Mafia 3: Review
Performance issues, glitches, and so-so game-play mean that despite some brilliant storytelling, Mafia 3 fails to make an offer you can’t refuse.
Mafia 3 is an unfortunate reminder that a game can truly excel in one area and still wind up disappointing. With confident storytelling and consistently fantastic performances, Mafia 3 effortlessly establishes a narrative that has you engaged from the get-go. Sadly, it’s the ho-hum mission design and various technical oddities that will drag you out of the world time and time again.
The game wastes no time in expertly establishing the character of Lincoln Clay, a Vietnam War veteran returning from conflict to his home of New Bordeaux. Once back, Clay finds himself re-embroiled in the criminal activity surrounding his adopted mob family despite ambitions of starting afresh elsewhere. It’s a welcome change in tone for the open world genre, where the buffoonery of Grand Theft Auto and Saint’s Row has somewhat lost its novelty.
It’s on the merit of strong characterization that Mafia 3 skillfully avoids a case of Niko Bellic Syndrome, whereby a protagonist’s intentions of turning over a new leaf are quickly abandoned in favour of wanton violence that seems at odds with the character’s motivations. Instead, Mafia 3’s opening gambit has Clay’s hopes for a different life quickly and devastatingly extinguished. As the game’s opening act concludes, Clay is irreparably ensnared in a murderous quest for vengeance. As a result, the action that follows is contextualised in a satisfying way.
That action spills out across New Bordeaux, a city in Louisiana struggling under the weight of official corruption, organized crime, and heightened social tensions. Visually, this open-world setting is refreshing, quite unalike any other with its evening skies streaked by golden-brown hues, South American architecture, and murky swampland.
Sadly, beyond appreciating its good looks, New Bordeaux offers little in the way of things to do. You could travel in search of collectable Play Boy magazines, though these are hardly an effective incentive. As a result, traveling from one end of the map to the other — which you will do with staggering frequency, given the game has no qualms about setting consecutive missions far apart from one another — starts to feel like a chore. This is compounded by the lack of a fast travel option, or any means of speeding up the process at all.
To make matters worse, the beauty of New Bordeaux is marred by various technical issues. Blurred, swimmy visuals make the game’s image appear over-softened in a manner that seems accidental. Driving quickly causes lighting to pop in and out, as does moving between interiors and exteriors. Scenes are plunged into extreme darkness, or become entirely washed out as the visuals try to keep up with the action.
There are times when Mafia 3 has interesting ideas, but it often stumbles in the execution. Sometimes, the vehicles you enter won’t start immediately. It’s a neat touch that makes New Bordeaux’s impoverished areas feel different to those of the city’s wealthy elite. At the start of one mission, the car failed to start for several minutes. It didn’t seem to be part of the story— my companion chatted away obliviously, as companions riding in your car in an open-world game often do, while I continued my vain attempts to get the show on the road. Exiting and re-entering the car twice was the only way to fix the glitched behaviour.
In other cases, button prompts simply refused to display, leading to some confusing button mashing at inopportune times. Vehicle collisions occasionally became wildly unrealistic, with cars and boats flying skyward. Performance, in general, on a well-equipped PC was also less than acceptable, and more than one crash took me out of the game completely. Eventually, the myriad issues I encountered began to surpass any fun I was having following Lincoln Clay’s story.
Regrettably, that’s the feeling Mafia 3 left me with. There are lots of interesting ideas, but none are realized fully or smoothly enough to leave a lasting, positive impression. Despite the strength of Mafia 3’s storytelling, it’s simply not enough to outweigh the mostly derivative design and technical flaws that drag down the experience as a whole.