Review: Mafia III (PS4)

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Formats:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • PC

Format/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4
  • HDTV
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Title: Mafia III
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (42.9 GB)
Release Date: October 7, 2016
Publisher: 2K
Developer: Hangar 13 / 2K Czech / Mass Media Games
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

I’ll stay away from the inevitable Grand Theft Auto comparisons after offering the notion that the open world, mission based structure in Mafia III sets out to tell a story that most games wouldn’t dare approach.

It does not have the same level of polish, overwhelming amount of things to do, robust online experience, longevity, or insane production value that GTA has, almost nothing does, but it concentrates on an incredible narrative, tells it in an unorthodox way, and forces players to make tough decisions while experiencing a dark and shameful part of American History.

Gameplay:
You are Lincoln Clay, a Vietnam War veteran who was orphaned at a young age and taken in by the Black Mob. Lincoln’s ethnicity is unspecified but Father James, a pastor who takes on a sort of surrogate uncle role, explains early on that in those days, any skin color that wasn’t white qualified you as black.

Throughout his impressive military career, Lincoln becomes Special Ops because of his unique talents. While some video game protagonists are charming, witty, happy-go-lucky mass murderers (I’m looking at you, Nathan Drake), it makes more sense that someone with a background like Lincoln’s is more adept when it comes to slitting the throats of countless mobsters.

With a fantastic setting being explored, incredible performances on display, and gritty realism providing the foundation of the narrative, the actual gameplay is where Mafia III falls short. So many of the missions revolve around the same three tired objectives: kill this person, interrogate that person, destroy some property.

When Lincoln is betrayed by the Italian Mob, he sets out to blaze a trail of revenge and plans to burn through his city’s organized crime racket by racket, district by district, murdering lieutenants, capos, and other key players along the way.

The formula is simple – damage the profits of a racket until a high ranking mobster is forced out into the open, giving Lincoln the opportunity to further crumble the empire of Sal Marcano, the top boss of New Bordeaux, with a cold and calculated assassination.

… some incredible set piece moments …
Choking the profits of these rackets is unfortunately where the mission monotony is at its blandest point. Locations are reused and objectives became indistinguishable as I spent over twenty hours of the thirty-plus hour campaign trudging through some uninspired gameplay.

Fortunately though, it would be the furthest thing from the truth to say that Hangar 13 isn’t capable of crafting a creative mission. The rinse and repeat sections are punctuated by some incredible set piece moments, involving highly original scenarios made possible only by the game’s setting.

Other features common in the open world genre are present here as well, but none of them build on the mechanics we’re used to. The cover-based shooting, driving, and stealth aspects are what you’d expect. Lincoln can fool the AI with a Sam Fisher-esque whistle, luring them to his location where he can fairly easily take them out unnoticed.

When taking over a district, you must assign control of the organized crime in that area to one of your underbosses. Each of them offers you perks in exchange for control of the region. I found myself battling my feelings between keeping my underbosses happy and obtaining the perks I felt would help me most.

… emotion in the facial expressions of the characters …
I ultimately ended up pissing off Vito to the point where he left my organization. The branching paths that the game could take and variations on the ending became evident at this point and I enjoyed the idea that my actions mattered.

Visuals:
Much of the story is revealed through cutscenes featuring present-day footage in a documentary style. The emotion in the facial expressions of the characters being interviewed about Lincoln’s life amplifies the story.

The pain in the eyes of Father James as he discusses his dealings with the ruthless protagonist or the portrayal of obsessed failure from Jonathan Maguire, the FBI agent assigned to Lincoln’s case, is painful to watch.

There are some unfortunately wonky visual issues in game especially with lighting through doorways and windows when exploring interiors. There are instances where the game blinds the player and the day-night cycle can make certain parts of the world look like a water painting. Pop-in is noticeable in areas with a lot of foliage as the grass beside the road was spawning just yards ahead of my vehicle.

… James Brown and Sam Cooke …
Audio:
Mafia III proves that it is actually possible to have some all-star performances without Nolan North or Troy Baker on the cast. Lincoln Clay and the supporting characters are believable, dynamic, and carry with them the weight of their pasts. They are able to tackle the uncomfortable issues in the game and deliver big budget film quality acting.

The soundtrack collectively provides the perfect period piece for the game’s setting as licensed music from the likes of James Brown and Sam Cooke make it a joy to enter a vehicle and peruse the radio’s offerings. The talk stations can be humorous and sarcastic but they don’t deviate too far from the game’s serious subject matter.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

Conclusion:
Mafia III handles racism in the American South of 1968 in a surprisingly tactful manner. It’s even incorporated into the gameplay through nonchalant police response times in poor, black neighborhoods while the affluent areas enjoy more urgent attention. A blue threat bar appears above Lincoln’s head any time he’s near a cop, giving the player a feeling of being unfairly watched or profiled.

The game could have been tacky. It could have been taboo. It could have relied on tropes and pulled its punches, resulting in a failure of an experience. It would have been so easy for a video game that tells this story to fall into any of these traps but Mafia III does not.

Although the gameplay will not be the attribute that solidifies this game’s place in our industry’s history, the presentation, the performances, and the subject matter raise the bar for Triple-A story telling. With Mafia III, Hangar 13 and 2K have elevated the medium’s credibility in the narrative space and for that, if nothing else, they should be commended.

Score:
7.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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