Mafia III Preview
Don't make the mistake of assuming Mafia is just another "poor man's Grand Theft Auto." That has always been a mistake. The two franchises have distinct differences in terms of style and gameplay, as those who have played both already know. While both are expectedly outrageous and decidedly vicious, Mafia has a very distinct vibe; it's typically darker and features an even stronger and more defined cast of characters. It really is like the "Godfather" of gaming (in terms of setting, of course) and we can't wait to see what the third installment has to offer. One thing is for certain: Developer Hangar 13 isn't pulling any punches with this one.
The story revolves around protagonist Lincoln Clay, a man of mixed ethnicities who served in the Vietnam War. Now it's 1968 and after just returning from overseas, he gets in with the Black Mob, a rising criminal organization that initially welcomes him as a brother. But it isn't long before a war begins with the Italian Mob and bullets and blood start to flood the New Orleans streets. As you might expect, Clay is personally affected by this war and he rebels by recruiting his own lieutenants for the ongoing confrontation. He intends to take down the Italians and live happily ever after in a south that, while technically "free," is still plenty segregated. This sounds like the makings of an emotional and hard-hitting narrative, doesn't it?
Obviously, we should anticipate a highly stylized environment. It's really not GTA but you can still listen to radio stations in the cars, and they'll feature the classic hits from the era, including "Paint it Black" by The Rolling Stones, "Light My Fire" by The Doors, and of course, "All Along the Watchtower" by Jimi Hendrix. Yep, the flower generation is in full swing but on the brutal streets of New Orleans, where two crime families are battling for supremacy, there's no Kumbayah or navel-gazing. You may find the hippie symbols spread around the city as you explore - a peace sign there, one of those multicolored VW buses over there - but Clay's world is certainly a whole lot darker. Violence and revenge are at the core of this tough adventure.
Those who have gone hands-on with the game say it's absolutely brutal, and series fans might see some familiar faces, including Vito Scaletta from Mafia II. It seems Vito is one of the three aforementioned lieutenants Clay recruits, and by the way, each of those enforcers has a unique set of strengths and skills. This is all about power and intimidation, as franchise followers might remember various activities like strong-arming shopkeepers to pay up for "insurance purposes," so having a diverse set of allies should help a lot. And yeah, people will get shot in the face, stabbed a zillion times, and even tortured in horrific fashion. This is the way of the criminal underworld and if you're at all squeamish, you might have to pass on this one. Just check out a few of the early trailers if you're not convinced of the game's gore factor...
Of course, gameplay is ultimately what matters, and everyone is hoping that this new internal development team of 2K's will deliver some tight control. Unfortunately, control and general combat mechanics have stopped this series from achieving its true potential; the first two games could've been much better had the control been more reliable. Driving and gunplay are at the top of the "must-have" list, as far as many are concerned, so Hangar 13 better come through. The good news is that most early feedback is extremely positive and I haven't heard much about wonky control. If the mission variety is a big highlight and the story continues to engage us throughout, there's no doubt that Mafia III has the potential to be a true 2016 gem.
The designers are awfully confident, though, saying this title can "stand up there with the best" of ‘em. And even though 2K hasn't yet made it official, recent retailer evidence says we should expect the anticipated sequel to land on April 26. That's the same day as Uncharted 4: A Thief's End but hey, we're talking about two very different experiences so why not get both? ;)
2/1/2016 Ben Dutka