Let me preface this by saying that I have not beaten the game, nor do I intend to. The game has been out a little over a week, and after about 30 hours of play I'm done with it.
Jumping right into it: Mafia 3 is a mess. The lighting is terrible, the world is largely bland and empty, and the gameplay is repetitive and unrewarding. The game released with a bevy of glitches that shine through even after a hefty day one patch, and I’m largely underwhelmed by what I’ve experienced. Mafia 3 does succeed, however, in developing wonderfully written, three-dimensional characters that you’ll care about, and a revenge story that’ll keep you playing even if it’s only to see the next cut-scene.
You play as Lincoln Clay, a member of the black mob and Vietnam vet who is relieved of duty and welcomed back to his home town of New Bordeaux (a New Orleans look-alike). Things are quickly back to normal with Clay helping his friends of the black mob until Sal Marcano, New Bordeaux’s face of the Italian mob, betrays Clay and his friends. Lincoln barely survives, and vows to avenge his friends by killing Sal and all of his associates.
The story is by no means unique – it’s a typical tale of revenge, but the performances are fantastic, and the characters are written extremely well. they feel like actual people that you can relate to, or at least care about. It’s a shame that the gameplay and mechanics hold it back from accomplishing a level of excellence that it very possibly could have attained.
The game is a lot of fun in its early hours. Most of the missions you’ll be tasked with involve slowly chipping away at a rackets value/income and in doing so drawing out the boss who has control of that part of the city. The missions vary from interrogating rival gang members, killing specific lieutenants, and destroying a rackets take or operation. This variety is nice at first, but it gets repetitive and boring fast. There are quite a few portions of the city to take over, and you cycle through the same handful of missions each time with very little changes in the formula. Pursuing one racket may require you to destroy the rum and cigars they sell, while another racket: weed. And another guns. And so on. You’ll be tasked with blowing up operations at a quarry, or a construction site, or a dump.. and so on. You see a pattern?
It’s not just the lack of variety that make the missions boring, it’s also the dumb AI. The stealth option could be a ton of fun (and it is initially), but the AI is so bad that the game becomes embarrassingly simple. When holding down on the left d-pad button you can whistle to get an enemy’s attention. They’ll walk over to you and you’ll pop out briefly and stab them in the throat or choke them out – you do something cool, and its super awesome at first. Then you whistle at the next guy and do the same thing. And the next one. And the next. Soon your cat calls have accumulated a pile of bodies, and the guards keep coming despite the obvious death trap you’ve laid.
The game is its most difficult when approached from a more brash, run ‘n gun method. The action sequences aren’t doing anything special here, but they’re entertaining mostly. You have two guns you can swap between at any given time: one primary (a rifle, or shotgun), and one side-arm (a pistol, or small automatic like an Uzi). The combat is typical for a 3rd person game. There is a cover system and you pop out to shoot at enemies or blind fire – the usual, but the cover system can get a bit wonky at times. Certain walls may seem like an ideal object to hide behind, but for whatever reason Lincoln refuses to utilize its cover, or has difficulty exiting cover. Overall the combat is fun, but it’s typical and uninspired.
A cool mechanic that ties in with the story is the acquisition of territories and splitting it up amongst your lieutenants. Each lieutenant will make money for you and as you expand their territory you build a stronger partnership and a greater cash flow. Each decision to give territory away also brings negative backlash from the other partners, so you have to balance who gets what territory or face a possible betrayal.
There’s a mechanic in the game where if a civilian sees you committing a crime they’ll run to the nearest phone to call the cops. This is a great idea, but a little annoying. Rarely has it ever turned into anything more than a slight inconvenience. Really all you have to do is chase them down and push them over. Done. Problem solved. Wait, someone witnessed you push an old lady into oncoming traffic? Fuck it, they didn’t see you rob her so they don’t care!
Another interesting mechanic is how the police react to you as a black man, and crime in certain areas of the city. Reports of theft in a poor neighborhood will have a slower police response time than in more white neighborhoods. Police will also react more aggressively towards you in nicer areas of the city, but it doesn’t do a lot to change the way you play the game. Yeah, they’ll be more aware of what you’re doing, but you just continue to speed past them through red lights, narrowly avoiding a collision, and they still don’t do anything. This is another neat idea that feels a tad half baked.
The map is too big. I understand that it is somewhat necessary to establish the realism of each territory, but it’s so boring to navigate. There are some portions of the map that are truly memorable and full of character, but there are far too many lifeless spots. The world is gorgeous (minus the bugs that I’ll get into later), but it feels empty. There are some great locales like the French Ward, but I wish the world was a tad more linear. More is not always better, and this rings very true in Mafia 3.
Mafia 3 is plagued with technical issues. The lighting is insane. It makes no sense whatsoever. During the day the light will reflect off of objects in a way that make them glow. Lincoln seems to radiate with light while indoors, glowing bright white. It’s ridiculous. The priest’s white hair VIOLENTLY GLOWS in some cut-scenes like the holy ghost itself. When the day shifts to night the city becomes unrealistically dark; pitch black sometimes. I’ve been in the well-lit French Ward and, when night falls, you can barely see what’s going on despite all the lights that are still on, but not actually creating any light. It makes no sense, and it’s embarrassingly terrible. When it rains the light streaks in a weird way through trees and around buildings – almost looking like everything is on fire or lined with lights. IT MAKES NO SENSE.
The controls are pretty well done and responsive. They feel fluid for the most part (minus the slightly annoying cover system), but at the same time the physics feel boxy and stiff. Controlling Lincoln feels good, but certain actions like climbing and falling feel unnatural and heavy. Walking off an edge is like dropping a sack of bricks. You just fall, and fast. It’s like it was poorly animated, or just overlooked. I know that it seems like I’m knit picking at this point, but once I noticed it I couldn’t NOT notice every single time.
There’s a reason 2K didn’t hand out any press copies of Mafia 3 to reviewers: it’s broken. It feels more like a shell of a good game. The systems involved are flawed or ill-conceived, and the gameplay is repetitive, but the story and characters in it are so damn good that you may want to endure all the bad just to find out what happens to Lincoln Clay and his friends. Through all the bad, the game is still pretty fun. I wouldn’t pay $60 for it (even though I did), but this could be a great game to grab on sale. It plays like a mid-tier game rather than AAA. Through all the flaws I did enjoy most of what I played and, although I will not give the game more of my time for now, I may get back to it in the future after a reasonable price drop and several more patches.