Mafia III is the first game in the series to truly have my attention. Having never played the previous entries in the Mafia franchise, I have no attachment to the series, and mainly passed them by as simple GTA clones that lacked the polish of Rockstar. However, the lead up into Mafia III has me convinced it will be much more than just another open world action game.
The story appears to be framed as events told after they transpired with various characters talking in the past tense about Lincoln Clay, and his affect on New Bordeaux, Mafia’s version of New Orleans. From History Channel-like talking heads to a scene in court, people are talking up Clay as more a force of nature than human. And, given what I saw in the gameplay walkthrough, they very well could be right.
New Bordeaux is an overworld broken up into various districts, each controlled by an individual linked to the overarching antagonist, Sal Marcano, the head of the Italian mob. Each district has its own duty, whether it be brothels, drug distribution, gun running, and other forms of illegal income. As Clay, you are free to explore the city, evade the police, and murder your opposition in sometimes brutal animations. When engaging in melee combat with a weakened enemy and gun equipped, Clay, if the player times his button press correctly, will knock them down and execute them point blank. Or if you have the shotgun he might shove it into their gut and unload. While the act is quite gruesome, if matches the overall themes of Mafia III, which often will not waver in presenting its world as a dirty place to live.
As with any open world game, developer Hangar 13 has put a lot to do in Mafia III, though I was only shown one mission in particular which was to assassinate a key character named Oscar in the French Ward run by Uncle Lou the brother of Sal Marcano. Clay sneaked into his area, using cover to stay out of sight, and then after shooting down the target, proceeded to shoot, ignite, and call in back up to shred the remaining foes. A montage showed other ways you can antagonize the Italian mob in order to unlock the final district takeover mission, such as destroying drug boats, taking over brothels, eliminating drug runners, interrogating dealers, and causing general chaos.
There are ten districts total, each with its own vibe and illicit underworld. The examples that were given was the Bayou (gun running/moonshine), Bright Hollow (heroin), Frisco Fields (PCP), and the French Ward (brothels).
Once a district is taken over, in this case by chasing down Uncle Lou and stringing him up on a statue as a message, you have to assign it to one of your lieutenants. Cassandra, Burke, and Vito, returning from Mafia II, all want more power and its up to you to assign them it. Cassandra leads the Haitian gang who want a foothold in New Bordeaux. Burke used to be loyal to Sal but now is in it for himself. And Vito was marginalized by Sal and want’s revenge.
However, if you show favor too heavily in one direction, one of them might betray you, which leads to Clay having to hunt down and execute his once-friend. The lieutenants also have their own benefits you can call in, such as Vito lending a pair of brothers thirsty for blood, which helped Clay complete the assassination mission I mentioned earlier.
Combat is played out as a third person cover shooter. While I didn’t get to play it myself, controlling Clay appeared to be closely related to the freerunning spirit of Uncharted’s third person gunplay. Don’t expect the mechanics to reflect Gears of War, as it is just one piece of a much larger game.
The user interface during the overworld keeps things unobtrusive and clean, with a rear view mirror omnipresent at the top of the screen when driving in a car, as well as a MPH and accelaration meter at the bottom, rendered to look like a 1960’s dashboard. The minimap has health above it, much like the Far Cry series, and by default will rotate with your view. The bottom left corner keeps you up to date on the current funds you have available as you expand your criminal empire.
I really like what I have seen of Mafia III, and while I wish I could have controlled the game for myself to see how it truly plays, I don’t believe it should be something overlooked. It may be hitting during the busy fall period but its set during a unique period and setting rarely explored in games.
The campaign could just be an overextended revenge tale, but the satisfaction of taking over a city district by district is something I’m ready to experience again, especially with the backdrop of a 1960’s mafia war.