Mafia 3 is a thoroughly disappointing game.
Obviously coming out the gate with such a negative statement may lead you to believe that I strongly dislike Hanger 13’s long awaited title, but I don’t, not entirely at least. It must be said, however, that for every fleeting moment of fun that the game offers there is a game crash around the corner and for every novel and slight way in which it weaves its themes into its gameplay there will be another set of tepid side missions for you to do, masquerading as the main meat. I’ve seen multiple people now say that, in terms of gameplay, it feels like an open world game from five years ago and sadly I would be inclined to agree with them.
Truth be told, I am loath to talk about all the ways in which Mafia 3 fails to be good because, despite some reservations, I’m a big fan of the series and in many respects, I rather appreciate this entry. Incredibly enough, one of its biggest victories is the fact that it doesn’t completely flub its attempts to incorporate the theme of racism into both its gameplay and story (I’m looking at you Mankind Divided). And while it does come off more as Django Unchained crossed with Mississippi Burning than 12 Years a Slave, I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. After all, a game such as this needs gameplay and an over-reliance on the likes of cover-based third-person shooting is an inevitability until AAA game developers come up with a better way of telling a serious story without resorting to said tried and often tired gameplay mechanics.
One thing that Mafia 3 has going for it is its incredible attention to period detail. Hangar 13’s New Bordeaux (New Orleans in all but name) is a unique and exciting place to sightsee in. Everywhere from the famous French Quarter to the sprawling Bayou area is lovingly recreated here. If only games were graded purely on visual design and oh… soundtrack.
I feel the need now to celebrate what might potentially be one of the best (and certainly most expensive) soundtracks in any game I’ve played. The soundtrack is so good that I routinely had to sit in my car and wait for a song to finish before proceeding on with Lincoln Clay’s rather dull yet bloody revenge tale. However, despite how much I adore the track list, it really does stand out as feeling entirely excessive in a game that clearly needed more money and attention spent elsewhere. Despite this sad truth, I have to admit that the radio was my favourite character in the entire game.
Unfortunately, one of my biggest issues with Mafia 3 is that it does very little that is new with its third-person cover-based combat. In truth, though, it’s generally quite solid, from the way in which Lincoln reliably takes cover, to the powerful punch most weapons pack. Blasting a particularly irksome enemy in the face with a semi-auto shotgun is as much fun here as it is in every other game that allows you to do so, and that’s part of the problem, it’s all very much rote.
And such familiarity is not exclusive to just the combat; mission structure, in general, gives off the pungent stench of a recent Ubisoft title. This is particularly disheartening when you realise that Hangar 13 were probably just trying their best to address the criticisms about the lack of side activities in Mafia 2. Sadly they did this by cramming Mafia 3 to bursting point with slight variations of the same 4-ish mission types. The most serious problem though arises when you realise, a couple hours in, that the missions you’ve assumed to be side content up until now are in fact the main missions…
To give it its dues, Mafia 3 at least tries to give us some context and backstory to the folk that you’ll find yourself repeatedly stabbing in the face. But by the end, you’ll have no doubt forgotten all the steps that you took to get there simply because everything blends into one, making this as much of a slog as the likes of Mad Max and Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, with only the goodwill gathered from the soundtrack and world design keeping me from disliking it as much as said tedious titles.
Mafia 2, for all its faults, at least told a coherent and mostly memorable story through its 10 or so hour runtime. Here what you get is 20 odd hours of mostly barebones grumping about with a side order of KKK. That’s not to say that the writing is all bad. Dialogue is generally well written and expertly delivered. However, main cutscenes and moments of importance are sparse throughout and as a result, the pacing is completely off. It’s supposed to be a gritty revenge tale but it winds up feeling about as exciting as reading the Yellow Pages.
As I’ve already said, the game does a pretty good job of marrying its themes with its gameplay although now that I’ve said that I can only think of two specific examples. The first is how certain NPCs react to you. You’ll often find yourself being shooed out of white-only stores and police reaction time differs hugely between poorer black neighbourhoods and more affluent white neighbourhoods. Bearing witness to moments that come about due to these mechanics is somewhat interesting and new in the moment. But still, the game could really have done with even more of this type of thing.
There are a couple of callbacks to the previous game in the form of some little cameos, but the main link is Vito who now acts as one of your racket leaders. And this leads me on to another one of Mafia 3’s mini disappointments: the expansion of your criminal empire. Perhaps I’m the one at fault here but from previews where the developers discussed all the ways in which you could grow your empire, I sort of had the idea that there would be some light yet meaningful micromanagement and perhaps the odd important decision to be made in regards to how you wanted your business to operate. Imagine my surprise when none of that turned out to be the case at all.
The racket system is as simple as doing X amount of repetitive objectives to take it over and then you get to decide which of your buddies to give the district to. I never felt that any of my decisions were remotely hard to make as there was rarely any pressure from my crew to hand over a specific area to them. Perhaps this was because I did the seemingly smart thing and divided the areas up equally between the three of them, but even then I would have liked some conflict to occur or something of interest to happen. But no, much like the game in general, the racket system is disappointingly thin in terms of interesting mechanics.
I was semi-surprised to find that there were multiple endings that were earned through a few late game decisions. However, the one I got was sufficient enough for me and I can’t see myself replaying this again to see what could have been.
It brings me no joy to say that at launch, Mafia 3 is a buggy and borderline broken mess. Not only did I experience numerous framerate stutters whilst playing on PlayStation 4, but the game also crashed an astounding 11 times during my first playthrough. This is entirely unacceptable and it is only indicative of the time we’re in now where publishers push out hot garbage and expect the developers to pick up the pieces in post-release patches. It’s egregious and wrong and yet is unlikely to change anytime soon.
The game is also highly visually inconsistent, as I imagine anyone unfamiliar with the game would likely think that it released many a year ago given that it has some of the most shockingly bad skyboxes, most obnoxious pop in and generally low-resolution textures I’ve seen in a game of this scale for some time. It’s made even less forgivable that the likes of GTA V – a now three-year-old game could run circles around it in terms of visuals and technical performance. Don’t be fooled by its attempts to cover this up with irritating lighting- it’s an often ugly game.
By now you may have seen some YouTube videos of all the bugs players have been finding. I myself stumbled upon a few that felt less like bugs and more like unfinished aspects of the game world, such as how mirrors don’t actually function as mirrors would and instead you get a blurry shot of whatever happened to be in front of the mirror moments prior. It’s strange that a game world that has been so meticulously crafted would have this amount of immersion-breaking nonsense going on in front of the player
I feel the need to discuss the AI in my section about technical issues because, in its current state, it appears broken to me. The game makes an attempt to allow for stealth gameplay, but the enemies are just too dumb. Frequently, you’ll be able to clear out entire groups of them by whistling and luring them one by one to their death so it’s all a bit of a farce really.
AI doesn’t fare much better in gun combat either as they often sprint head-first into your gunfire as if they wish to be set free from the mediocrity of the game they’ve found themselves trapped within. It’s not like they’re actively trying to be sneaky and flank you either; they just run straight for Lincoln and it’s honestly absurd. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now though and assume that it’s just another broken aspect of the game that appears to be held together with shit and sticks.
Trying to be more positive now, the cars all handle rather satisfyingly. They have a sense of weight to them without feeling like they’re magnetized to the road which was the case with Mafia 2. There are a decent amount of both cars and boats for you to explore the sizeable world with and most of them are sufficiently different. Plus the inclusion of a simulator mode is a nice touch. Unfortunately, the damage models for vehicles are simply awful. Mafia 3 would have you believe that nothing short of a nuclear blast could cause significant damage to the majority of these vehicles, it’s yet another odd oversight that adds to the game feeling unfinished.
And ultimately that’s my main thought about Mafia 3 – that it’s an unfinished, unrealized mess that, by the skin of its teeth, I would regard as passable rather than genuinely bad. It’s the most bitter of disappointments in a year full of them and a game that I can’t recommend to anyone right now.
Yes, Lincoln’s revenge may well have to be put on ice, at least until it’s half the price and they’ve actually bothered to finish the bloody thing.