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Mafia III [Xbox One] review: a game of contrasts

Picture this: your friends and family have been murdered, you’re left for dead and your ties to the Mafia have all but betrayed you. What are you gonna do? Kill everyone for revenge, of course.

A story of revenge

Okay, so that’s a basic rundown of the latest open-world crime simulator, Mafia III.

Set during 1968 in America, the game uses the Vietnam War and counter-culture as the backdrop for this tale. You take on the role of Lincoln Clay, a black man, and recent war veteran and special ops veteran with ties to the Mafia. Upon his arrival in New Bordeaux, a fictional version of New Orleans, Clay is roped into a bank heist and is subsequently betrayed.

His close family and friends are gunned down while he’s left for dead. Clay awakens sometime later, having been saved and patched up. He decides his only recourse is revenge against the crime syndicate. Instead of going for the man at the top, Sal Marcano, he has to take down all of his lieutenants to cripple the Don’s organisation.

Yes, it’s not an original or unique story in anyway but it’s at least told in a compelling way.

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The story is presented with both cutscenes to guide you to and from each mission, as well as documentary-style scenes recounting the events of the game.

Mafia III is actually set as a documentary around Clay and his fight against the Mafia, with the film crew interviewing a range of people involved in the events. It’s a story technique I’d love to see in more games, especially with the grainy footage used.

Hangar 13 has really done a stellar job with the story presentation

And then we have the racism.

I am a white male and cannot even begin to understand the hardships those that experience racism go through, and there are far more intelligent people out there tackling the subject. What I will say is that the racism in Mafia III is excellent, which is an odd statement to make, but let me explain.

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The game, which starts off with a disclaimer about racism and its portrayal, does its best to uncensor the US at the time. Random NPCs and even shopkeepers will call you all manner of racial slurs. It was exhilarating pushing a store owner into the floor when I walked into his store and he said that my kind didn’t belong there. The racism and fight against it bring a range of characters to life. You’ll love them, you’ll hate them, and you’ll want to pull an (in-game) gun on them as well.

Hangar 13 has really done a stellar job with the story presentation.

Then again, with the message of racism and stereotypes, one of the main Irish characters is presented as a drunk, a brawler, and represented by the colour green. Take that any which way you want.

The world and its inhabitants

Mafia III consists of a juxtaposition between its world aesthetics and character models. On one hand, the world and NPCs can be bland, boring, and include a number of engine hiccups, but the main characters have full featured facets which look almost realistic. It’s a disconcerting thing to see, like a perfectly cooked wagyu steak surrounded by packet smash and microwave chips.

The cars have a certain aesthetic charm to them, even if their damage is represented by low-textured stickers instead of actual model damage. It is a fantastic experience driving around the city’s different locals and watching the sun both rise and shine. New Bordeaux comes alive with its inhabitants, aesthetics, and architecture. There are moments of pure engine clarity in Mafia III, but they are the exception and not the norm.

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How does it play?

Mafia III plays the same way as most open-world video games. If you’ve played any of them in the last ten years, then you’ll be familiar with the general mechanics of the game. Lincoln can run around and hijack cars as his primary form of transportation, but NPCs can report you for these crimes. Running is a fluid motion that doesn’t feel off, while driving is a clunky experience. It’s not an easy system, but you shouldn’t be hindered too much during driving sections of the game.

And then there are the bugs, and boy is Mafia III full of bugs

A large part of the game is the combat, or more specifically, the stealth. Lincoln may be even better than Solid Snake when it comes to sneaking about and silently taking down foes. This can be attributed to the game’s absurdly strange AI. During one particular mission, I had Clay hunch behind a box while literally every single goon in the area came towards him and he stealth killed them. While fun at first, it was quite disconcerting to see how easy it is to outsmart the AI.

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And then there are the bugs, and boy is Mafia III full of bugs.

In one particular mission, where I needed to steal a boat, I managed to do so, but ran the boat ashore. The boat never respawned even 10 hours later. Needless to say, I cannot finish that quest. Not to mention people disappearing, falling through the world, or objects being stuck in one another. It’s possible to drive at high speed, watch the foliage magically appear two meters in front of your, and smash into an obstacle that will only load several seconds later. It’s a frustration that can hamper your gaming experience overall.

After 15 or so hours, I could no longer play Mafia III. The amount of bugs and graphical glitches became too much and, well, life is too short.

The music. The sounds. The era.

Where Mafia III really shines is its soundtrack. Composed of original and licensed tracks, every bit of music not only encapsulates the era, but the New Orleans-inspired location as well. You may not enjoy the game, and it may be tedious at times, the soundtrack will bring you back for more.

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The game’s opening screen blares All Along The Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix, which instantly makes you excited about the game at hand. Even though there are limited radio stations, unlike other games in the genre, the sounds of Bad Moon Rising (Creedence Clearwater Revival), I Found the Law (The Bobby Fuller Four), and We Gotta Get out of this Place (The Animals) just add a unique flare to the game not often seen in video games.

In order to represent the passage of time, a radio announcer will randomly talk about true events in 1968. This adds another layer of depth as well as immersion in Mafia III.

Game information:

Release Date: 7 October 2016
Developer: Hangar 13
Publisher: 2K Games
Genre: Action-adventure
Platform(s): Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Review platform: Xbox One
Launch Price (RRP): R699 (PC)
Industry average score: 67/100

Verdict: Mafia III is a flawed game that needed more time in development, especially noting the game’s graphics and AI. The presentation, atmosphere, political themes and soundtrack will hook players, but it may be worth waiting for a price drop.

Score: 6.5/10

Author Bio

Graham van der Made: Staff Reporter
Graham started out as an electronics manager at Take2 Home Entertainment and went on to spend a further ten years in the South African ecommerce industry. During this time, Graham founded and managed an online geek and hobby shop. He has always had a passion for writing and has contributed... More