Mafia II

Feat of Clay: 2K serves up a flawed but fas­ci­nat­ing crime drama

XBox: The Official Magazine - - START - Chris Schilling

Some­times won­der­ful things hap­pen when you for­get to pause a game. Putting the con­troller down to take a snack break be­tween missions left pro­tag­o­nist, Lin­coln Clay, idling next to his car. But our tim­ing couldn’t have been worse. We soon re­alised that we’d left this tall, mus­cu­lar, bira­cial black man in an af­flu­ent white neigh­bour­hood, and, hav­ing at­tracted a few sus­pi­cious glances, we’d man­aged to alert the po­lice sim­ply by be­ing there.

We quickly vaulted the door of our con­vert­ible and at­tempted to make a get­away. Ac­cus­tomed by now to an ef­fi­cient method of es­cape – the trusty U-turn – we were about to lose our pur­suers when a car in­ex­pli­ca­bly swerved across the road, sideswip­ing us. Amid the chaos, the cops caught up; two loud pops later, we were dead. With ex­quis­ite tim­ing, The Bobby Fuller Four’s I Fought The Law blasted from the car ra­dio as Clay’s body slumped down in the driver’s seat.

This anec­dote was brought to you through a com­bi­na­tion of bril­liant ideas and slightly wonky sys­tems, which just about sums up Mafia III: it’s a re­ally good crime drama trapped in­side a merely ser­vice­able open world game with a lot of rough edges.

Its mis­steps are all the more frus­trat­ing af­ter a thrilling – and no­tably lin­ear – open­ing, which com­bines con­fi­dent sto­ry­telling with smart de­sign. It puts you in the shoes of re­cently dis­charged army vet Lin­coln Clay, who starts set­tling back into life in the black mob within New Bordeaux, a fic­tion­alised ver­sion of New Or­leans. Af­ter seem­ingly solv­ing their debt prob­lems, an un­ex­pected be­trayal prompts a lengthy re­venge mis­sion, as Clay swears to take down mob king­pin Sal Mar­cano.

It turns out re­venge is a dish best served ex­tremely slowly. Amass­ing the money and re­sources you need to rule a crim­i­nal em­pire in­volves a lot of hard work. While it kills the pac­ing of the story, there’s an un­der­ly­ing logic in the struc­ture: you need to take out var­i­ous rack­ets to even­tu­ally draw out Mar­cano’s lieu­tenants and gain con­trol of New Bordeaux’s dis­tricts. But to do that you need al­lies of your own, which means re­cruit­ing three un­der­bosses to your cause, in­clud­ing Mafia II’s Vito Scaletta.

Vi­o­lent de­lights

Tempt­ing though it is to crack on with each new story-cru­cial mis­sion, there are ben­e­fits to do­ing more than the bare min­i­mum and tak­ing the time to im­prove re­la­tion­ships with your as­so­ciates. You’ll earn the abil­ity to tem­po­rar­ily call off the po­lice, have un­der­lings bring you weapons and ask a con­sigliere to stash your cash. With your wal­let halved upon death, it pays to make reg­u­lar de­posits.

There’s a real sense of weight to both shootouts and melee com­bat, while en­vi­ron­ments present plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties to play it stealthy or go in guns (or Molo­tovs) blaz­ing. But smart, tac­ti­cal play is often wasted on Mar­cano’s dim-bulb hench­men. At times, the AI is ut­terly wit­less:

it’s all too easy to sim­ply crouch be­hind cover and whis­tle to at­tract the at­ten­tion of a sin­gle goon, who’ll oblig­ingly stroll over to in­ves­ti­gate, let­ting you stab him in the chest and drag him to the floor be­fore re­peat­ing the process. Oc­ca­sion­ally, you’ll be spot­ted by an­other lackey, but hav­ing wit­nessed the deed, they’ll stum­ble as they back away, giv­ing you time to race over and knock them out.

Fall from grace

The game be­comes very repet­i­tive, too. Al­though the con­text is dif­fer­ent each time, the mis­sion de­sign barely changes. Smash­ing up liquor stores is func­tion­ally iden­ti­cal to de­stroy­ing boxes of heroin, and your ap­proach to ex­tort­ing unions will be the same as in­ter­ro­gat­ing mi­nor flunkies. More than most sand­box games, Mafia III is bet­ter suited to short bursts of play rather than binges.

De­spite all this, plus a clutch of glitches (though they’re seem­ingly less fre­quent on Xbox One than other con­soles) there are rea­sons to stick with it. The story, though dragged out by the sand­box struc­ture, is skil­fully told, pick­ing over Clay’s ex­ploits and the steamy un­der­belly of New Bordeaux in faux-doc­u­men­tary style.

More sig­nif­i­cantly, it con­fronts the per­va­sive racism of the time sim­ply by pre­sent­ing it in all its horror. It fac­tors into the sys­tems of the game, too: as our open­ing anec­dote proves, to just be vis­i­ble in well to-do ar­eas arouses sus­pi­cion, and po­lice won’t re­spond as quickly to crimes in black neigh­bour­hoods. There’s a vi­car­i­ous cathar­sis in ris­ing to it (af­ter a restau­rant owner at­tempted to kick us out by say­ing, “We don’t want your kind in here”, we sucker-punched him in the gut) and yet Han­gar 13 is care­ful not to paint Clay as a good guy. As a man driven by vengeance, his crimes are as bad as those he’s look­ing to re­move from power. A priest friend sadly sums up the fu­til­ity of his quest: “If all you ever look for is evil, that’s all you’re ever go­ing to see.”

As a provoca­tive drama that deals in am­bi­gu­i­ties and nu­ance, Mafia III is a tri­umph; as an open-worlder, it has some­thing more to of­fer than empty he­do­nism and sledge­ham­mer satire. Al­though rep­e­ti­tion and bland de­sign ul­ti­mately blunt its mes­sage, it’s still a game worth lis­ten­ing to.

Pub­lisher 2K Games / De­vel­oper Han­gar 13, 2K Czech / For­mat Xbox One / re­lease date Out now / cost £54.99

There are 44 au­then­tic ‘60s cars for you to drive, cus­tomise and up­grade, plus 12 bonus ve­hi­cles.

A brutal game with a heart, Mafia II ex­plores the mean­ing of fam­ily and lives that are de­fined by vi­o­lence.

Didn’t any­one ever tell Clay that fire and cars don’t mix? Silly boy.

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