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Mafia III Game preview

Game preview 09 September 2016, 14:00

author: Hed

Mafia III extensive hands-on – it may be a sandbox, but the Mafia vibe is still here

Mafia III is a great unknown for the fans of the series: new background story, more focus on sandbox, and different developer. After having spent several hours with the game, we can dispel some of your doubts.

This article was written prior to the game's release.

This text was based on the PC version.

There are offers in life that one simply cannot refuse – like the opportunity to play the new Mafia a few weeks before the official release. Such was the offer we got from 2K Games, who have invited a representative of our editorial staff to see Mafia III live in New Orleans. Once there, yours truly could see the city, learn the rich history of the local underworld, and even swim in the swamps of Louisiana accompanied by alligators. We suspect, however, that you didn't come to this website to read about folklore. You would much rather learn how Mafia III actually looks like, and whether it will meet your expectations, wouldn't you? And these are enormous after all, as the series is a cult classic and the only thing that could possibly stand up to the GTA franchise. Studio Hangar 13, creators of the third Mafia, seem to realize this, but at the same time they are not afraid of change. And change, as we all know, often comes with stress. So let's get this over with and immerse ourselves in the world of gangster feuds.

Shot through the heart

The game takes place in the fictional city of New Bordeaux, which was based to a large extent on the topography and history of New Orleans. Located in Louisiana, The Big Easy, as the city is sometimes called, is known for jazz, a unique cultural hodgepodge, and mafia feuds. At the turn of the 19th century, more than 60,000 Sicilians found their home there, some of whom later formed criminal structures.

A quick breakfast, march through the city streets in the company of police and orchestra, and we can finally play! 2K Games has prepared a PlayStation 4 console for the journalists, containing two fragments of Mafia III: the very beginning of the game and a further portion of the campaign, when we are given a bit more freedom. Moving on to the gameplay, we can tell at first glance that Lincoln is the baddest mother among the guys we had the chance to control in the Mafia franchise so far. Returning from his tour of duty in Vietnam, the guy is in his prime: well-built, self-confident, ruthless, and eager for action. Hangar 13 has put a lot of work into creating distinct characters for their game, so no wonder they make a really good impression – it's an essential component of Mafia's success, especially since the series had always used cut scenes employing the available technology (and we all know how badly the famous sex scene from the first game aged). In this respect the third iteration is a step forward, but on the other hand, in the meantime the industry has seen more impressive examples of advanced facial expression mechanics or character animation. What has been achieved in Mafia III should, however, be more than enough.

By throwing his weight around Lincoln hopes to get back to normal life in his community – pleasant, but soaked in dirty business. He parties at Sammy's, the bar belonging to his adoptive father, visits his friends, including the local clergyman, father James, and even tries to help the business by distributing gumbo to the poor at a local bistro. Unfortunately, the harsh reality quickly comes down on the young vet like a ton of bricks. When Clay discovers that his family is having trouble with the Haitians and owes money to the Italian mafioso Salvaro Marcano, he can find only one solution: war. Mafia III begins in an interesting way, smoothly shifting between fragments showing a Federal Reserve Bank hold-up, which was intended to solve all financial problems of the black mafia once and for all, and various exposition scenes: presenting the city, the local bigwigs, and Lincoln himself. One critical moment deprives Clay of everything: family, home and hope. In exchange he gains a single, powerful motivation: to get revenge on the treacherous Marcano. How can Clay get what he wants? By taking over the whole city.

How does gumbo taste?

When presenting the game, 2K Games tried to provide the journalists with the right background and context. For this reason, the show was held in New Orleans, where we could listen to a local band, listen to stories about the Louisiana mafia, and even go on a tour of the city and the local swamps. And what about the taste of gumbo, the soup which Lincoln distributes to the residents of his district in the game? Well, it tastes like a rice stew.

Almost like a true story

Before we go further, I have to mention one more thing – Hangar 13's idea of dressing the game in a convention that is completely new to the Mafia franchise, even though it still refers to its tradition of remarkable storytelling. The protagonist's internal narrative, supplemented with cinematic scenes taken straight from The Godfather, was replaced by a technique combining pseudo-documentary scenes with classic fictional plot. It resembles the technique used, for example, in the 2015 film Black Mass as well as numerous other recent productions. Instead of typical cutscenes, various important events are bound together by live camera interviews with people recounting Lincoln's story. Their words are often topped with shots of court hearings and other "flashbacks" from the era. It's an interesting attempt at providing a historical context for fictional events, all the more so as the execution of the whole concept appears to be above average. Here and there we encounter some more sentimental confessions about war trauma, but overall, I found the script of Mafia III rather interesting.

And before you start complaining, there's plenty of normal scenes in the game, featuring no documentary envelope whatsoever – only gangsters chatting, underground negotiations and some loose talk depicting the “everyday life in the family". As always, the plot will be Mafia's central element, which will be reflected in the main story missions. The game will have us dabble in local politics, track and "convince" the local judges or politicians to support our cause, and associate with what one might call unsavory types. Still, I noticed that unfortunately some of the dialogues we engage in during the game have been depicted in a rather shallow way – using a single camera position, over Lincoln's shoulder. My guess is that this is due to the simple fact that Mafia III will be much more rich in content than the previous games in the series, so the authors sometimes had to take a shortcut. It is also associated with the sandbox nature of the game, which we will discuss in a moment.

And what's going on in Empire Bay?

We've asked one of the developers whether the new Mafia will pick up plot threads from the previous games. The devs confirmed that the new game takes place in the same universe, but it will try to build its own identity. This does not mean that there will be completely no references to Empire Bay – the fans of the previous games will surely catch a lot of details. What's more, Vito, the protagonist of Mafia II, may become one of our lieutenants. The creators of the game revealed that one of Vito's objectives will be to learn what happened to his old buddy, Joe. We will probably get the chance to find out what happened to the likeable little fatty after the story of Mafia II came to an end.

This city is mine

The prologue of Mafia III gradually introduces the player to the main arena of the game, until the moment when Lincoln rebuilds a basic network of contacts and begins his conquest of the city alongside a few allies: leader of the Irish mob, Burke, Italian mafioso Vito Scaletta (some of you may remember him from the second game) and Cassandra, the leader of the Haitian gang (there will be even more potential allies, but we don’t know their identity at this point). Now let's talk about the game's structure. In the fragment I was thrown into, I could try to take over one of two districts, each managed by a different group. It seems that the game will offer a lot of freedom in terms of where and how to attack, which is a nice change as compared to many other urban sandboxes. After a short sightseeing tour around the Frisco Fields district, where we will clash with the local equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan, among others, I headed for the French Quarter to spoil the local prostitution business. And by "spoiling" I mean the elimination of the current owners and helping myself to their property, so that I can later earn big money. This is Mafia we're talking about after all!

There are numerous ways in which we can undermine the position of the boss of a district: from raids on his businesses, through elimination of major figures among his men, to the destruction of pornographic movies he sells in the district or theft. On the city map we can see a complete list of available options.

A district can be taken in a variety of ways, but we must always act after consulting things with a local "intelligence contact", usually a CIA agent (a similar co-operation was shown in the aforementioned Black Mass). The informants provide us with knowledge about what needs to be done in the area to undermine the figure currently in power and, later on, lure them out of hiding. Here things get interesting, because while the individual tasks are not too diverse, we don’t have to complete each and all of them. In other words, you don’t need to sweep the district map clean of mission markers to challenge the resident gangster – you just have to sufficiently weaken their position. All that remains at that point is to arm yourself to the teeth and attack the enemy headquarters directly. Scalp after scalp, eventually we get to the boss of bosses – removing him from the city map will transfer the district into the hands of Lincoln Clay. That mission that finalizes the conquest is usually quite complex and interesting. In my case I had to sink a cruise ship.

Takeover of a district is a particularly interesting situation, and one of the most ambitious game elements appearing in Mafia III. The idea is that our new district must be given to one of our allies to manage, that is for example Vito or Cassandra. The problem is that in the world of mafia feuds everyone is greedy, so if we do not arrange for fair distribution of goods among our aces, it may lead to quarrels between them. As you've probably guessed, quarrels in New Bordeaux are solved by means of bullets rather than rational discussion. Mafia III puts us against a difficult decision: who can be trusted and who needs to be eliminated from the game. Personally, I think that the ally with the highest survivability will be Vito; I mean, you wouldn't raise a hand against your old pal, would you? One way or another, the introduction of a slightly more complex system of story development than a simple set of missions like in GTA V is a truly intriguing thing and the element that can win Mafia III some serious praise.

Favors from our allies

Taking over districts and transferring them under our subordinate's authority is associated with certain benefits. Each of the gangsters we are allied with offers bonuses and favors – the better the more districts we have entrusted in their hands. Bonuses can vary – we have seen options such as the ability to summon an arms dealer's van, deliver one of the unlocked car models, call in reinforcements in the form of several armed fellows or even bribe the police to abandon a chase. For using certain options we must sometimes pay some cash.

A brawl in a sandbox

Mafia III's increased focus on open world gameplay, with a good side of sandbox, raises some controversy among the fans. The first Mafia had a big town featuring some optional attractions, but nevertheless used them to tell a linear story. The second game tried to do something more, but eventually ended up in more or less the same spot. Now, let me make it clear: Mafia III is something completely different. For a single meaningful proof, the game from Hangar 13 can be played as any installment of GTA – you can simply go thrashing around the city like a madman. Believe me, I tried this and I had some wonderful time. Shootouts, shop hold-ups, car crashes – this kind of tomfoolery is just another Tuesday in New Bordeaux. The authors try to prevent the action from getting too wild by resorting to several tricks, such as pretty high level of difficulty during shootouts, limited ammunition, and finally the whole police force – but ultimately submit to the patterns developed by Rockstar. Is this wrong? Will the atmosphere of the game suffer because of this? That's a discussion for some another occasion, because now I'd rather talk about how the game feels when you play it.

Stealing cars in Mafia III is not without consequences – if we get spotted by a bystander, the person can try to call the police from a nearby phone booth. The player can immobilize such a person without resorting to violence or simply ram the phone booth, killing them.

The thing that had me impressed the most in Mafia III was the aforementioned freedom of choice when it comes to missions, and the fact that we do not need to complete all minor options to move on with the story. This makes sense given the open nature of the game – we can simply exit the bar, steal a car and go search for some challenges. When reclaiming the French Quarter I was hunting for wealthy brothel patrons, interrogating pimps, and destroying porn movie copies by the bushel. Yes, a certain routine sets in in time, because individual mini-missions are virtually devoid of any deeper plot, but that's the charm of big, open game worlds with a truckload of things to do. The city itself is a nice place to visit, being rich in places which you can enter – in shops, garages and bars the player will encounter collectibles and/or unpleasant people who may have issue with our protagonist's skin color. Also the swamps can be fun at times, if for nothing else then for the pleasure of taking a bath with the alligators. Those nice animals, however, are probably just a piece of furniture, because despite my careful attempts, I couldn’t hunt down any. New Bordeaux is pleasantly varied, although it probably won't become the new quality standard – I'm afraid that Rockstar remains the leader in this field.

Illegal collectibles

What would Mafia be without Playboy? The element introduced in the second installment of the series will return in Mafia III, once again allowing us to collect covers of the famous magazine. Hangar 13 has decided to expand the array of collectibles by a few other items, such as vinyl albums, model cars or paintings. Collectors will even find some help from the game, allowing them to mark interesting items on the minimap, if they find themselves in their vicinity.

Brutal knockdown

The arms dealer offers more than just rifles and shotguns; you can tweak each element of weaponry, pimp your car, and even improve the "properties" of Lincoln himself. Why not increase his stamina, strengthen the suspension of his car or expand a clip? Some of these options, however, require that we maintain good relations with specific allies.

Mafia III is really fun to play, even though there’s no groundbreaking novelties there – the innovations can be found in the system of overtaking districts (of course let’s keep in mind that similar solutions were featured in The Godfather series). In other aspects, the game from Hangar 13 follows the beaten track. Like other heroes of sandbox action games, Lincoln is quite adept at overcoming small terrain obstacles. He can hide behind covers and delights in using "brutal knockdowns", usually with a knife. Mafia III also features a simplified system of stealth and eliminating opponents quietly, like many contemporary games do. Color-coded zones in the game indicate the degree of danger or the interest of police. There's even a "detective filter", which highlights enemies and interesting objects. As you can probably guess, all these features are not particularly sophisticated, so it often happens that you can kill a guard right under his buddy’s nose, or even murder two guys in two consecutive animations, Ezio Auditore da Firenze style (he's Italian, after all; surely belonged to the mafia). On the other hand, I must admit that some of the shooting sequences were demanding; turns out Lincoln is not immortal. All in all, I hope that the game will pose a challenge.

When attacking enemy territory, we must be wary of special guards who, if alerted, will try to call in reinforcements. If you don't "quiet" them in time, you’ll be facing a swarm of gangsters. As for the quiet elimination of opponents, you can lure them out by whistling.

Mafia was never adverse to gratuitous use of violence, but I feel that the third installment will definitely be the most brutal in the entire series. Lincoln Clay seems to have no qualms whatsoever about gutting people on a daily basis. Short fragments of the gameplay suggested that killing will be the preferred way of solving problems, and it worries me a bit – I've seen too few interesting missions involving more than just stopping the pulse of the person indicated on the map. In an open world, the challenges in the vein of "find and kill" are easy to trivialize. For example, if the player has too strong a weapon, taking care of even a sizeable group of enemies can be a piece of cake. Perhaps it is the effect of increasing the scale of the game, and throughout the whole adventure we will get a similar portion of the true Mafia-style adventures as in the previous games. But without a doubt, a trigger-happy attitude will be a must. Can such an approach water down the gameplay? I don't know. What I do know is that the system of driving cars, so criticized after several trailers, works really well in the game. I can't say I totally feel it, but after a few attempts I realized that with its help you can pull quite spectacular stunts with fast cars. And that's enough for me. To end this streak of random remarks, I’d like to mention those little choices the devs give the players: when breaking in, for example, you can open the lock in a simple mini-game or kick the door open and go in guns blazing.

Different, but familiar

Mafia has always been associated with a distinct, well-written story that stands out in a very cool way against numerous other gangster movies and books. Thanks to its sandbox character and increased scale, Mafia III somewhat dilutes this essence with not-so-well-designed features, but offers a couple of fresh ideas in return. The team at Hangar 13 found a really interesting place for the next part in the mafia narrative, both in terms of location and distinct cultural setting. The studio also used a proven trope to tell their story. The foundations of all this, though based on well-known clichés, seem to make for a solidly designed game in which we find an interesting plot, but also a lot of chances to simply have fun. It is an attempt at giving the sandbox gameplay a specific vibe – with the help of the aforementioned districts – although it's yet to be seen if this aspect will change our perception of similar titles. Anyway, Lincoln Clay has piqued my interest with his "almost true" story and I'm eager to find out if he will succeed at ripping the Italian Mafia from New Bordeaux to shreds.

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