Mafia 3 Review

Developed by: Hangar 13 — Published by: 2k — Reviewed on PS4

Video games are about illusion; the images and controls fool you into believing that the button clicks, stick thrusts and trigger pulls are actually accomplishing something. Jump an avatar in an empty space — boring. Jump an avatar over strategically placed blocks and turtles and suddenly you have Super Mario 3; the line between brilliance and boredom can be hair-thin. This, boiled down to its basic essence, is all that’s right and wrong with Mafia 3. It has brilliant dialog serviced by impressive acting in decently rendered cutscenes to spin its compelling tale. But when you shift into action, it regresses into mundane, repetitive tasks consisting of stealth, shooting and driving. No matter where you are or what you’re doing — or why you’re doing it — within a few hours you’ll quickly realize that you’re doing the same things over and over and over. You’re basically running to stand still.

After more than 20 hours I kept playing just to see what was around the next bend. “This has to open up to more at some point…” I kept thinking. It didn’t.

So here’s the gist of the story: Lincoln Clay comes home to New Bordeaux (standing in, allegedly, for New Orleans) from the Vietnam War to return to his life of organized crime. He gets betrayed, left for dead, and returns to wreak havoc on those who done him wrong. As it turns out, Lincoln has a particular set of skills he learned while he was away; he was trained to be a black-ops assassin for the CIA. Thank God he wasn’t a clerk or stuck in the laundry room!

Mafia 3 Cinematic Trailer

Anyway, here’s a breakdown of what you’ll do for most of Mafia 3:

Several missions will open up for you on your map. You’ll pick one. You drive and speak to someone who babbles on. Objectives pop on your map. You drive to these places and either stealthily (and brutally) knife someone or go in guns ablazin’. Doesn’t really matter; you don’t earn any upgrade XP. After awhile I gave up and went Rambo. It’s not like I was punished for my bravado. It was actually easier and faster to just shoot everyone. Anyway, you clear out a space and move on to the next objective (spoiler alert: it’s going to be the exact same thing in a different location).

A minute here to address the sloppy cover-system and wonky shooting. X or A (depending on your console) will snap you into cover. Want to turn that corner while in cover? Sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t. When it fails, you’ll either get stuck on something you can’t see or pop out and reveal yourself to the goons.

The shooting reticle doesn’t tell you whether your bullet will hit its mark. It’s floaty and useless. None of this matters anyway as the AI is brutally stupid. They’re the type that walk their beat, mosey on up to a wall and stare at the woodgrain for a moment. Kill a buddy’s friend 15 feet away — he won’t care. Didn’t see a thing. Challenging, Mafia 3 is not.

Funny joke, you guys. Now help me break out of this

Someone should have called the Orkin Man during development because this game is littered with bugs (corny, I know). One time my car was stuck, clipping into the ground as if it were buried in cement (see above image). I had to restart from a checkpoint. Another time, after a stealth kill, the corpse clipped through a wall, his legs were all that were visible, bouncing for joy.

Sometimes new missions wouldn’t pop and I’d be left without an objective. A checkpoint restart fixed that, but still.

My biggest pet-peeve was the cardinal sin of not letting me plunder and pillage a boss’ office or warehouse immediately after killing him and his crew. The game jarringly jumps into a non-skipable cutscene (two actually) and then shoves you back outside. You have to retrace your steps and hope you can find your bounty.

And then after a while I realized none of it mattered anyway. Money is your XP in this game — but you quickly have so much of it that it doesn’t matter because the good stuff you want to buy is still hidden behind mission locks. The collectables, like pinups and record covers — who knows what they’re good for. It’s as if during a pitch meeting someone said “Hey, we should have collectables!” and someone else went “Yeah!” And so they put collectables in the game but didn’t figure out why. That’s Mafia 3 in a nutshell. Nothing seems to have a purpose.

I hate to pile on here but, beyond the pre-rendered cutscenes, which do look admirable, Mafia 3 looks like a last-gen game that got the upres treatment. I kept thinking of the Sleeping Dogs rerelease from a few years back. There are some glossy and bumpy textures to be found, and the framerate does its best to linger near 30 frames-per-second, but overall this looks like a dull, nearly lifeless city from a 2007 game. We deserve more in 2016 for $60.

This is supposed to take place in a New-Orleans-type city, but very little made me feel like I was actually in the Big Easy. Much of the architecture was samey. I saw a few palmetto plants, palm trees, some canals. But I could have been anywhere along the Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, the radio stations each play their same five or six songs over and over. It quickly grew grating.

Here I am in… New Bordeaux. Or something.

Oh, yeah, there was one thing I liked. Mafia games are notorious for having poor driving physics. This time, while the cars are still slow, driving is fun. It’s easy to float around corners at top speed. The drifting is top-notch. I hope other developers take note and borrow this feeling for their vehicles.

But beyond that, Mafia 3 is a mind-boggling disappointment. It’s a check-box game to a “T.” You clear out an area, assign it to an underboss, and move on. Nothing changes. There is no variety. You either shoot or stab. There isn’t more than one way to take out your target — nothing remotely approaching a Hitman, true sandbox feeling.

Come to think of it, I really don’t understand why Hangar 13 didn’t just make this a straightforward action/adventure game. With the rich (and wholly wasted) story that props it up, this could have been something special — dare I say encroaching Naughty Dog territory. It’s that good. Freed from the shackles of its open-world structure, 2K might have had a decent holiday hit on its hands.

I suspect Mafia 3 will sell well in its initial week. And many players will enjoy their early hours with their purchase. But as the hours drag on, the inevitable disappointment will settle in for most. Hey, if you’re looking for quantity over quality, it’s quite a lengthy game. There are plenty of side-missions on top of the numerous main-story objectives. Will it keep you busy? Yep. Will it keep you entertained? As long as you like doing the same three things over and over, you’ll be happy as a clam.

You’ll be in this exact same situation a lot.

Mafia 3 was one of the titles I was looking forward to the most this holiday season. The trailers had me, hook, line and sinker. And the first few hours were promising, brimming with potential (a cruel word). Yet the red flags were there. I hoped that the world was going to open up, I would learn new skills, or… something. Anything. Nope. What you do in your first hour is what you’ll do 20 hours in. Hide, stab, shoot, rinse, repeat.

The writers at Hangar 13 should be commended for their writing. But story is only a small part of the equation. The environments are drab, the art direction is dull and the mechanics are depressing. We’ve come too far and seen too much — this year alone — to have this much of a backstep. It’s not that Mafia 3 is a bad game. It’s not. But it’s not a good one either. And when you put the game itself within the context of the story which surrounds it, that’s a shame.

My Rating: 5/10

One final note about the authenticity of the language from Mafia 3’s time-period. This is the south in 1968, and the N-word is thrown about to accurately portray Lincoln’s story — at least, that’s the reason Hangar 13 gave in the note that pops up on the screen just before the story begins. I get that they’re trying to show how horrible white people were to black people during this time. However, it’s not like this is a true story. This isn’t a story that had to be told. It’s a complete work of fiction.

That being said, hearing someone call Lincoln a ni**ger and then having him pop out of cover and stab them in the neck — I imagine that it might feel cathartic to some. I found the whole thing distasteful. This is fantasy. It’s a video game. Would any of it have less of an impact if they left the n-word out (or any of the other epithets cavalierly tossed about)? My guess is no. There are many more creative ways to get the same idea across without having to hear some mafia boss bitterly hiss “ni**ger” at Lincoln as he closes in. The whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth. I’m not saying we have to whitewash our past. What I’m asking is, what did it add? What was the value? When you answer that, you’ll answer whether you need racial slurs served up hot and rancid with your video game.

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