STAFF REVIEW of Mafia III (Xbox One)

Thursday, October 20, 2016.
by Brent Roberts

Mafia III Box art Open world games (sandbox) have long been a staple of successful video games. The Mafia franchise, which falls within the sandbox video game genre, has always taken a far more mature approach to its narrative found, and the most recent entry into the series, Mafia 3, is no different. In fact, developer Hangar 13 tells you up front, with a warning spanning the entire screen, that what you're about to hear, play, and experience contains nudity, vulgar language, dramatic violence, and hate speech. They do this out of respect for those who lived through such hate and anger in a form of tribute to their times. Let's see though just how good Hangar 13 did as we head back in time to the late 1960's.

Mafia 3's greatest strength has to be its story. Set in a deep southern town called New Bordeaux, it is Hangar 13's attempt at a theoretical New Orleans, complete with all the character that you would expect given that the Vietnam War has just ended and segregation of people is present, and all of the emotions and consequences of such are in the minds of the populous. Here is a tale involving Lincoln Clay, the character who you control. He is an African American who originally enlisted in the Army and was sent over to Vietnam, but due to his excellent performance he was promoted into a Special Forces division. After coming back, you, as Lincoln, find that your father has crossed a mob boss and that certain gangs are trying to take over specific territories within New Bordeaux, and in the end you discover that they are all led by one deceitful "Son of a Bitch".

This entire tale is more than just your classic cliché of vigilante justice, as it is a direct element of racism and the mentality of a society as a whole. Examples of this include the crimes you commit. If you commit a crime in some upscale estate area, then expect the police to charge at you hard to nail you for a crime; however, do it in the slums or the swamp and you could literally get away with murder.

I enjoyed how the delivery of the story is setup to be like some form of documentary. Each mission seemed to carry with it a new mini-movie which was the documentary unfolding, and the use of media form that time era was a stroke of brilliance to tie it all into the time period the game takes place in. After the cutscenes the mission starts and you're on your way. Now, the ultimate goal of Mafia 3 is to reclaim the city and you have to start going through the criminal empire from the ground up.

There will be times when you shoot to kill, but other times it pays to have friends that are ambitious. Remember the phrase: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend"? Once you're on the path to reclaiming the city you will have to make choices in terms of support. Reclaiming these areas and showing support will allow you to unlock perks that can essentially help turn Lincoln into a bigger, more lethal killing machine. You will start to balance your time in between the areas that you reclaim because if you don't the gangs in the area will actually rise up against you. Not only does this change what perks are available for you to get when you progress, but it will also effect the ending you get in the game, which is a wonderful treat given the mostly linear storylines we experience today.

Mafia 3's gameplay is very straight forward. If you've played any 3rd person action game in the past, oh 20 years or so, then you're well familiar with the style. The A button leads you in and out of cover (sometimes though there were instances where I would "pop" out of cover for no reason), the left bumper switches weapons, left trigger aims, the right trigger fires, etc. So, there really isn't any kind of learning curve when it comes to learning the controls behind the game. This is a refreshing aspect, but throughout the game you will witness an ungodly amount of repetition within not only the gameplay, but the combat and mission structure as well. Once the city is totally opened up to you it is a time when Mafia 3 offers its best, but it's also when you realize that it may not be all it's cracked up to be.

For starters there's no fast travel, anywhere. If you have a mission that takes you across town and you complete it in less than a minute, congratulations, you can now haul your butt back across town so you can fetch your next quest. Even though the driving mechanics are enjoyable, and are more of an arcade style, it feels incredibly dull at times. Another gripe has to do with the visuals. While the cutscenes are fantastic the same cannot be said for the rest of the game. Sure it's authentic; however, numerous times my game's color would shift and change, and the open world modeling is definitely nothing like other top tier sandbox games such as Grand Theft Auto (come on, you know the comparison would happen). Physics also seem to take a break from time to time. For example, as I was driving my car I tapped the bumper of the car in front of me and I took to the skies with flight. I then ended up crashing down and my car was destroyed.

While there may be tons of bugs within Mafia 3, the soundtrack is pure gold. Set in the 1960's era, the entire soundtrack consists of iconic songs from back in that time period. Jimmy Hendricks, The Beach Boys, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and more belt over the radio station, and that's when I had a revelation about this game. Lately some games have tried hard to give gamers more radio stations to listen to, and in the process give you more of a music choice, but what some of them fail to do is provide quality music. Case in point, listening to the soundtrack of the new Forza Horizon 3 makes me want to try to become my own Vincent Van Gogh, but Mafia 3's soundtrack makes me want to crack open a beer and crank up the volume.

Mafia 3 sets out to step into the ring and compete for your dollar just as hard as every other 3rd person sandbox game; however, while the story and its delivery is superb, there are a bunch of glitches that have yet to be patched that bring this title down a peg or two. With improved visuals, Mafia 3 could start to contend with bigger games from companies like Rockstar, but until that happens, combined with improved polish and testing for bugs, it just doesn't seem to be the case. I think that this is what disappointed me the most. I felt like what I was playing could be a top contender for a game of the year, but then as I got deeper into it I realized that there are too many nagging issues holding it back from that level.

Overall: 7.1 / 10
Gameplay: 7.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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