Mafia III on the PlayStation 4 takes place after years of combat in Vietnam, Lincoln Clay knows this truth: family isn’t who you’re born with, it’s who you die for. When his surrogate family, the black mob, is wiped out by the Italian Mafia, Lincoln builds a new family and blazes a path of military-grade revenge through the Mafioso responsible. Choose your own play-style brute force, blazing guns or stalk-and-kill tactics, to tear down the Italian Mafia. Build a new criminal empire your way by deciding which lieutenants you reward, and which you betray.
- DualShock 4
- Blu-ray Disc
Mafia III - Style over Substance
Open-world games run together these days but in the case of Mafia III, it has one of the most interesting setting and atmospheres in gaming. Unfortunately, while the aesthetic and surface quality aspects of Mafia II stand out, it counters it with a litany of uninspired and frustrating design decisions.
Let's tackle the positives first - the most obvious one being the city itself. New Bordeaux (think New Orleans) is a beautiful old era metropolis that's bursting with life and a rarefied dose of character that makes the environment itself feel alive. The dazzling mix of color, interesting NPCs, and the perfectly realized tone makes you feel like exploring every alley and, at least initially, makes things feel incredibly rewarding for doing so. When you combine the visual reward with some of the early tasks, it makes the player want to accomplish even the most menial of requests because the city is such a joy to interact with.
Similarly, the presentation is marvelous and the introductory hours of this game are some of the best the genre has ever seen. From the way we're given the plot and its players to the ways we navigate the city - everything feels pitch perfect while we're led forward. Hanger 13 should be commended for doing something most games can't do, and that's creating an incredibly immersive tutorial that not only invests us into the mechanics, but also the story and characters as well.
Further, the well-realized graphics are a colorful mix of the city's personality and the classically monotone palate of an organized crime group. This interesting visual juxtaposition carries us through the adventure well and it's only detracted from by some performance issues like the too frequent framerate issues and some disappearing polygons (which seems to happen during cinematics too).
In terms of aural quality the music is highly evocative and it sets the mood extremely well. From the soundtrack selections to the overarching score, Hanger 13 perfectly compliments their action. Additionally, the voice acting is handled extremely well, opting for seasoned vets instead of famous names to great effect.
Lastly, we need to mention the story which hits the notes constantly throughout. The story is presented in an almost faux-documentary style that is not only unique to the genre but a well considered idea considering the substance here. Our protagonist, the infamous Lincoln Clay, succeeds in being a terrible person but also someone we root for. As the typical antihero, we see his revenge and sometimes barbaric behavior and take flight with him throughout his journey. We might feel a little bad for our actions but by the end of it all we will feel we have made our decisions with conviction.
So while most of the above has been largely positive, the nuts and bolts of Mafia III are what undoes the game. Between its pedestrian and repetitive gun battles, annoying mission design, and repetitive tasks - we're left feeling the brunt of tedium before too long. No matter how colorful and interesting the surroundings, after the game's initial hours, it begins to become a tedious exercise of similarly boring missions. Even when the player is treated to some nice cinematics and a dose of the story, we're thrust into a normally boring gunfight or an unremarkable line of fetch quests. After the 20th or so task, even as I was discovering new and beautifully stylized locations, I quickly lost interest in continuing despite my investment in the story.
This trait of Mafia III best displays the core issue: it style over substance. The game nails so many things that it almost forgot to tend to its core. As if the developers believed that scope and freedom in the environment were enough and would serve as a sandbox to hide its uninteresting gameplay. Like the recent No Man's Sky proved with its 18 quadrillion planets - no measure of quantity matters when things are plagued by eventually boring repetition.
What's more frustrating is that when RPG-like systems are introduced, very little tangible impact is felt or reflected in the game. I struggled to feel more powerful as I gained new weaponry but actually felt more confident in gun battles when I wore a certain type of hat. This wasn't the intent of the designers and to have a bunch of systems not contributing to the whole, the general design feels incomplete and I begin to question why it drafted in the first place.
So, as a gamer you have to ask yourself: can I handle repetition? Do I favor story as my substance? Do I like mob films? If you can handle the same-y missions and focus on the story/city's liveliness, there's a definite charm to Hanger 13's title. However, if you're looking for substantive video game experience, particularly one in an open-world setting, there are a lot better options out there.