Friday, October 7, 2016

Mafia III review

    I've mostly been disappointed with the Triple A game releases this year. There's been a lot of smoke and mirrors promising big and delivering little. Mafia III is a case where I had moderate expectations rather than high ones. The previous Mafia games had their ups and downs but were well known for their solid storytelling as well as atmosphere. The revelation Mafia III would have a Black protagonist, would take place in a faux New Orleans, and would involve shooting up the Italian Mafia rather than joining them intrigued me. The fact you'd also get to blow up the KKK was something which sold me as a first day buyer. So is Mafia III worth it?

The game comes with a warning label about racism.
    Pretty much, yeah. It's not going to be a game which is remembered in the same league as Halo or Grand Theft Auto but I'd say it's the best in the series so far. The storytelling is excellent, the themes timely, and I liked all of the characters. Unfortunately, the gameplay isn't quite perfect at launch and I think there's a lot more which needs tweaking before the game reaches its full potential.

    Interestingly, a lot of my complaints are planned to be addressed in free DLC and I find myself wondering why they just didn't add these issues to begin with. Still, a patched game is better than a broken game and Mafia III is still pretty entertaining as is.

Every burgeoning crime lord needs his own CIA agent.
    The premise of the game is Lincoln Clay is a Black Vietnam veteran who returns home to New Bordeaux in 1968. Raised by the Black Mob's leader, Sammie Robinson, he is recruited by the Italian Mob's leader in Sal Marcano to steal seven million dollars from the US Federal Reserve. That's about seventy million dollars in today's money, btw. Unfortunately, the Italian mafia turns out to be less than trustworthy and Lincoln's family is massacred in a double-cross. Recruiting his CIA handler and a group of Sal's enemies, Lincoln proceeds to build a new syndicate to slaughter Sal's organization and build his own criminal empire.

Lincoln Clay is going to murder some rednecks.
    There's both good and bad elements to this premise. The good elements are the game making excellent use of its time period and storytelling. We get to meet Lincoln's family before the betrayal, get to know them, and actually feel a sense of loss when they're killed.

    The bad elements are, for however well told it is, this is basically the premise of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, the first three Saints Row games, Assassins Creed: Syndicate, and innumerable other GTA clones. Mafia III is, fundamentally, the same game about being a criminal mastermind taking over territory as has been covered many times before.

    You go into a territory, raise havoc with various bases, draw out the enemy leader and then eliminate him. I'm sorry to say it doesn't quite have the same punch as Saints Row 2 and Assassins Creed: Syndicate as methods of raising havoc are less diverse. You basically always are infiltrating locations and eliminating the local hoods. The game has a real problem with repetitiveness. It's basically made of a hundred or so 'levels' which are full of criminals for Lincoln Clay to take out in a sandbox style.

    The problem is that this isn't broken up with car chases or other activities which would make it a more diverse, enjoyable experience. It doesn't help that the A.I. for the enemies in the game isn't great either. Once you figure out how to hide behind a corner and whistle for someone to attack you, you've basically got the game beat. The game could have been improved by adding some more Louisiana-specific oddities such as gator hunting, playing jazz music, or other mini-games. No one played Red Dead Redemption for its poker or five-finger-fillet mini-games but they added to the overall experience.
I love Lincoln's car.

    The gameplay is basically a kind of mixture of Hitman and Grand Theft Auto but scaled back from both. I was pleasantly surprised to see you could sneak around a large portion of the enemies in the game and do non-lethal takedowns on many of them. Sadly, the game seems to have been designed with a much more violent Punisher-esque aesthetic as it is impossible to play the game without killing a large number of people with areas designed so you have to slaughter your way out at time.

    Likewise, in order to do nonlethal take downs, you have to go to the menu and change from lethal to nonlethal. It seems strange this is not an individual choice in game or the result of what weapon you have equipped.

    Bizarrely, the most original element of the game is the racism mechanic. I never thought I would say that, either. Lincoln Clay attracts police attention by the very act of existing and is stalked by police when he's in rich affluent areas or when he's in "No Coloreds Allowed" stores. The police will always side with the mafia over Lincoln in engagements as well. Finally, they respond more quickly to calls made in white neighborhoods than they will in black ones. I'd say this was a mechanic going overboard but having grown up in the South, I'm going to say this is just accurate today versus an exaggeration of the Sixties.

Lots of cover-based shooting and stealth action.
    The city of New Bordeaux is probably the best part of the game as it's a beautifully rendered creation with lots of buildings you can enter. There's nine districts and they're full of stores, enemy fortresses, and unique locations. It says just about everything which needs to be said that there's more interesting places to visit and explore in Mafia III than there is in Fallout 4. Just wandering around, I've seen unique drive-throughs, movie theaters, trailer parks, boating docks, shanty towns, and swamps. While not to the same level as Grand Theft Auto V, I've got to say it's up there with Grand Theft Auto IV and that's not a bad comparison. The graphics are somewhat saturated and made to look like a Seventies movie but I feel they're quite impressive. Still, the ones on computer are notably restricted to 30 frames per second and they haven't yet been patched.
Police harass mixed-race couples in-game.

    The characters of Mafia III are memorable with a mixture of archetypes. Lincoln is the shell-shocked veteran on a roaring rampage of revenge (ala Mack Bolan or Frank Castle). Cassandra is the Dominican Voodoo priestess who is more show than faith. Sal Marcano is a corrupt Southern Gentleman/mafia don who is more George Wallace than Vitto Corleone. Mafia II's protagonist, Vito, is actually a recruitable lieutenant. Having survived the events of Mafia II, he's become an embittered middle-aged man who is interested in one last attempt to make it big in organized crime before he ends his life as a middle manager for the mob. Still, I wouldn't say any of the characters are going to be entering anyone's 'all time favorites' either as they're a bit too grounded and ruthless to become more than mildly endearing.

Killing these guys never gets old.
    I will say that I am very pleased by the inclusion of the "Southern Union" as one of the gangs which you have to fight against. The Southern Union is the Ku Klux Klan with the numbers (barely) filed off. They burn crosses, engage in hate crimes, and hold a near-undisputed control over the politics in New Bordeaux. Again, coming from the South, it is deeply cathartic to finally be able to shoot and stab these guys. I've killed thousands of Nazis virtually and it's a shame that the Klan isn't more often used as enemies in video games as I'd like to match those numbers here. Mafia III gets a benefit of having very hate-able enemies and that's no small thing in a game with a heavy combat focus.

    The game is very adjustable in its difficulty and controls, which I give 2K Games credit for. In addition to lethal or non-lethal takedowns, you can choose the responsiveness of your firearms and cars. You can even remove all of the racist language which the developers have included in order to be period authentic. Personally, I think the game may have gone to a little too many lengths in order to allow multiple play options without attending to the fact the control placement is really odd. For Xbox One players, the "Special Vision" button is the Start button, you get in cars with the X button, and you throw Molotov cocktails or grenades with the Left Button. The gameplay is somewhat awkward as a result and I think it would have been improved by sticking with the standard GTA control placement.

Driving in the game comes in "realistic" and "easy" formats.
      The soundtrack for the game is fantastic and probably the best video game music collection of all time. This isn't something we can really give the game credit for, unless we give the game credit for the Sixties being an awesome time for music. "Fortunate Son", "All Along the Watchtower", "I Fought The Law", "Set Me Free", "White Rabbit", "Paint it Black", and more are the kinds of music you hear when you're driving around. I don't know how much this cost but it was an investment well worth it.

    I was going to give the game an 8.5 out of 10 but in the final third of the game, the games crashing became a problem that prevented me from completing it on console. I'm fairly forgiving when it comes to bugs this is a deal-breaker as I had become invested in the story despite the busy-work. It left me feeling cheated and dramatically decreased my appreciation of the game.

    In conclusion, Mafia III is an entertaining game but I think it has some technical issues which keep it from being great. Still, I have to give an A for effort and also a B+ for its premise but a C- for performance. The fact this game chooses to explore such a controversial period of American history is to be commended even if they do so through the well-trodden rode of a GTA clone. The soundtrack is amazing, the characters enjoyable, and the graphics...passable. This is not a must buy if you're strapped for cash but I have to say it's the first game I've played this year which failed to reach its great ambitions versus playing it safe to disappointing effect.


1 comment:

  1. Very nice review. This settles it, next pay day I'm definitely getting this game!