I like living in New Bordeaux, more than I probably would've liked living in 1968.
In the past 24 hours and some change I have logged a great deal of time into Mafia 3. This sequel comes from Hangar 13, a new studio established to steward this franchise forward. I appreciate some of the leaps Hangar 13 has made here.
For one, this game is not directly about the Italian Mob. In New Bordeaux, a convincing facsimile of New Orleans, Louisiana, the Italian Mob is the dominant faction in the city. Bi-racial orphan Lincoln Clay has returned from Vietnam to say goodbye to his adoptive brother and father, the leader of the local black mob. Family comes first though, and Clay brings his military training to bear to help his family out of debt to Marcano crime family. Following a successful heist of the Federal Reserve, Marcano wipes out the black mob and takes all the money. A botched execution leaves Lincoln alive and ready for revenge.
A Tale of Revenge
I'm not done with Mafia 3, but one thing Hangar 13 has down is the narrative. Lincoln Clay's story is compelling, a young man trying to find a family, only to lose it again and again. He's pulled from the wreckage of the black mob's bar headquarters by Father James, who is oddly all about with Clay killing Marcano, but Clay doesn't want to stop there. This is a roaring rampage of revenge. Lincoln vows to slowly take everything from Marcano, burning down his empire and family before finally Sal Marcano himself.
Clay is very good at what he does - killing - and he doesn't do mercy.
What I've related above takes place over the course of the opening 4-5 hours of Mafia 3, but it doesn't feel like it's all setup. Mafia 3 takes time to set up its relationships. You understand the connection Clay has to his adoptive family and the working respect he has with Sal Marcano and other crime families. You gain some insight into the friendship between Lincoln, his adoptive brother Ellis, local mechanic Danny Burke, and Marcano's heir Giorgi.
As Lincoln begins his revenge, you're introduced to his underbosses: Cassandra, a young woman you free early on who rises to become the leader of the Haitians; Thomas Burke, former boss of the Irish Mob and Danny's father; and Vito Scaletta, the aging made man sent from Empire Bay to keep the Marcanos in line. (Vito is the connective tissue between this game and Mafia II, which Vito starred in.) Each feels like they inhabit their own worlds with their own driving motivations.
The presentation and dialogue in Mafia 3 is top-notch. I can't tell if it'll hold up throughout the entire game yet, but Hangar 13 feels self-assured in the story it's telling. Mafia 3 has one of the better stories in an open-world title. Hell, I'd watch this as a television series.
Less Explosions, More Knives in the Back
I was surprised to find out that Mafia 3 is not one of those run-and-gun style open-world games. It's subdued. Sure, you will fight it out in pitched gun battles and Mafia 3's guns feel good and meaty. They have the right amount of recoil, your enemies sport some good hit animations, and that "splut" sound when you get a headshot is immensely satisfying. Melee combat is equally strong and rather brutal with Lincoln's combat knife at the forefront.
Mafia 3 wants you to lay low though. Out of the streets you can drive like like a madman, but you have to watch out for the cops. This leads to you tearing through the city until you see the police, at which point you slow down and obey traffic laws. (Tip: the normal driving system is prone to wide slides on turns and feels odd. Switch to simulation in the options menu for a much better experience.) You can steal any car, but if a witness sees you, they'll try to call the cops, meaning you have to chase them down. There are collectibles, but they're in the backrooms of businesses, many of which will call the cops on you for trespassing.
Even when you're in a combat situation, it pays to be stealthy. Lincoln Clay is a glass cannon; he can dish out damage, but he can't really take sustained fire. Trying to run-and-gun too much will likely get you overwhelmed and killed. Instead, you want to use cover and stealth kills to whittle down enemy forces. I expected something closer to Grand Theft Auto here, but it's more like Watch Dogs or Assassin's Creed. It's competent stealth; I rarely felt like the controls let me down and got me caught.
It's Clay's City Now
Speaking of Assassin's Creed, Mafia 3 feels a lot like the last entry in that franchise: Syndicate. Lincoln collects intel from his underbosses, former Army handler John Donovan, informants, and wiretaps. In each district - Delray Hollow, River Row, Pointe Verdun, Barclay Mills, Frisco Fields, Tickfaw Harbour, Southdowns, Downtown, the French Ward, and Bayou Fantom - Lincoln will damage and break up the local racket. Once he's done enough damage, the racket leader comes out of hiding. Then you can either kill the racket leader, or turn them to your cause.
Once you've taken out enough rackets, the district boss shows their face in a more elaborate mission or set piece. You kill them and then hand that district to one of your underbosses. There's a metagame here where you need to watch how you divide the districts up: Cassandra, Burke, and Vito all have their own power bases to be concerned about and they want certain districts and rackets under their control. The idea is if you stiff one underboss too much, they may turn against you, but I haven't progressed far enough to where that's a problem.
What Mafia 3 does better than Assassin's Creed Syndicate is having a bit more variety in its missions. Sure, there are a number of "go here, kill X" missions, but Hangar 13 at least tried to make each racket feel a bit different overall. There's some flavor that differentiates the prostitution racket for the union ones. And as Lincoln takes over the city, the rackets are turned into more "respectable" businesses, though it's clear Lincoln and his underbosses are still criminals.
Technically, Mafia 3 is a bit rough. In motion, the game looks fine, but the image quality isn't all that great for a PC title. For some reason, perhaps the choice of anti-aliasing, the entire game has a soft lens over it. It leads to distinct images having this bluriness to them and there no way to turn it completely off. There's also a good amount of pop-in and some dodgy textures. The lighting is great, but ther weather system isn't completely up to snuff. Mafia 3 just seems to flip-flop between looking really good and rough as hell from moment-to-moment.
In motion, you'll probably be fine with it unless you're a PC player in search of the highest fidelity. It's worth noting that the PC version is locked to 30 fps just like the console versions, though Hangar 13 has promised a patch with 60 fps and unlimited frame rate options this weekend. If you're wondering why the game has mixed reviews on Steam, it's mostly due to that 30 fps lock. Other players have also reported issues with keybindings and frequent crashes. I've only crashed once so far, but you've been warned.
So far, the rest is good enough that I'm willing to overlook the jank. I want to dive more into Lincoln Clay's world. I want to know more about his crew. And frankly, I want to see him continue to go Punisher on Sal Marcano's whole empire. If I have to deal with some fuzziness to get there, I'm fine with that.