life of crime, headed out to Vietnam to serve his country like many young men of his age. A few years of active service enabled him to experience first-hand the horrors of war before returning to New Bordeaux a changed man. Uncle Sam had turned him into a killing machine, cold, dispassionate, slightly disillusioned with where his life was heading, and it only took getting reunited with his old crew for him to slip back into that old lifestyle. Due to an ongoing turf war with a neighbouring Haitian gang, Clay's surrogate father Sammy Robinson finds himself in debt to Sal Marcano, the Don of the local Italian Mafia. In a bid to clear these arrears on behalf of his father, Clay is asked to get involved in a job for Marcano as the hired muscle after the boss man was impressed by how he dealt with the Haitian problem single-handedly—a job that's a sure-fire big score.

Screenshot for Mafia III on PlayStation 4

The campaign pretty much hits the ground running, as Clay is thrown straight into a carefully orchestrated bank heist alongside a key member of Marcano's organisation, with all the circumstances leading to the key moments of the set up explained via a series of flashbacks. Following a daring escape using a Mardi Gras as partial cover, it's fair to say that the first few hours make for a pretty intense experience that climaxes with a shocking payoff, totally expounding Clay's motives for wanting to take down Marcano's crime empire. Cleverly, the narrative is conveyed in the style of a documentary film and interspersed with real life stock television footage alongside talking head interviews with the main players on both sides of the law, all of whom have aged considerably since to infer that the whole episode happened in the distant past. Everything about Mafia III, from the acting, to the motion capture, mood and storytelling, really does stand out as being done exceptionally well, though it's not without its flaws.

Racism is a very visible thread that permeates throughout New Bordeaux, and to their credit, it's an issue that Hangar 13 hasn't shied away from. A steady diet of hip-hop and Tarantino movies over the years has possibly lessened the impact of any usage of the 'N' word nowadays, but it still holds the ability to shock when it crops up so frequently and casually in a video game scenario. Take Clay into a colour segregated bar and the insults will fly from the angry booze-hounds, bump into an elderly woman in the street and she doesn't mince her words. It's crazy to think that these attitudes were so commonplace back then, and while it would have been easy for Hangar 13 to entirely ignore this aspect of the era, doing so would dismiss the historic struggles that many faced and fought so hard to overcome. While some will no doubt find the inclusion of such language offensive, its presence does add a level of authenticity and gravitas to the proceedings, and it does so without veering too close into Blaxploitation territory.

While the story missions are handled exceptionally well, it's the grunt work in between that drives the game forward, and in order for Clay to dismantle and take down Marcano's syndicate, he has to start from the bottom and slowly work his way up the chain of command. This involves disrupting and taking down the affiliated drug, prostitution and extortion rackets in each territory of New Bordeaux to ensure that Marcano gets hit hard enough in the pocket to warrant sending in one of his underbosses to deal with the aftermath. The first stage of this process encompasses killing the enforcers that oversee the operation at a ground level. With the enforcers out of the way, the lieutenants are forced to make an appearance, though this time they can either be killed or recruited. The underboss gets drawn out of hiding once his squad have been dealt with, and it's this guy that Clay needs to exterminate to force a hostile takeover of the racket.

Screenshot for Mafia III on PlayStation 4

Clay isn't alone in his quest for vengeance and is joined by three like-minded allies that act as his underbosses (one of which is Vito Scaletta, the main protagonist from Mafia II). These can be assigned management duties to any of Marcano's seized rackets and provide regular revenue kickbacks and specialist perks, such as weapon/car deliveries, or even a money pickup service. Completing an underboss side mission will increase their loyalty, as does assigning them captured districts; however, there is the potential for betrayal should certain conditions not be met. Clay also utilises the help of his old Vietnam CIA Handler, John Donovan, who does a great job of providing information on potential targets in Marcano's organisation and analyses the intel gathered from the multitude of junction boxes scattered about New Bordeaux, as Clay wiretaps them to gradually reveal the locations of the many, many collectibles.

Given the main protagonist's propensity towards extreme violence, it shouldn't be too much of a surprise to learn that the majority of the campaign rarely deviates far from putting that skill set to good use. All games contain an element of repetition to an extent and, thankfully, Mafia III's core gameplay is actually pretty fun; however, much like its predecessor, Mafia II, there's very little else to do activity-wise once the story missions are stripped away. While the GTA series can be almost overwhelming with its many distractions, it does at least provide the option to break up the story with another activity whenever required, a luxury not really catered for here.

Screenshot for Mafia III on PlayStation 4

Of course, the objectives can be tackled either stealthily or with all guns blazing, but the enemy AI can be painfully bad at times. During this review playthrough, a few missions were cleared purely by standing in one spot, behind cover, as each and every henchman slowly wandered past, providing the opportunity to perform a stealthy takedown. The whole base wiped out with minimum effort required. Sure, it can become pretty repetitive, but there is some satisfaction to be had from taking down an operation one racket at a time. Clay is quite the badass, all told.

The police seem to be a particularly docile body of law enforcement that rarely ever become problematic, despite being in Marcano's pocket. Stealing a car will usually result in a witness running to the nearest phone box to raise the alarm, and while leaping out of the car to prevent them from making that call is an option, it's actually far easier to just keep on driving. By the time the police have arrived, Clay has already sped out of the marked perimeter and the search gets quickly called off.

Given the sheer size of New Bordeaux it seems quite an oversight not to include a fast travel system between safe houses. The driving, while competently handled, is never the best part of any open world game, so getting from one end of the city to the other can occasionally be a lengthy chore. Those hankering to get behind the wheel to perform a drive-by won't be disappointed and occasionally, the option to intimidate an enemy lieutenant into cooperation by driving recklessly against the flow of traffic presents itself. The best part about the driving in Mafia III, though, is that it provides the perfect excuse to crank up the excellent soundtrack, which features classics from the likes of Hendrix, Creedence and the Rolling Stones, alongside other lesser known artists of the time.

Screenshot for Mafia III on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Mafia III inhabits an interesting era in time rarely visited by video games, and, for the most part, it succeeds in spinning an engaging yarn involving some well-developed characters. Hanger 13 should be applauded for creating a highly detailed sandbox that maintains a gritty, authentic feel throughout, and that, most importantly, is a fun environment to kill both time and henchmen in. It's just a shame that the overall package is marred somewhat by the particularly dense enemy AI and its repetitive mission structure.

Developer

Hangar 13

Publisher

2K

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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