Mafia III was a highly anticipated, uber hyped title this year, and much like other uber hyped titles, just as disappointing. Even though it sets out to take the open world style of GTA V to a higher level with a meaningful plot and serious issues, it falls short again, and again, and yet again.
Progressing like a documentary movie, Mafia III tells the story of Lincoln Clay, who has just returned to his home in New Bordeaux after serving in the Vietnam War, only to find his family in the midst of an inter-community gang war. The game starts with a heist mission with you trying to rob the Federal Reserve, intermitted by cutscenes that shed some light on the backstory of your character. After this heavily action packed intro, you get to the main storyline where Lincoln’s sole aim is vengeance.
The plot of the game is pretty cliched, set against a simple I-shall-have-my-revenge-slash-rags-to-riches backdrop. You start out at the bottom, more like restart, because the criminal overlords decide to kill you and destroy everything you possess once you refuse to accept their offer to run the district as their lapdog. Now, in order to destroy your enemies, not only do you have to shut down their rackets to get to the leaders, but build your own crime empire as you take over the districts, giving them to your allies so they can help you run the city.
The most fascinating thing about the game, and probably what sets it apart from the rest is the seriousness of race. The protagonist is a black man, living in Southern US during the 60s, and that makes a huge difference. Racism is the order of the day, and not only is Clay mistreated by the mobsters or the white people in general, he is actually hated by the society as a whole, signified as something repulsive and demonic simply because of the colour of his skin. This is depicted quite well in the game, adding another reason behind Clay’s battle of righteousness.
The best part about the game is the way the story has been told, with each important character providing their own insights about the particular time, Lincoln’s past, his actions and his entire transformation. It plays as cutscenes that punctuate the actual gameplay, giving you a proper backstory about certain situations and how Clay’s whole quest ends up changing everyone’s lives.
But this deep issue driven plot story of the game is shrouded by the game’s lack of gameplay, meaning that sometime during your own play, you’ll stop giving a damn about the plot and the characters and may just stop playing out of sheer boredom. And that, perhaps, is the biggest shame because the two things that hold the game together are its characters and story. Each character in the game is beautifully written and portrayed, with their distinct qualities and unique thoughts that make them relatable. Whether it’s Lincoln himself, even though he’s just a notch deeper than your average game hero with a sad background, or Father James, the priest who has watched Lincoln become a vengeance-stricken crime lord from from an stand-up good guy, and is now torn between helping him in his quest and chastising him for the terror and dread he’s spreading across the city.
Mafia III fails to deliver due to a number of reasons, the major one lying at its core. The story is deep, the characters are deeper still and the world is huge – BUT, there is nothing to do with all that. Hangar 13 did a great job filling the open world with side quests and activities, but they are all very similar to each other. Repetition seems to be the backbone of the gameplay, and that’s what makes it so disappointing. To conquer a district, you need to take down two “rackets” through side quests, which are more or less the same – kill all the enemies, interrogate someone or free someone. Sometimes, you get to follow an enemy in a car or destroy some valuables, but that doesn’t happen very often and don’t really change anything about the core concept.
Once you’re done with the rackets, you earn the ability to take down the boss running the district, followed by more killing and sneaking and more straight up killing, at the end of which you take over the district. After that you repeat the whole process for the next one, and the game has a total of nine districts. The entire game can be summarized in four words – Interrogate. Kill. Take Over. Repeat.
Even though the game is only 40 hours long (which for open world games is exactly much), the lack of things to do in the game make it seem like a drag. There are only two major activities in the game – driving and shooting. Now, if the game followed a linear approach with about 8-10 hours of gameplay, it would have been perfect. But it has an open world model with 40 hours of the same activities over and over. I may sound a little repetitive, but then again, compared to Mafia III, I’m nothing. You know what, now I’m going to be even more repetitive.
Another thing that complements the game’s stunning gameplay-lacking elements is an equally mind-lacking AI. Seriously, the AI is so dumb, if they were on an escalator and the electricity went out, they’d be stuck. This means that sneaking is as good as playing with cheat codes. Moreover, it’s a cover based third person shooter, so playing on easy might just equal to God mode.
One concept that the Mafia III was hoping to sell was giving the districts to your allies and maintain a certain level of loyalty. Meaning that if you give them a district to control, it would make them happy, but if you give it to someone else, they might resent you, possibly to the extent that it may just result in a coup. So managing your relationship with these allies was supposed to be an important and interesting mechanic. There isn’t exactly a “hard choice” as the game had claimed, and by evenly distributing the territories you can keep them all happy. You know which game actually did better at this? GRAND THEFT AUTO 2. Yes, I went there. Maintaining a relationship between gangs was much tougher in GTA 2 because if a gang’s respect for you was below the threshold they would start shooting you at sight. Fun times, right?
Building a relationship with the underbosses also unlocks special abilites, including weapons and ammo special delivery, get rid of the cops for two minutes (yep). In the beginning it seems like a good perk, but in the later stages you realize that it actually makes the missions sort of trivial. I mean, all I need to do to call of the cops is ring up by buddy. It’s the 60s, and I’m a black man, but no one can touch me.
Mafia III is an ambitious game with amazing potential, but it ends up being a disappointment, thanks to the lack of gameplay elements and not-so-smart AI. The characters, story and the storytelling, however, are still amazing and could have been so much more. It would’ve done much better if they had just made it into a movie, because that’s what the cutscenes in the game feel like, and are honestly the best part about the whole game.
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