2K has released a Mafia Trilogy on major platforms. They rebuilt the original Mafia from the ground up. They remastered Mafia II in HD. Mafia 3 was just released a couple of years ago. It just gets all the DLC bundled together with the main game. On the plus side, current Steam owners of Mafia II and 3 got a free upgrade to the definitive edition. This was enough to finally get me to sink my teeth into the most recent entry.
I had picked it up on sale sometime after release because of my love of the series, but there were still reports of bugs and problems of the game. Also the thematic shift along with a bunch of new gameplay mechanics alienated some fans of the series. I had set it aside and hadn’t gotten back to it. It’s often described as the weakest of the series. Let’s see how it stacks up now.
The original Mafia came out shortly after GTA III. We’ve seen so much evolution in the open world crime drama since then (much of it lead by Rockstar) that it’s easy to forget how clunky the original Mafia games were. Mafia 3 came out in 2016 and tried to update the series to modern standards. Graphically, it succeeded easily, but the heart of Mafia has been the story, characters and the locations.
Let’s start with the last one first. New Bordeaux is a city with character. While it’s clearly a New Orleans analogue, it’s more of a remixed New Orleans with a bit of Gumbo made from 1960’s southern cities. It does feel like a lived in southern swamp city. It’s also set in 1968 and casts you as a Black Vietnam veteran. The game does not shy away from the casual and overt racism of the South in the 1960’s. If being exposed to that might upset you, you need to avoid this game. More common to the series are the collectable Playboys and Vargas paintings which, of course, contain nudity. There are also scenes with strippers and prostitutes. Finally, among things that might make you avoid this game, the violence is over the top. It’s not overly realistic, but it certainly is celebrated in the game.
If that didn’t scare you off, the characters are worth the price of admission. Sure, some of them fall into mob movie stereotypes, but most of the people you interact with are vivid, memorable and unique. Clearly Mafia 3 didn’t have the budget of GTA, but I think they made the right choices in where to focus those resources. You’ll see a lot of the same pedestrians and low level thugs wandering around. However, almost all the more important characters have unique models, good voice acting, often clear motivations and a combat style that suits them.
Our protagonist, Lincoln Clay is a Vietnam veteran who wants to put violence behind him. His surrogate family come into conflict with the Mafia boss early in the game. It’s up to Lincoln to right the wrongs and ultimately get revenge. Along the way he runs into the Irish Mob, the Black Mob, Haitian gangs, the Southern Union of white supremacists and various captains of the Italian Mob. Certain characters end up being your lieutenants as you build up your power base. Lincoln, his lieutenants and their relationships change as the revenge campaign progresses. Lincoln, in particular, learns to embrace his love of violence while slowly realizing it will eventually destroy him. Your enemies mostly change from various aspects of evil to dead. Many of them take you on an interesting ride before falling under a hail of your bullets.
It’s too bad these vivid characters and locations are lost in such a rote story. Really, Lincoln lays out his plan for revenge in the beginning of the game, and it’s simply a matter of connecting the bullets to the bodies to get to the end. That’s not to say there’s no good writing. It’s just all dedicated to character development and backstory. There are plenty of interesting gameplay tasks for you to do. You’ll ultimately end up doing them all too many times. Mechanically, it’s all solid even if nothing feel particularly innovative. It’s kind of like you gathered the Royal Shakespeare Company and just acted out a bunch of battle scenes. There’s some great moments, but you feel there could have been so much more. Some selective editing and a focus on story could have turned this into a real gem.
Overall, I’d give a modest recommendation. It’s a fun ride for a while. There’s a lot to do. There are interesting characters to meet and/or kill. So play it for a while and have fun. Drop it once it starts to feel like a grind. The ending wasn’t enough of a payoff to slog through for if you’re not having fun. I’m glad I played it. I’m more satisfied that I meet such interesting characters in a vibrant space. It was so close for me. I can certainly understand those who loved it and those who hated it. The devs certainly reached for greatness. I admire them for that.