1968 was a very turbulent year in US history. The Vietnam War rages on, Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated, and “Star Trek” airs the first interracial kiss in the history of American TV, all while racial tensions are at their peak. In the fictional city of New Bordeaux, loosely based on the very real city of New Orleans, these tensions are about to get even worse, as Lincoln Clay sets off on a bloody quest for revenge against the Italian mafia in Mafia 3.

Upon returning home to New Bordeaux from the Vietnam War, Lincoln immediately finds himself working with his family in the Black mob. After a big heist, Lincoln’s adoptive father and brother are murdered by the leader of the Italian mafia, while he is left to die from a bullet wound to the head. Once recovered, Lincoln is determined to completely destroy the Italian mob by killing a lot of people. At its core, it is a simple story of betrayal and revenge, but the masterful writing and delivery turn it into so much more.

Mafia 3 review

The story itself is told through a series of in-game cutscenes and documentary-style interviews with some of the characters in the present day. The action scenes take place in 1968, as Lincoln exacts his revenge on the Italian mafia and takes over New Bordeaux one district at a time; the short documentary segments help remind the player of the bigger picture. However, the real stars of the game are the little details, especially Lincoln’s interactions with the many supporting characters and the world around them. Every monologue or dialogue is interesting, and always tells us something new about the characters. You won’t like every character, and some of them you will down right hate, but learning more about them and their backgrounds is probably the best part of the game. You will run deliveries and perform all sorts of pointless optional missions just so you can unlock the next conversation and spend some more time with the wonderful cast.

But the characters are not the only ones with a story to tell, as the game’s world itself is filled with personality, history and conflict, and every area of New Bordeaux brings about new stories, style and challenges. The developers never shy away from reminding us just how horrible people could be back then, and just how common and acceptable racism was. Racism and racial tensions are actually woven into both the story and the gameplay. Cops take their time arriving at the black parts of the city, while appearing almost instantly at the richer white neighborhoods; characters drop the n-word, as well as an entire array of other racial slurs, in an unsettling frequency; and people on the streets or on the radio constantly talk about both in-game and real-world events that shape the climate of the city. In the middle of it all stands Lincoln Clay, a black biracial man who returns from serving a country that treats him like a third-rate citizen, and the perfect vessel for the player to experience the world and story of Mafia 3.

Mafia 3 review

Sadly, the open world doesn’t offer the same richness when it comes to missions. When not interacting with the fascinating characters or immersing yourself in the well-constructed world, you’ll be driving around the city, doing the same types of missions over and over again. Every time you unlock a new area of New Bordeaux you have to go through the same routine: talk to an informant, sabotage the mob’s operations by killing a bunch of dudes or stealing their money, and eventually take over the rackets. There are also optional delivery missions you can complete to increase the amount of money you make out of every racket, but these feel like a boring chore that mostly involves a long, uneventful drive from point A to point B.

Once you take full control over an area, you unlock a story mission in which you hunt down the capo running the district and take them out. Admittedly, these missions are usually much more interesting and diverse, ranging from crashing a riverboat to infiltrating a funeral, but the gameplay always boils down to either stealth or gunfights. The only interesting gameplay mechanic is the way you can divide the city between your underbosses. You can assign a freshly conquered district to one of your three underbosses to increase their earn and unlock more bonuses. Each underboss provides different perks, so you’ll immediately start playing favorites, depending on their personality and your play style. However, if you give one underboss too much territory, the others may feel betrayed and turn on you. It’s up to you to decide if you want a balanced crew, or take risks in favor of bigger bonuses.

Mafia 3 review

While both the stealth and gunplay work just fine, they don’t offer any real challenge. Stealth is extremely easy to pull off, as Lincoln can shove a combat knife into a mafioso’s neck without making any noise. It’s all too easy to dispatch of an entire warehouse full of bad guys without being spotted. Even if you are, and the place breaks into a firefight, you will probably survive thanks to the straightforward combat system. You can take cover behind almost anything, and there’s always plenty of guns and ammo lying around. Again, it’s all very “by the book”, so if you’ve ever played a third-person shooter before, you’ll feel right at home.

The driving is also merely competent. Compared to past Mafia titles, it is much more arcade and fun, though you can turn on “simulated” mode if you miss the clumsy and almost infuriating driving of past titles. I recommend you stick with the standard arcade mode, as you will be doing a lot of driving, given that Mafia 3 does not support any sort of fast travel option. No idea why, as it won’t interfere with any existing game mechanic. There’s not even a fast travel perk you can unlock, like the mobile gun dealer or the lady that stores your money away for you (you need to store your money in a safe or else you lose it when you die). It truly is baffling, and I still hope Hangar 13 will add this feature in a future update.

Mafia 3 review

Luckily, the long drives become much more tolerable thanks to the game’s awesome soundtrack. The radio blasts hit after hit, with licensed songs like Paint it Black by The Rolling Stones, The Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash, and Jefferson Airplane’s Somebody to Love among many others. These songs also appear during cutscenes or important moments, and help set the mood perfectly. Things falter a bit when it comes to the visual side, mainly due to a few bugs. Both the color saturation and brightness can go haywire upon loading the game, and I did encounter a few buggy textures. Apart from those isolated incidents, Mafia 3 looks pretty good for an open world game, especially the character models.

How much you enjoy Mafia 3 greatly depends on whether you value a good story over good gameplay or not. Mafia 3 tells a truly interesting and captivating story, with characters you just want to learn more and more about. Throw in the amazing soundtrack and the mostly impressive visuals, and you’ve got yourself quite the adventure. Unfortunately, the game’s lack of any memorable missions, or variety in existing missions, can ruin the experience for those of you looking for a little less conversation and a little more action.

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