'Mafia 3' Review: A Flawed Examination Of A Besieged Life

NOTE: This article is a contribution and do not necessarily represent the views of Player One.
Mafia 3
Mafia 3 Photo: 2K

Mafia 3 is an exploration of fury in its most potent form, weaving together tales of betrayal, hope, loss and vengeance. At it’s best, the game is a powerful examination of one’s anger and the many outcomes that can follow the single-minded pursuit of vengeance. At it’s worst, Mafia 3 is a dreadfully repetitive experience; one that actually begins to feel as though it’ll never end during the final hours of the campaign.

The game is set in New Bordeaux, a fictional city inspired by New Orleans. It’s set in the Civil Rights era and follows Vietnam veteran Lincoln Clay during an equally contentious period in his relatively short life. Orphaned as a child, the twenty-something finds himself alone again after the Marcano family kills his adopted family as a direct result of Lincoln refusing to retire the man who became his father. It’s a brutal story of revenge, one that justifies the many dead bodies left in Clay’s wake. But chasing the Mob out of town isn’t as easy as knocking on a few doors and asking the bad men to relocate. Mafia 3 is an incredibly violent game. But not in way that feels needless or excessive. Lincoln’s story explores the results, both good and bad, of turning our anger outward in times of loss.

Lincoln must form new partnerships, even join forces with people his family warred for years, to fully unleash the anger driving him. Early in the game, that means finding underbosses and establishing revenue streams for your new crime family. But you’ll eventually transition into more of a traditional Boss role. Sometimes that means having to choose whether to prioritize your war against the Marcano family or increasing revenue for your own criminal operations. Neither set of activities is especially noteworthy, and the few tasks in each category are repeated frequently, but the gunplay and storytelling in Mafia 3 is good enough to keep the player moving forward.

Mafia is also one of the best looking PC games to emerge in 2016 but the Xbox One version we also tested could be downright atrocious. Still, the dev team’s attention to detail is incredible, from the pothole and puddle-riddled pavement in low-income areas of New Bordeaux to the dozens (maybe hundreds) of death animations seen by the end of the game. Mafia 3’s ample focus on violence is only intensified by its brutal takedowns, particularly those where Lincoln resorts to his trusted knife, but there’s also plenty to look at that has nothing to do with the game’s near-constant violence. The skybox in Mafia 3 is top-tier. And if you have ever wondered why some players love driving in open-world games so much, take a Samson Opus for a midday cruise through the hills in the northwest corner of Frisco Fields. You’ll get it.

The in-game visuals are complemented by some of the best cutscenes in recent memory. The combination of recorded footage and documentary-style interviews used throughout the game are sure to be mimicked for years. The “declassified” Congressional hearings and retrospective conversations with major characters provide the context and screen time needed for players to remember Lincoln’s supporting cast. They also give Hangar 13 a chance to explain, while also skipping over, portions of the story that are better heard about than experienced firsthand.

Mafia 3 also features an absolutely stellar collection of period-appropriate music, including some deep cuts from artists like Brian Wilson, The Animals and Status Quo. The music is so good it’s easy to forget Mafia 3 only features three radio stations, a far cry from the 18 pre-programmed offerings in Grand Theft Auto V , and I’m so fond of the Mafia 3 soundtrack that it eliminated any discontentment I had about the game’s lack of fast travel. That might not be the case for everyone, particularly younger players without any nostalgia for recording artists like Sam And Dave, Otis Redding or Little Richard. But many artists on the soundtrack will undoubtedly find new fans in the Mafia 3 community.

The auditory excellence doesn’t stop at the soundtrack, either. There are countless occasions when Mafia 3 players find themselves privy to the smalltalk that would presumably keep real criminals from dying of boredom while guarding a person, place or thing. Thankfully, Hangar 13 had the foresight to record a wide array of conversations for these situations, ensuring players aren’t stuck listening to the same 8-10 conversations over and over again. Similarly, the number of different sounds you’ll hear throughout New Bordeaux is impressive. Dogs start barking when the action heats up in residential neighborhoods. Shop owners greet you differently, depending on what type of business they run and what part of town it’s located in, and random civilians will share their story with the Mafia 3 protagonist as his reputation grows.

The game has its problems. As I mentioned before, the missions in Mafia 3 get very repetitive; irritatingly so, if you’re the type to blitz through each new game in your collection. It was rare that I could bring myself to play Mafia 3 for more than two or three hours. I was typically ready to come back after a short break but the game’s “rinse and repeat” nature definitely wears on you. There’s also a well-documented issue with some objects (like parked cars) suddenly popping into existence while exploring New Bordeaux. It’s especially problematic when console players drive through the city at high speeds but can be an issue in other situations.

Not all of the studio’s ideas worked out, either. I think Mafia 3 does an admirable job of trying to address the undue attention some receive from law enforcement, using an onscreen notification to remind you every cop is watching Lincoln when he’s near. But many won’t see it as anything more than a broken system because the police only notice Lincoln’s crimes if they directly affect an officer. Fire a gun at someone in uniform, or “intrude” on a whites-only business, and they’ll bring the whole precinct down on you. Fire that same gun down the street from a foot patrol, sometimes just on the other side of a fence, and they won’t even call it in. Traffic laws are the same. Speed past a squad car, even on the wrong side of the road, and the officer(s) inside won’t bother with a pursuit. Nudge one at an intersection and it’s war in the streets.

Mafia 3 isn’t a perfect game but the things it does right easily outweigh the handful of additions that could’ve used more time in the oven. The game’s story is one of the best we’ve seen this year, perhaps one of the best of this (still young) console generation, and provides more than enough incentive to keep going in those moments when Mafia 3 begins to lose its freshness. The game won’t appeal to everyone, particularly those without the patience to slog through its repetitive missions. But a fantastic story, and a refreshingly unique approach to telling that tale, ensure Mafia 3 will have imitators for years to come.

Full Disclosure: The PC copy of Mafia 3 used in the creation of this review was provided by a representative of 2K; however, the publisher did not retain any editorial oversight/privileges.

Mafia 3 is now available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.

Be sure to check back with iDigitalTimes.com and follow Scott on Twitter for more Mafia 3 news throughout 2016 and however long Hangar 13 supports Mafia 3 in the months following launch.

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