Mafia III

PC, PS4, Xbox One


Dur­ing a re­cent in­vestor call, Take-Two CEO Strauss Zel­nick stren­u­ously re­futed any com­par­isons be­tween Mafia III and Rock­star’s trend-set­ting open-world crime se­ries. As head of the pub­lisher be­hind both, it’s un­der­stand­able that he’d want to clearly de­lin­eate the ap­peal of each game, but the truth is that Grand Theft Auto’s in­flu­ence on the latest Mafia in­stal­ment is glar­ing.

It’s not just GTA that has made an im­pres­sion, though. Mafia III’s re­veal comes some five years af­ter this se­ries’ un­der­cooked sec­ond chap­ter, and a great deal has changed in that time. The stu­dio is clearly aware of the in­no­va­tions made in the genre since then and, on the ev­i­dence of the live game­play we see, has em­braced ev­ery sin­gle one of them.

There’s cover-based eavesdropping, strong-arm­ing NPCs into spilling the beans, moral de­ci­sions, dy­namic world events, and even holed-up as­sas­si­na­tion tar­gets reach­able via mul­ti­ple routes. It’s mostly fa­mil­iar stuff in the con­text of this genre’s in­creas­ingly samey out­put, but an ex­plo­sive over­haul for a se­ries whose pre­vi­ous ef­fort was so con­cert­edly lin­ear. Even though the scene-set­ting por­tion of our demo plays like a game of spot-the­con­ven­tion bingo as new pro­tag­o­nist Lin­coln Clay moves around a vi­brant, bustling take on 1968 New Or­leans, each ticked box is fresh­ened up a lit­tle by the pow­er­ful set­ting. The first ran­dom event we en­counter, for in­stance, in­volves a re­spectable-look­ing black cou­ple who’ve been pulled over by a bullish white cop. Get­ting in­volved would draw too much at­ten­tion, and so Clay keeps walk­ing.

In this half-hour snip­pet, Clay must lo­cate a drug den, known as The Cis­tern and owned

by a mafia boss named Doc Gas­ton, in or­der to un­seat the king­pin and claim the ter­ri­tory. The pre­cise lo­ca­tion of the un­der­ground club isn’t known to you, how­ever, so Clay must find and in­ter­ro­gate Gas­ton’s goons first. The lo­cal grave­yard is a meet­ing spot for cer­tain deal­ers and their teenage cus­tomers, so there he heads. Af­ter sneak­ing around wait­ing for the right mo­ment to strike, Clay slams one head into a grave­stone be­fore chas­ing down the flee­ing part­ner, hi­jack­ing his car and driv­ing into traf­fic un­til he snitches on his boss. Af­ter in­ter­ro­ga­tions, you can choose to dis­patch or set your re­luc­tant in­for­mant free, though it isn’t yet clear whether this is part of a rep­u­ta­tion sys­tem.

The Cis­tern, it turns out, is lo­cated be­low a jazz bar. There’s a main en­trance at the back of the venue guarded by two heav­ies, another way in out­side with just a sin­gle guard, and – we find out later on – a route via a well-pa­trolled un­der­ground dock. Choos­ing the path of least re­sis­tance, Clay bru­tally ex­e­cutes the lone man at his post, stab­bing him to the ac­com­pa­ni­ment of some squirm-in­duc­ing sound ef­fects. This un­set­tling pre­sen­ta­tion might have been a pow­er­ful way to il­lus­trate to hor­ror of tak­ing a life were it not for the rapidly mount­ing body count that fol­lows. The first game paid at least some at­ten­tion to cin­ema’s spar­ing use of un­speak­able vi­o­lence to build ten­sion in its ex­plo­rations of the Fam­ily, but Mafia III con­forms to the mod­ern geno­ci­dal ac­tion tem­plate, all but en­sur­ing ev­ery mur­der af­ter your first is mean­ing­less, de­spite your vic­tims’ lin­ger­ing death throes.

There is at least some time to ex­plore the ex­trav­a­gant Cis­tern be­fore the mas­sacre starts, tak­ing in the con­verted reser­voir’s vaulted stone ceil­ings and stoned in­hab­i­tants. Af­ter a few stealthy take­downs along the way, Clay lo­cates and un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously ex­e­cutes Gas­ton, trig­ger­ing a pro­tracted shootout as he works his way back to the sur­face.

Once cleansed of Gas­ton’s strag­glers, the venue comes un­der Clay’s con­trol and the player is able to as­sign it to one of their three lieu­tenants (each prof­fer­ing dif­fer­ent perks), who will then send their foot sol­diers to take over the busi­ness. That’s not nec­es­sar­ily the end of it, how­ever, be­cause ri­val bosses might re­tal­i­ate. It’s here that Mafia III aban­dons any sem­blance of re­straint and sug­gests that lessons weren’t learnt from the sec­ond half of Mafia II’s ex­cesses. Car­ful af­ter car­ful of hired guns give chase as New Or­leans erupts into a war zone, ve­hi­cles ex­plod­ing all around. Against such a provoca­tive and richly re­alised back­drop, it can’t help feel­ing like a brash method of at­tract­ing at­ten­tion.

Cast­ing Clay in op­po­si­tion to the mafia is a pro­gres­sive move, as is the game’s em­brace of the dif­fi­cult topic of racial ten­sions, and the set­ting is among the most loaded with po­ten­tial we’ve seen in a while. But while the

Mafia se­ries is in need of mod­erni­sa­tion, its whole­sale trans­for­ma­tion from idio­syn­cratic out­lier to main­stream sand­box risks erod­ing some of the per­son­al­ity that so ef­fec­tively marked out the first two games.

It’s an ex­plo­sive over­haul for a se­ries whose pre­vi­ous ef­fort was so con­cert­edly lin­ear

The chilled at­mos­phere of The Cis­tern quickly sours in the sec­ond half of the mis­sion when Clay sin­gle­hand­edly takes on the en­tire army of gang­sters that run this par­tic­u­lar den of in­iq­uity

Pub­lisher 2K Games Devel­oper Hangar 13

For­mat PC, PS4, Xbox One

Ori­gin US Re­lease 2016

LEFT As with the pre­vi­ous games, driv­ing will play a ma­jor role. You’re able to bribe the po­lice us­ing your lieu­tenants’ con­tacts if you need to shake off heat.

BE­LOW Sneak­ing around a grave­yard to spy on drug deal­ers feels like an overly fa­mil­iar setup at this point

Mafia II’s cars even­tu­ally ex­ploded too, but Mafia III’s ve­hi­cles are more read­ily com­bustible. When driv­ing, en­e­mies’ demises are briefly shown in a rear-view mir­ror at the top of the screen

The flavour of the era has been cap­tured ex­pertly, with at­mos­phere and de­tail con­tribut­ing a good amount of the game’s over­all ap­peal

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