Lincoln Clay. You may not know the name but it is synonymous with the history of New Bordeaux. An orphan who was adopted by the black mob, returns home from the Vietnam war in 1968 to pick up where he left off. Betrayed by the head crime-boss of the city, Lincoln sets out on a tale of revenge and redemption – in an incredibly violent way.
The story is the first thing you’ll notice about Mafia 3 – in that a serious amount of attention has been paid to it. It’s no surprise then that it is the strongest part of the entire game, what is a bit more surprising though is that time spent in constructing this narrative feels like it was used at the expense of fleshing out mission variety and gameplay nuances.
The game is set in a controversial time in history, and the developers make note at the start that they are not intending to offend with the language and situations you’re about to witness, but are included in faithful recreation of the period. The storytelling is handled brilliantly – interspersing talking heads recounting what Lincoln was like and how he handled himself, you’ll find yourself playing the moments they refer to. These cutscenes are mixed with documentary style footage of events that happened at the time and video of a hearing in court. It does an amazing job of setting the scene and telling the story, helped by decent voice acting and having engaging and fleshed out side characters.
The concept of being in and involved with the Mafia is also handled well. Lincoln will increase power as he takes over districts in his quest for revenge, and you can control ‘sitdowns’ with your capos and talk business. This relationship needs managing though to ensure that they don’t turn on you. For fans of the series you also encounter some characters who you’ll recognise which is a nice touch.
Sadly, this is pretty much where the good stuff ends. The core of the game is driving from point-A to point-B and it completely generic. Handling is passable at best, and the long drives are only bearable thanks for the voice overs from the characters in the vehicles. There is a neat feature here though which I’ve not seen before – usually in these sorts of games you’ll select a location and follow an illuminated overlay or a line on a mini-map. In Mafia 3, road signs will point towards where you need to turn. It does a great job of integrating navigation within the experience so you don’t feel lost but the experience isn’t ruined by a bright blue arrow overhead.
Outside of vehicles, the on-foot action and gunplay is equally standard. Cover shooting and swapping between cover is cumbersome and just about passable. Gunplay is average with the controls not quite up to it, thankfully the AI is inept at best meaning you have ample time to line up your shots. There are some quality scripted animations for melee attacks however but it’s a push-and-watch affair. The real dealbreaker though is the mission structure.
Typically you will do one of these things: kill a targeted character, smash up some stuff, steal something, rough someone up, take down a boss. Repeat. That is the entirety of the game in essence and after a few hours it becomes a complete slog. New Boardeaux is a massive city full of potential, but you’re forced into repeating the same thing over and over.
It feels dated too – not just in its design but visually. Everything just looks a bit blurry, with pop-in most noticeable when you’re driving but it feels a bit like going backwards to an old GTA. It’s a game of contradiction, as on the one hand this incredibly jarring visual piece feels old, as do the mechanics yet there’s a gripping reason why you’re doing what you’re doing, accompanied by a fantastic soundtrack fitting of the time.
These highs and lows balance through Mafia 3 to end up as something which is more fun thinking about wanting to play in that universe than actually playing in it. This is a shame, for a shorter game it may have actually been easier to consume but given the massive open world nature of it, it’s just too much of the same thing done average, and not enough of the good stuff.
Reviewed on Xbox One