Six hours with Mafia III: “Soup’s on, my saurian friend”
You're the trouble starter, punkin' insta-gator...
Though the game never really points this out with some handy tooltip, Mafia III solves open-world gaming's biggest pain in the butt. Where on earth do I store this small town's worth of corpses? Because if I simply leave them here, the cops are going to spot them, and that will start a new sister city of corpses.
The answer: go scoop up all of those rival gangbangers, overzealous cops, or civvies reckless enough to stand on any sidewalk and shot-put them into a swamp, spawned especially for this moment. See you later (via) alligator.
Mafia III hands-on montage
To say Mafia III doesn't shy away from the harsher truths of being a criminal is clearly an understatement. However, it also earns my respect early for not watering down the racially-charged reality of 1960s, Southern-states America.
Instead of starting the game with an Assassin's Creed-style disclaimer message, like “this offence-free experience is made by a multi-cultural team, so please don't hurt us”, 2K Games heads in a different direction. I'm paraphrasing here, but the general message is: racism is abhorrent, but it happened back then, and it's ridiculous that it's still happening 50 years later, so we're not going to sugarcoat this.
Playing as an African-American Vietnam vet is all sorts of eye-opening. You'll feel the oppression when you're driving down the streets of predominantly white suburbs. The “police heat” rhetoric, which only usually pops up when you're well over the speed limit (another mechanic most open-world games don't implement) will go haywire.
It's like you're smashing through those white picket fences instead of leisurely Driving Miss Daisy. And while I've digitally dispatched a thousand “white supremacist-like” enemies in my entire gaming career, there's something much more satisfying about taking out the bonafide, "n-word"-shrieking real deal in this game.
Speaking of the usual derogatory terms and dickishness, it also pops up in Mafia III's extremely well-acted narrative, which frequently takes the wheel at set points. Outside of story missions you absolutely have free rein to carve out a large criminal enterprise through a plethora of side-missions, but in the early stages there's a bit of timeline jumping. Usually that sort of control-seize is a pet hate of mine, but the tale being told is too well-produced and expertly paced to ever be labelled an interruption.
I challenge you not to become invested in your own bad-assdom
How can you not be riveted by a mixture of “as-it's-unfolding” mob drama interwoven with a decades-after-the-fact documentary?
A recurring theme in Mafia III is “a man's worth is measured by what he leaves behind”, and by all accounts your stint as Lincoln Clay is going to make quite the crater. Snippets of senators grilling your CIA pal, the commie-obsessed Donovan, will shed light on Clay's special forces training and the Hồ Chi Minh horrors that shaped him. Loving testimonials from the padre who raised you go a long way toward humanising Clay, too.
Even the relatives of your soon-to-be-dead rivals deliver interviews, typically where they wonder what on Earth possessed the dearly departed to even think of crossing you. It's so well done. I challenge you not to become invested in your own bad-assdom.
Speaking of great pacing, Mafia III brings the player up to speed with Clay's abilities and the frenemies of his world in a series of smart tutorial scenes. A daring bank heist involving stolen security uniforms reveals a stealth system that I rely upon heavily in the next six hours – usually until my lack of patience puts me into an enemy patrol path, and all hell breaks loose.
When this happens, you'll be scooting around obviously placed bits of cover, shredding people with M16s, or simply one-button executing fools with a knife that makes Rambo's look like a letter-opener.
Forget that this is a living, breathing world, where pedestrians notice if your six-shooter is unholstered, and you're soon going to need a getaway car and some driving skills (assuming you don't K.O the witness before they can call 911 on a payphone). The "simulation driving" option comes well recommended here; it means a lot less traction which equals much more showier drifts.
It also goes without saying that 1968 is one heck of a good year in which to steal automobiles. Forget the jalopies of the original game, and the electric-shaver-looking modern cars of GTA V.
Mafia III offers nothing but big block, yank tank muscle cars that all ride on pancake-stack suspensions, and are basically battering rams on wheels. Expect nothing but throaty V8s and sideways action.
I thought I could get through this article without once comparing this to Rockstar's behemoth, Grand Theft Auto V, but it slipped in there. In terms of graphics, gunplay, and fisticuffs, Mafia III is well within striking distance of the aforementioned king of the genre. However a few creature comforts and modes are absent.
Developer Hangar 13 has dedicated itself to a story-driven experience, so that's the multiplayer out and longevity down. And while the physics system here is (literal) leaps and bounds better than Mafia II, I still noticed one or two moments of rigid movement, especially when compared to the eerily lifelike Euphoria physics that run Los Santos. Not a big deal, but worth a mention.
Beyond that, the six hours I spent with Mafia III sold me on making a return to this series. Honestly, it's like somebody has ripped a page-turner book out of my hands and told me to wait a few weeks for the next chapter.
I have to know how Clay gets his revenge. I must have that awesome, era-perfect soundtrack in my ears again. And, above all, I need to find out if it's possible to kill an alligator by overfeeding it.