Mafia 3 makes a great first impression. When you boot it up, the game opens with a disclaimer, stating that this fictionalised depiction of the American South in 1968 will feature racism which, while deplorable, is accurate to the time period. Then we meet the game’s African-American protagonist – Vietnam veteran, Lincoln Clay. The game introduces us to Lincoln in a documentary style format with older versions of the surviving characters talking about their regrets and trauma from the events that you’re about to play.
It’s a stunning and original way to open a video game, and the first two to three hours of gameplay are a joy. Lincoln struggles to adjust to life post-war, and finds that his old neighbourhood has changed…and not for the better. As a poor young black man with few skills other than violence, he soon becomes involved with organised crime. This culminates with a bank heist and a betrayal by mob boss, Sal Marcano. The double cross leaves most of Lincoln’s friends and family dead, and Lincoln with a bullet in his head. Against the odds, Lincoln survives. Once fully recovered, he sets out on a path of bloody revenge, dismantling the mob in New Bordeaux, the game’s fictitious version of New Orleans.
If only Mafia 3 had managed to fully execute its stylish, violent revenge story, because there’s so much about the game, setting, and soundtrack to love. But once the open world becomes open worldy, Mafia 3’s many flaws become glaringly obvious. For a start, 90% of the vehicles handle like a dog on wet lino. They’re mostly heavy, unresponsive, ungainly dinosaurs that are a chore to maneuver. This would be less of a problem if the game featured some kind of alternative mode of transport, such as trains, buses, or perhaps fast travel, but there’s none. At all. So you’ll often find yourself driving from one end of the massive map to the other just to trigger a cut-scene and then head back somewhere else.
The map is worth mentioning too, because although it’s enormous, it’s also pretty much empty. There’s none of that sense of discovery or rewarded exploration that you get in the open worlds of Grand Theft Auto or Skyrim. Another problem is the mission structure. At first, you’ll be able to access story missions as you go along, and these are usually worth doing. But as you open up more territory and recruit underbosses to expand your empire, you’ll find yourself repeating the same handful of activities over and over again until the next story mission unlocks.
This wouldn’t be so bad if the activities were ball-tearingly awesome, but due to a combination of clunky controls and shocking enemy AI, you’ll find little joy in the twentieth seemingly identical assassination mission. Whistle for an enemy, stab them when they come to investigate, repeat a dozen times, and then kill the boss. It’s a format that you should get used to. You’ll be doing it. A lot.
On top of all that, the game features a number of bugs and glitches of varying degrees of seriousness, not to mention murky textures and inconsistent lighting, that hamper immersion and hamstring enjoyment. That being said, Mafia 3 does have some joy in it. The aforementioned story missions are usually solid and cinematic, with exciting shoot outs in memorable locations like a Ku Klux Klan rally or a sinking steamboat. The characters are mostly well drawn, and the direction and story are top notch. It’s just a pity that the game requires you to do so much dull busywork to get to subsequent chapters.
Mafia 3 has great moments where story and gameplay meet effectively, but it’s simply too artificially protracted and mechanically unexciting to be anything more than above average. Unfortunately, Mafia 3 makes you an offer you could probably refuse.