There are not many games that are as brave or at least willing to take risks like Mafia 3. Taking place in the fictional city of New Bordeaux which is essentially New Orleans, you play as Lincoln Clay, a black man during a racially charged point in American history. This part is handled well as it feels harsh but ultimately authentic. Unfortunately, the stellar setting and story are undermined by poor game design and technical shortcomings.
When the end of the year comes and I look back at the moments that made this great gaming year, the opening 90 minutes will definitely be included in there. It’s like an excellent movie building up the stakes, introducing characters well, and ultimately, giving the protagonist his motivation. Using the incredible licensed soundtrack only adds to these memorable parts and it definitely got me excited for what was to come.
What was to come though was anything but exciting. You are essentially thrown into an interesting world and setting and expected to carry out the same few objectives over and over again to progress the story. It’s mind-numbingly boring and getting to the next section of the story feels like a chore. As your goal is to take over New Bordeaux, you must take over the entire city one area at a time and they really mean that. First, you must cause damage to the rival gang, destroying stashes, taking out marked people etc. You will eventually be tasked with taking on the leader in a showdown that feels anything but.
The interesting point of all of this though is who you decide gets the newest area for your gang. Each one of them offers benefits but more importantly, you must keep all alliances strong. Favouring one over the other will culminate in tense and dramatic moments. It’s still not worth the tedium to get there though.
This poor design makes the incredibly interesting setting feel like nothing but background filler which is a shame because the music of the time, the party, the serious nature America was going through at the time, it had all the makings of something truly special. There are moments when the story brings back some of that magic but it’s honestly too few and far between. Gameplay is fine. Gunplay in particular is impactful. You can feel the bullets penetrate the enemy’s flesh and honestly it’s pretty gruesome in the best way you want a gun fight to feel. You feel like you are taking people out rather than shooting paintballs until the other character stops moving.
The driving though is rather dull offering very little variety except from moving from point a to b which is another chore as the game lacks any sort of fast travel. The open world doesn’t feel like a playground and messing around in it doesn’t bring any of the results you might want or expect it to. It all feels like empty space just littered with the same few activities.
I can’t help but feel like Mafia 3 would be a much better game if it was linear, or at least, the world was smaller. To make the world feel alive there needed to be more variety in the side activities and elements of the world needed to feel more interactive.
It can all also feel like the game itself is verging into a technical mess. There are so many small and sometimes big problems within Mafia 3. The lighting model consistently feels off doing a complete disservice to the great art design seen throughout the city. When Mafia 3 falls into place, it is thrilling, dramatic, but most importantly, enjoyable –but it’s all so bloated. For the 30-40 hours the game runs for, you’ll see all of its tricks in the opening few hours. There are some excellent set pieces in the main mission the shows its glimpses of brilliance but like a celestial body flying across the sky, it offers wonder and imagination only to be gone from sight far too soon without knowing if you’ll ever see it again.
Like a song in the soundtrack they “let a good thing go by”. 2/5
Mafia 3 at CeX
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