Ugly with a Good Personality

In 1968 New Bordeaux, Lincoln Clay is an ex-street tough turned U.S. Army veteran who’s just returned from the Vietnam War.  He plans on going clean and moving to California, but his adoptive father’s business practices bring him at odds with a Haitian gang and the Marcano crime family of the Dixie Mafia.  In a familiar twist, “the last job” leaves him for dead and he ends up setting down a bloody and brutal path of revenge that’s satisfying to watch and even more satisfying to play.  This story is told to us through flashbacks and flashforwards, between the events of the game’s narrative and scenes from a documentary about Lincoln Clay set sometime in the 90s.  These flashbacks give us some insights into Lincoln’s motivations, the consequences of his actions, and his history, without spelling it all out for us.

Mafia 3 seems to draw from other genres of film of the era.  Lincoln Clay seems a bit like Travis Bickle with his old military jacket and buzzed mohawk.  He’s like Rambo with his large knife, special forces training, CIA connections, and gravelly voice.  There are obvious similarities that can be drawn to blaxploitation films.  The setting and themes of late 1960s New Bordeaux (the Mafia world’s equivalent of New Orleans) reflect Burt Reynolds movies.  In whole, while Mafia 3 is less Mafia-y, it incorporates a greater degree of source material to create a new, and compelling story ties into the Italian, Irish, and Dixie Mafias.

The gameplay is excellent.  Combat is fluid, stealth is simple (perhaps too simple), and melee combat offers satisfying, brutal execution moves out of a mobster movie.  While the sim-like mechanics of Mafia 2 have been stripped from the game, you’d never notice if it weren’t pointed out to you.  The mission structure divides larger narrative missions into a series of smaller missions and objectives that are addictive, tasking you with finding and killing smaller targets until you work your way up, stealing their territories and rackets all along the way.  If you’ve played Scarface: The Game or Godfather: The Game you’ll see some similarities in how the game deals with money, territory, and advisors.  For those interested in building their criminal empire and getting to know their advisors and allies, side missions are available to increase your income and unlock conversations with your goons.  While it doesn’t offer the detail or diversity of larger open world games with bigger budgets, it manages to create a world that still feels alive and enough content so that you can always do something different.

Mafia 3 looks good in certain light.  The game’s cutscenes are rendered beautifully, the character’s realistic facial animations dip a toe into the uncanny valley, and the game’s interior set pieces are gorgeous.  The open world gameplay might make it the ugliest game this generation.  Lighting is baked, and barely works.  At times you’ll find the game becomes sepia toned or black and white just because of the game’s lighting engine going wonky and the world is washed out in light.  The textures are bland, ugly, and low resolution.  Something went terribly wrong in the game’s art department.

Mafia 3 takes a hard left turn from the rest of the series.  Instead of retreading cliche ground and plagiarizing Scorsese, Coppola, and Puzo in order to tell the story of the rise and fall of a first generation Italian immigrant gangster like its predecessors, it sets out to tell a completely new story that draws from a plethora of movies.  It’s rough around the edges but easy to love when you get into the storyline.