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