I have always been fascinated by the Mafia, especially how it has been portrayed over the years through big screen films, small screen TV shows and in video games, The MAFIA game series has always been overshadowed by the GTA series but the stories they told were told amazing and were stand out experiences. Now six years since MAFIA II, a new direction has been chosen for the latest sequel and introduces a different kind of main character, Lincoln Clay.
MAFIA III is set in 1968 in the Deep South of America, New Bordeaux and set in the backdrop of the Vietnam War and severe racial tension and inequality. Lincoln Clay has returned after serving in Vietnam, coming home to find his adoptive family led by mobster Sammy Robinson, at war with the Haitian gang leading to a debt with local MAFIA Don Sal Marcano. Lincoln sets to work trying to put things right but after entering into a deal with Giorgi Marcano to do a heist job that will square all debts, the Marcano’s turn on Lincoln’s family, slaughtering them all and believing Lincoln to be dead after shooting him in the head. However Lincoln did not die and is now on a revenge fuelled mission to tear down the whole Marcano crime family by taking away everything they have and setting up his own crime organisation.
The opening two hours of MAFIA III explores the above in a nice steady paced start to the game and story and also serves as a very nice tutorial for learning how the game works as the player experiences Lincoln’s return home to discover just how much as changed since his time in Vietnam. But aside from the gameplay tutorial what struck me right from the get go is the amazing soundtrack and OST that so beautifully envelop the player into the world of MAFIA III and setting of New Bordeaux, a re-imagining of New Orleans. From the main menu to the radio in the car as Lincoln drives around the map, the soundtrack sublimely brings to life the setting of the game of the late 60s with tracks from The Rolling Stones and artists such as Sam Cooke. The impact of having such iconic songs such as Fortunate Son and Fade to Black playing as you both drive around and in big set pieces just elevate this game from the beginning and throughout the story is huge and for me personally, providing much enjoyment of just cruising around listening to the radio which has not happened since GTA Vice City.
MAFIA III returns to the open world third person style of previous MAFIA titles but now coming to current consoles, the playing world is larger than both those of MAFIA and MAFIA II combined. The world is vibrant as the player through Lincoln Clay will travel around New Bordeaux’s areas working to take town the Marcano family. The game is visually stunning as you move from the marshlands on the outer edge to the main areas of the cities and the various populated districts. The lighting effects are amazing especially when the weather system changes such as rain falling just as the sun rises or falls and the light reflects off of wet surfaces such as the roads and buildings. The era is faithfully recreated in the clothing that people are wearing, the cars that can be driven and the buildings you explore through playing different missions. This really is a good looking world to be in and everything from what you see to the dialogue between random NPCs and the musical score just wrap around you as you play.
Gameplay is essentially tied to the mission Lincoln goes on as he works to avenge the betrayal and destruction of his adopted family. To do this Lincoln must use all his military training to slowly dismantle the Marcano crime syndicate by taking out the different levels of leadership as well as operations that fund Sal Marcano. But Lincoln is smart enough to know he cannot do this alone and so starts to build his own crime family of sorts by recruiting other mob bosses that have also been betrayed by Marcano with the promise that they will become more powerful crime bosses. Of course just recruiting these bosses is not enough as they each have ambitions beyond simply revenge as well.
New Bordeux is split into different regions and ten districts all controlled at first by the Marcano empire with businesses and various crime rackets running in each one controlled by Marcano Lieutenants and gangs. To take away each area, Lincoln has to literally smash the racket running in each one by going after the lieutenant. These missions often involve taking out enforcers and interrogating people to learn where vital product stashes or operations are located. Whilst the method of taking down an area rarely changes throughout the game and can feel a little repetitive after a few hours in to the game, it can be sped up thanks to the damage amount required to draw out the district’s leader. I did find though the variation in the rackets you get to dismantle from smuggling moonshine, prostitution and drug running will bring you to different styles of each requirement type is enough to stop it getting too tedious to become annoying.
Once you have taken down a district or region it is time to decide which of your own bosses you then give control of it over to. Cassandra, Vito and Burke all represent different interests for running New Bordeaux, By giving them control of a district or region increases their loyalty to Lincoln and can increase the amount of money they kickback to you which can then be used to buy weapons and upgrades. The more areas they run, the more perks will be unlocked for Lincoln to make use of such as having the ability to call for a car to be delivered, an ammunitions truck and a consigliore who will come and collect money from Lincoln to deposit it safely. Each can be summoned from the weapon selection wheel and will come to Lincoln wherever he is quickly. This is great for when you finish a mission and find yourself without a vehicle or running low on ammo. The Consigliore is also great as should Lincoln die, you will lose half of any amount of cash he is carrying at that time, and with some locations having huge cash stashes to be plundered, being able to deposit the money at any time is rather handy.
These perks will increase in number from Cassandra, Vito and Burke the more control you choose to give them which will give Lincoln more upgrades and weapon options over time. However the player will also need to choose wisely to keep all three of them as allies. Hand one boss more control than the others and the player will find them questioning Lincoln’s choices which could lead them to withdraw upgrades or perks and lower the amount of money they can give to Lincoln. Carefully keeping all three on side and happy is key to succeeding in the game in the later stages so choosing where the power goes really is crucial throughout and serves as a nice little micro managing game.
The story telling is one of the highlights for me in MAFIA III with flashbacks used to show the impact of Lincoln’s personal war with the Marcano family via a senate committee interviewing Lincoln’s CIA Handler John Donavon. Donavon also provides intelligence for Lincoln in the field and is one of the more entertaining characters in the game. The cast of characters is also one of the strengths in MAFIA III, and the quality of voice acting is one of the best I have enjoyed this year in gaming. The dialogue is delivered with real thought and power between characters in particular that of Father James who is constantly trying to reason with Lincoln to be the man he knew before he left for the army and can see how perilous the action Lincoln is taking could be.
Due to the setting and era of the story, MAFIA III also does not shy away from the powerful and at times troubling themes that it forces the player to experience. The game opens with a message from the Hangar 13 developers who acknowledge that the themes of racism whilst possibly unpleasant to the player and audience, but are needed to tell the story the right way. Lincoln will encounter severe racism throughout the game, from cut-scenes to interactions with NPCs. The player will often encounter Police brutality on the streets as beatings on black people can be seen and at times when Lincoln walks into a shop he will be told to get out because he is black. One district is controlled by the Southern Union who are KKK. When tackling these missions especially, the thugs will be wearing white hoods and their dialogue full of derogatory use of racism terms. Visually seeing this along with pickup trucks adorned with the confederate flag with trailers full of wooden crosses set for burning was admittedly uncomfortable for me at times. But it does show what life must have been like in the late 60s and early 70s in the deep-south, and these themes are still meaningful to explore even now in 2016 with recent gun violence in the US. It was brave to include these themes as strongly as they are represented in the story but necessary to tell the story the right way.
I thoroughly enjoyed MAFIA III, the story is told brilliantly and powerful and there is so much game content to playthrough that there is always something for Lincoln to fight. The music sublimely puts the player right in the era the game is set in and is a real joy to listen to when driving around in the stunning Dodge Charger Lincoln can drive around in. Gun-play is satisfying even though the AI of enemies at times can make fights a little too easy at times. Getting to use Lincoln’s military skills to either covertly take out thugs in a location to just going all out guns blazing with a trusty shotgun and magnum revolver makes the player feel immensely badass. MAFIA III is a great refresh for the series by taking on the MAFIA instead of trying to be a part of it but it maintains all the aspects of building a crime family and organisation staying true to the gameplay the series offers players. I loved the multiple endings to the story, allowing the player to decide how Lincoln’s story might end with a lovely little surprise mid credits as well that is worth waiting for.
MAFIA III is a solid game experience, great fun and full of thought provoking themes and substance that fans of the series will relish. The strength of the story telling alone is enough for me to recommend this game to others but combined with great gameplay, an amazing game world to explore and a main character in Lincoln Clay that is strong in his convictions but never loses himself in the vengeance that this game really is satisfying and rewarding.
The toughest part was deciding on which radio station to pick to cruise along to!