We’ve had our hands on Mafia 3 for a few days now – big up to our local dealer! – we’re now ready to tell you what we think of Hangar 13’s Mafia 3. Normally we’re a little early with reviews if we get the game by our own means, but on this occasion we just didn’t have the time to get it out before release. Sorry. It’s not that we buckled to any lawyers, we simply didn’t have the time. For a visual representation about how we at Pure PlayStation feel about this, go here.
It’s 1968. You’re a black man who has returned from fighting a nasty war that nobody wanted, and now you’re back in your homeland being called all sorts of horribly racist names. Doesn’t sound too nice, does it? Well, ladies and gents, that’s the harsh reality of 60’s America. Murder, drugs, racism, rape, prostitution, rain, The Beatles. It was a downright nasty era.
The story goes that Lincoln Clay returns home from Vietnam, though instead of kicking back, relaxing and getting some well-earned rest, he’s dragged back into the gang life that he left behind when he joined the army. Poor lad can’t get a break. The opening few hours serve to set up the narrative with a few tutorial-style missions to get you familiar with the game’s mechanics. I can’t say I was particularly happy to have my hand held in such a way, but I suppose it’s the standard these days.
So, why is Lincoln running around shooting people in the nuts? I’m not going to spoil it in any way – the story is by far and away the highlight of Mafia 3 – but I’ll say that his reasons are somewhat sound. Well, not really, but in Videogame World, it’s pretty standard: man loses everything, wants revenge. Standard stuff, really.
It’s the first few hours that really do the legwork in terms of storytelling – not that the rest of the game lacks – but it’s important in giving the player a reason to relate to Lincoln, regardless of race, age, or gender. And you know what? I got some god dam feels out of that bastard and half the glory goes to the developers, the rest is straight on the vocal talent that gives the game its voice.
The blend of great facial animation and some voice acting pulled straight from the top-drawer really does hit a nerve. When Lincoln is at his lowest point, I was there with him. When he was furiously angry, I was just as pissed as he was. When he visited a brothel, I… refrained. Point is, the characterisation is simply brilliant. I cared not only for Lincoln, but also his friends and accomplices. It’s weird that, at best, he’s a man of honour who just wants to get his own back on those who wronged him, and at worst, he’s a fucking nutjob who wants to take over an entire city and he’ll kill anyone who gets in the way, yet I still found him to be one of the most likeable characters I’ve played as in recent years.
Those who know the Mafia games will appreciate the little exposition that sets up the story, but for others, it’s just going to be another open-world game to cause a bit of mayhem in. If you find yourself in the latter’s school of thought, you’re not going to be too pleased.
It’s something of a crude comparison, but if you’re expecting GTA V levels of openness, you’re looking at the wrong game. Sure, the game’s world is open for you to explore, but there’s not nearly half as much to do (cue GTA V retirement sim gags). There’s a cycle to the gameplay that’ll seem more than familiar to anyone that played the original Assassin’s Creed. Once you’ve gone through the motions with the first few tasks, you’re given free rein to do as you please.
However, if you want to push the story along, you’re gonna have to do some legwork. You’ll need to liberate sex workers, kill gangs, interrogate mobsters, and so forth. Why? Well, it draws out the local district’s head honcho. If you want to take over the city (that’s Clay’s mission in life now) you’re going to have to get rid of the competition. You need to do enough damage to get their attention, and from there it’s up to you to kill them and lay claim to their territory.
It’s a simple cycle of go here, kill this person, kill these people, do this task, help these people, Big Boss is here, kill that person, celebrate by going for a toilet break and a cup of tea. Does it get a little boring? Yeah, I guess it does. But is it worth it for the story mission and the twists and turns that come with each step forward towards the conclusion? Fuck yeah. I genuinely looked forward to the cut scenes, so every mission I felt like I’d done thrice already wasn’t too much of a problem, and it helps that it’s actually pretty decent in the gameplay department, albeit with a few irksome things.
A.I is a little hit and miss, so much so that stealth doesn’t really matter. Yes, you can play the game as a low-tech Sam Fisher, though there’s not really any need to. You’ve got the option to sneak into a compound, brothel, swamp den, and thin out the enemy ranks with noting but brutal melee. Or you can run in all-guns-blazing and have the time of your life. I preferred the latter, if only because it felt there wasn’t really a challenge in going all sneaky-sneaky. Enemies can be stood five virtual feet away from you, yet they don’t really notice when you switch from one piece of cover to the next. You can stab a dude in the neck and throw his body to the ground, only for his mate to carry on whistling away like it was just a regular thing for Dave to be up to and that he’d soon be back up on his feet. So the A.I is a little janky, basically, but it’s serviceable. Just don’t expect to have a whale of a time being a sneaky bastard.
Naturally, a lot of the game centers on shooting people until they are no longer shooting at you, so you’d hope that the gunplay is top-notch, right? Well I’m happy to say it is, in fact, it’s downright hilarious at times. Ragdoll physics and the grotesquely satisfying squelch of lead meeting flesh makes it so, so, so good. Shoot a man in the knee and he falls comically until he limps around. Shoot him again and he’ll go to the ground like Ronaldo in the wind. Shoot him in the head and you’ll get a lovely spray of brain blood. Nice. Granted, the aiming is a little bit fiddly (it’s better with aim assist turned all the way off) but the general feel is that it’s very satisfying.
Speaking of satisfying… Cars. Damn the 60’s had some good motors around. I’m not a fan of the modern supercar, so for me this was beautiful. Cars are heavy and they don’t care if you’re in a rush to get around that corner because the cops are chasing you; the car wants to do it in style and you’d best believe that you’re as much a passenger as you are a driver. For maximum fun, go to the options and get the driving settings switched to ‘simulation’ and then watch as your car swings wide and knocks people over while looking boss as hell.
It takes a little bit of getting used to but once you’ve become one with the car, you’ll enter a trance-like state where anything is possible. Want to drift like the Duke brothers? Easy. Want to hit that ramp and land with nothing but sex pouring out of your ears? Don’t think, just do. Alright, I’ve gone a little bit overboard, but the driving really is pretty wicked. However…
As with most games these days, there are little niggles, and the frame rate and general presentation are not getting away without me having my say. It’s not an ugly game – far from it – but there’s a stiffness to the fictional take of New Orleans that just feels a little bit off to me, or at least by day it does. By night there’s a simmering glow on every street as neon lights illuminate the hookers, gangsters, and regular folk who are just regular. In short, it’s lovely, even if it is a little rough around the edges. It’s not quite as alive as other games in the open-world genre, nor is it as polished, but that’s okay with me.
So, performance. How does it run on PS4? For the most part, really well. There are instances of jitter when you’re bombing it down the streets like a madman, but it’s not that bad and I’ve definitely had worse (Just Cause 3, you bastard!) but it’s there and you do notice it, though not as much as the pop-in. Oh lord, the pop in. Magic cars that suddenly appear in front of you was a great feature back in the days of GTA on the PS2 (and the PS2 releases on PS4…) but now it’s back! To be fair though, it’s not nearly as bad as back then, but it’s still a little jarring to suddenly see a vehicle appear some way off ahead of you. It’s worth noting that cars were never appearing so close that I didn’t have a chance to maneuver and avoid a write-off. Oh, actually, that’s not really a worry.
Car damage is pitiful to say the least. You can smash head-on into cars, tress and people without the car crumpling. It’s a shame, really, as a I always enjoyed seeing just how close to wrecked I could get a car before it became undrivable. In Mafia 3, that ends at blown out tyres.
It’s a game with a few niggles here and there, more so if going through the motions to unlock story missions irks you, but for me it’s a stellar first effort from Hangar 13. It’s an interesting time period that’s rarely explored in games. The story is worth investing in. Without the story, you’d just be looking at another open-world game with above-average gunplay and wicked cool driving. Oh, and a good soundtrack, too. I know, I know. I’ve gone some 1400 words without mentioning the 60’s music that blares over the radio. You know why? Because I’m in desperate love with The Killers and I’m not really a fan of anything else. Though one tune stuck out for me: Creedance Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising.
Yeah. Only ‘cos The Killers do a sick cover of it.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game bought at retail at the expense of the reviewer. This has no effect on the content of the review or the final score awarded. For more information, please read our Review Policy.