Mafia 3 is a bold, intoxicating video game that while flawed in places, offers an open-world experience that we haven’t enjoyed in a very long time.
It’s set in 1968 in a fictional city called New Bordeaux (it’s essentially New Orleans) and tasks you, a Vietnam veteran, with the not inconsiderable task of taking over organised crime in the city.
You are Lincoln Clay, a man who has come back from the war to be welcomed with open arms by his mob boss father. While everything starts off well (as well as any organised crime outfit can start), events take a turn for the decidedly catastrophic.
The end result of which is that Clay is left without a family and an almost uncontrollable thirst for revenge against the city’s leading big cheese, Sal Marcano.
To do this he will take over the city, district by district, house by house, either crushing anyone who gets in his way or welcoming them in like a sibling.
It’s a potent starting point, and one that nicely hands you an incentive for travelling the full length of this vast city in order to take control of it.
And travel the full length of this vast city you will. The city is divided into nine huge districts, each filled with Marcano’s lieutenants and requiring your attention.
To take them down you’ll need to destroy each of their operations, whether that’s drugs, prostitution or just good old-fashioned racketeering.
To help you accomplish this considerable feat there are three Underbosses - main characters who will help manage the districts you overturn and provide you with extra abilities such as calling in reinforcements, or handling your finances for you.
Mafia 3 hands you some control in this regard in that you choose which districts go to which underboss. As the balance of power shifts they will react to you differently, either thanking you, or resenting you.
It’s a powerful tool that Mafia 3 employs well because not only do these decisions greatly affect the plot but they will make considerably differences to the way in which you can play the game.
Tough choices will need to be made then, indeed there’s no greater tool in a video game than knowing that your actions are irreversible.
While the initial plot (take over city, defeat minor bosses) is a fairly standard video game practise, what sets Mafia 3 apart from the others however is the city within which you live.
It’s a beautiful, disorganised, loud, aggressive world that paints 1968 with a brush that hides nothing.
From the sweltering heat of the Bayou to the pearly heights of the Frisco, this is a game world that has clearly been lovingly built from the ground up.
For us, an open-world game is only as good as the atmosphere it creates. The original Mafia was restricted by graphical limitations of the time, and yet thanks to an incredible 30s soundtrack and some meticulous attention to detail you really felt as though you were there in the middle of prohibition.
New Bordeaux is one of those cities, its map bursts with the life, both beautiful and brutal and if nothing else, the game should be applauded for that.
Of course it’s not just what you see and hear that sets this game apart, it’s the way in which you carry yourself through it.
On this point it’s important to note that Lincoln Clay is black. Now normally that shouldn’t be relevant for a video game, but when it’s set in 1968 this simple fact affects almost every aspect of Lincoln’s life in within the game.
The police will notice Lincoln more in richer suburbs and will be far more likely to give chase or open fire.
Some shop owners will ask you to leave or will mutter quietly about your presence, eventually calling the police.
This attitude towards the colour of Lincoln’s skin is made apparent in just about every aspect of the game. It may have caused some controversy at launch, but ultimately Hanger 13 made the right decision to show the time period as it truly was.
What about the technical aspects of playing?
Unfortunately where Mafia 3 falters is in the little things. The graphics are not especially pretty (the inclusion of it in the PS4 Pro list is a positive sign towards fixing this), by which we mean at times it looks a little dated. Compare it to the PS4 version of GTA V and you’ll see what we mean.
Another area where it struggles is level design. While the game features a strong storyline, it tricks you into thinking there’s far more to do. Sadly many of the smaller side missions end up feeling a little repetitive and so outside of the game’s main plot-driven quests you may feel like you’re repeating yourself.
Finally Hanger 13 have included some smaller, more baffling features which to be honest, just feel unnecessary. Just one example is a feature which allows you to see the locations of enemies inside a building. To do this you need to wire tap a local phone relay
The logic is sound in that your CIA buddy Donovan can then listen in on their conversations and find out where sentries are placed etc. Makes perfect sense, except there are dozens of the boxes located all over the map, and each one requires an electronic part which has to also be collected. It was so fiddly a process that we gave up in the end and enjoyed the surprise whenever we entered a building.
Another annoyance is that there’s no fast travel. Odd considering this has one of the largest maps in a video game. If it helps, many of the missions are centralised around a district at a time so you shouldn’t have to travel too far as you work your way through the plot.
On the subject of travel, driving is a haphazard joy. The cars are about as grippy and speedy as you’d expect for the late 60s which means your options are either a sliding muscle car or an old 60s runabout, both of which are enormous fun.
It’ll take some getting used to, but once you’ve mastered the drift, driving around is a hoot.
Combat is similarly approached, which means that while you can be stealthy, Clay’s means of attack almost always involve him getting a very large knife out.
These brutal takedowns can, mercifully, be removed in the game menu for something equally as physical but decidedly less lethal. Considering the amount of bodies you do drop in the game it’s odd that they’d give us the option to go all ‘Batman’.
That being said, combat itself works really well and Clay’s health is quite pleasantly fragile, an extremely pleasing fact considering how ‘easy’ some modern video games have become.
Who should buy Mafia 3?
There are parts of this game that are a little flawed, this much is clear. The odd bug and technical glitch aside, Hanger 13’s realisation of New Bordeaux is absolutely stunning, and thanks to one of the best soundtracks of the year the game’s plot and atmosphere make this city worth visiting.
Who shouldn’t buy Mafia 3?
We think there’s been some confusion over how this game has been identified. It is an open-world game but it is one that’s clearly at its best when being driven by a story. L.A. Noire was much the same. A side-effect of this is sadly that once it’s all over there’s not much more to do. If you want infinite side quests with endless playability this isn’t the game for you.
Mafia 3 is available now on PS4, PC and Xbox One