Mafia 3 is certainly one of the more unique gaming experiences of 2016. While its mission structure can be quite repetitive, there are several features that make Mafia 3 a title that you should experience. Here are five features that contribute to the unique experience in Mafia 3.
The presentation of the narrative
Mafia 3’s narrative is told as if the story has already happened. Cutscenes between missions feature supporting characters being interviewed and recounting the events of the story before the player begins to play them out.
Father James Ballard, the adoptive uncle to protagonist Lincoln Clay, often talks about Lincoln’s personality and his good intentions, offering explanations for his illegal deeds. John Donovan, ex-CIA and Lincoln’s partner, is seen testifying to a Senate Inquiry and justifying his role in Lincoln’s rise. Finally, Jonathan Maguire, Assistant Director of the Criminal Enterprise Branch of the FBI, recounts events and offers a more negative view on Lincoln.
The player is able to get a clearer picture about how people viewed Lincoln and his actions. More important, however, is the foreshadowing that creates intrigue for the player and encourages them to push on to find out what happens.
Developer Hangar 13 even goes so far as having the characters interject if you die during a set piece. Early in the game I crashed a boat I had to escape on, and Maguire cut in and said that was not how it happened, before I was offered a chance to respawn.
The historical/ political world
Mafia 3 is set in the fictional Southern American town of New Bordeaux in 1968. It’s no secret that the American South in 1968 was not kind to African Americans, and Hangar 13 made a conscious decision to include all aspects of the time period in its world, including the racism.
“We felt that to not include this very real and shameful part of our past would have been offensive to the millions who faced – and still face – bigotry, discrimination, prejudice, and racism in all its forms,” writes Hangar 13 before the beginning of the game. At times, it’s the smaller things that have the biggest effect, and Mafia 3 is filled with minor details that really capture the attitudes towards people of colour in the 1960s.
One example was when I was searching for a collectable in the game. I walked into a diner and everyone started looking at me and getting suspicious even though I had not done anything. One patron even ran out to ring the police. I had just walked into a segregated diner. It’s subtle, but highly effective. Kotaku’s Nathan Grayson wrote a great piece on Mafia 3’s depiction of racism which you should definitely read.
Furthermore, Mafia 3 does a wonderful job at capturing other aspects of the 1960s such as music, clothing and cars. New Bordeaux is a great recreation of a 1960s town, down to the minor details such as the objects on tables or wall paper inside houses. If you’re not paying attention you won’t notice it because nothing feels out of place for a 1960s world.
Even the music during missions and while driving is from the 1960s. I enjoyed hearing Paint It Black and All Along the Watchtower as I cruised around town. Besides war games, I can’t tell you of any other games that are set in the historical time period of the 1960s, and it is refreshing for Mafia 3 to explore the zeitgeist of the time period, sparring no detail.
Brutal Melee Combat
Open-world games tend to not have the best controls when it comes to getting up close and personal with your enemies, but Mafia 3 is an exception to this. Lincoln Clay isn’t afraid to throw punches at his enemies, and they sure are brutal.
If you suddenly find yourself too close to an enemy to shoot them accurately, a dedicated melee button allows Lincoln to wail on his enemy before finishing them with a brutal knife stab or by slamming their head on a nearby table. The transition between gun-play and melee combat is instant and extremely rewarding.
The system also allows you to take a stealthy approach to encounters, with Lincoln whistling to get someone’s attention before jumping out from behind cover, stabbing them in the neck and pulling them out of sight. The animations are silky smooth, making each stealth kill enjoyable (it feels wrong using that word to talk about killing someone, even if it is just a video game).
I’d love to see more open-world shooters implement this form of combat because it breaks up the pace of encounters and does not make you feel hopeless when enemies get too close. Enemy lines of sight are fairly forgiving too, making stealth fun even for players like myself who prefer the guns blazing approach.
Navigation way point system
This one won’t make or break your experience with the game, but it is a nice addition. Rather than filling up the screen with a line that you follow to your chosen destination, Mafia 3 puts an arrow at every intersection telling you which way to go. It does not take long to understand what the arrows mean when you first see them, and they make the HUD feel simple. I didn’t feel like I had to keep glancing down at my map to see where I was going next because the arrows always pointed me in the right direction. It allows the player to observe their surroundings and the world more, noticing the minor details that might otherwise be missed from paying close attention to your GPS.
Even though each Mafia game is its own contained story, the series loves to pay homage to its previous titles. In Mafia 3, Lincoln pays a visit to Mafia 2 protagonist Vito Scaletta who has recently moved to New Bordeaux. Lincoln wants to convince Vito to join him on his crusade. Despite Mafia 2 being developed by a different studio, albeit under the same 2K banner, it’s nice to see Hangar 13 acknowledging its predecessor’s protagonist and giving him a decent supporting role.