|Platforms||PC (reviewed), PS4, XBO|
|Release Date||October 7, 2016|
Mafia III is an open-world game and the latest game in the Mafia series. This time around you’re dropped into the role of Lincoln Clay, an orphan who has returned home from the Vietnam War, where he was a member of the special forces. The game is set in the fictional city of New Bordeaux, which is a fictional stand-in for New Orleans, in 1968. Lincoln has returned to his surrogate father Sammy Robinson and the black mob. When events quickly spiral out of control, Lincoln sets about building a crime organisation of his own in a bid for revenge.
Mafia III is one of the most controversial games of the year. And I’m not talking about its framerate (though I’ll get to that). By setting the game in the late 60’s, Mafia III’s world is an incredibly racist one. And thanks to casting you in the shoes of a black protagonist, you’re going to feel the brunt of that racism at every turn. From the way NPC’s talk about and to you, the way passers-by react to and treat you and the many other touches that make up the world of New Bordeaux – it’s an incredibly deep, authentic recreation of the time period.
It’s got one hell of an opening to boot. The first couple of hours in Mafia III are exceptional, with fantastic vocal performances and some of the best cutscenes I’ve seen in a long while combining with a legitimately interesting story and cast of characters. Mafia III’s opening chapter is incredible. The story is gripping, populated by some incredibly well-drawn characters who feel like real people. The game also makes use of licensed music to immerse you in the setting and elevate the already fantastic cutscenes and story moments to another level.
The problem is, once Mafia III opens up and gives more control over to the player, it seems to want to do everything in its power to break that immersion. The first hour or two of Mafia III is very linear – sure you get to drive around New Bordeaux in Lincoln’s sweet car, but the game essentially pulls you from mission to mission with no deviation. This works in Mafia III’s favour – the characters are strong, the story is excellent and it was genuinely gripping.
And then the sudden but inevitable betrayal takes place (in what is, admittedly, the best cutscene of 2016). Events transpire and Lincoln is left for dead. Upon recovery, he becomes a single-minded, vengeance-fuelled killing machine and the game throws all sense of subtlety and nuance out of the nearest window. Lincoln becomes a very dull, one-note character. Luckily the supporting cast are still around to keep you engaged, and the story is still pretty great, but Mafia III sets a high bar in its opening chapter that the rest of the game fails to clear.
The biggest problem the story has, however, is that you simply don’t get enough of it. If Mafia III had been a linear, story-driven experience instead of an open-world game it might have been a compelling, engaging, game of the year contender. Instead, it’s a game that is bogged down by bafflingly poor design decisions and buried under a mountain of technical problems, glitches and bugs. In the end, it’s just a boring game.
The open world of New Bordeaux is redundant, acting only as a pretty backdrop to drive through as you bounce between the exclamation points littered across the map. The city has a few interesting areas to it, but you’ll spend most of your time seeing it zoom past as you drive through it. You can hunt through the city for the myriad of collectables, such as era-specific Playboys or albums, but there are no side activities. Just the missions that form the basis of your gameplay.
It’s these missions that are Mafia III’s biggest weakness and, ultimately, expose the game for what it actually is – a repetitive game that expects you to grind through the same set of missions again and again, hoping that the excellent presentation and story will be enough to carry you through. It’s not. What Mafia III considers its main content would basically be a series of side activities in most other open-world games.
The entirety of the game is based around district takeover. There are nine districts that Lincoln must fight the Dixie Mafia for control over. You do this by causing enough damage to their operations in each district. Once you’ve done this the boss will appear, probably at a location you’ve already visited before, and you’ll need to head over there and kill him. At the end of each takeover you’ll get a story mission before heading off to take over the next district. Rinse and repeat. There is no deviation from this formula.
It’s not just that Mafia III is repetitive in the way its progress is structured, you’ll be running the same missions in each district to take it over. The game only has a few ways for you to damage the Dixie Mafia’s operations. Getting further into the game, you’ll suddenly realise that there’s only one type of mission. Go to enemy turf and either sneak in or kill everyone. From there, you have three options – kill an enforcer, interrogate an informant or destroy some crates.
This is all there is to Mafia III’s gameplay. It doesn’t matter what racket you’re actually trying to takeover. Whether you’re busting up a prostitution ring, drugs or anything else. The only thing this affects is the colour of the mission icon on the map. After a strong opening, Mafia III quickly devolves into a game of grinding. You have to grind out the same mission, until you’ve completed it enough times that you get access to the final mission, which is the same as the ones that have come before it. Sure, the locations will change, but the objectives never waver.
Even this wouldn’t be so bad if it was enabling some great gameplay, but Mafia III doesn’t even have that. Its gameplay is as boring as its mission design. Worse still, it’s completely without challenge and incredibly easy to exploit. Mafia III is a third-person, cover-based shooter with sluggish controls, horrific AI, poorly thought out level design and faulty hit detection. It offers you the option of being stealthy or going in guns blazing, but there’s little difference between the two. Both options are undone by the woefully inadequate AI.
Opting for stealth sees you sneaking through areas with ease. A staple of stealth games is allowing players to figure out ways to sneak through areas completely undetected. With planning, patience and observation it’s always possible to find small gaps in the enemy patrols. In Mafia III you needn’t bother with any of that – those small gaps are gaping chasms. They’re not difficult to spot and require no effort to take advantage of.
Similarly, opting for an approach of stealthily killing your enemies is equally overpowered thanks to how moronic those enemies actually are. While breaking up New Bordeaux’s prostitution ring I snuck up behind and murdered a guard watching the club from a balcony. What I hadn’t taken into account was the balcony opposite, basically knifing a mafioso in full view of one of his buddies.
Rather than immediately alerting everyone to my presence, the guy opposite (who had just witnessed his colleague be brutally murdered) decided that he had seen something strange, and came over to check it out. Later I stood outside a door, luring bad guys out with a whistle, who dutifully came to see what the noise was one at a time. These are just two of dozens of examples I have of how broken Mafia III feels, thanks to the utter incompetence of its AI.
Open combat doesn’t fare much better. Enemies will refuse to flank you or attempt to flush you out of hiding in any way. Instead, it feels as though they’re not even really trying to kill you. They have two moves – walk slowly towards you and give you ample time to kill them or cower behind cover with their heads fully on display. There are sentry enemies scattered amongst the regular ones, who will call for reinforcements if they catch you, but the Dixie Mafia could send 1,000 bad guys at me – I’m certain I could take them all on.
It feels broken – which is a word that can definitely be used to describe Mafia III. Or at the very least describe its PC port. It’s very clear that Mafia III was not ready to be released, given the number of bugs and glitches that have been uncovered while playing. The AI, which is incompetent during combat, also cannot drive cars. Instead of following roads they freak out at random and start driving around in circles, constantly crashing into each other. They seem to do this whether you are present or not, giving New Bordeaux a very apocalyptic feel – you’ll constantly see overturned cars, flaming wrecks and bodies everywhere as you drive around.
The framerate is also an issue. Not it’s being locked at 30fps (that’s already been fixed) but it’s constant chugging. There were times when it felt the game was playing in slow-motion. Bugs were the only constant from my time with Mafia III – they happen consistently and frequently – missing animations, stuttering sound, clipping issues, disappearing NPCs and crashing were all problems I faced. The latter of which happened during a cutscene and corrupted my save file, forcing me to restart the game. Which in turn forced me to give up and turn my efforts elsewhere.
Mafia III is a game plagued with issues – both of a technical nature and a design one. I’m baffled as to how the developer thought that repeating the same few missions over and over again would be engaging gameplay for anyone. The entire game is built around what should have been a series of minor side-missions that get old far too quickly. It combines with the lacklusture gameplay and atrocious AI to create a game that is incredibly boring. And that’s only when it’s not breaking, which is all the time. Mafia III on PC has more bugs than an Entomologist’s insect collection. While these bugs don’t render the game unplayable (unless your save file gets eaten as mine did), the rest of the game simply isn’t worth the effort of fighting through all the technical issues. The story, presentation and soundtrack in Mafia III are excellent…and completely buried by this dull mess of a game.
You can check out the Words About Games review policy, which includes our score guide, by clicking here.