While I enjoy films involving Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian Mafia, I've never been a huge fan of Mafia-related games. I'm not really sure why. My special edition Godfather DVDs occupy a permanent place in my collection, but when it comes to games, I'm always more interested in other versions of organized crime. The Chinese Triads, Japanese Yakuza, Colombian cartels, the Irish Mob, and other urban gangs of various shapes and sizes.
Amidst the rest of the Gamescom announcements, I booted up the trailer for Mafia III not expecting much. Another Italian mob story - I mean, it's in the title - set in another fictional city. Lost Heaven and Empire City are fuzzy copies of big cities, a reflection of American culture like Grand Theft Auto's Liberty City or Los Santos, but not beholden to it. I expected the same here. There's going to be an average guy, who through sheer grit and a lot of violence will rise to the top of his city, before it all comes crashing down.
That's still the case, but right off the bat things are a bit different. There's a black guy, an orphan and former Vietnam War veteran. He has a hostage in his back seat, a hostage who's indicative of the Mob. Questions pop up in my head: Is his hostage the main character? Is the guy talking going to end up working for the Mafia? That's interesting. They name drop the Bayou, so that puts this in Louisiana. Another point for Mafia III.
More cars appear. Are they on the black guy's side or the hostage's side? My guess is the latter because, again, this is Mafia. But no, there's a hodge podge crew with an Afro-wearing black lady, an older mustachioed white guy, and a dude who looks like someone you'd expect in a Mafia game. The generic Mafia hostage ends up as alligator food, as if Mafia III developer Hangar 13 is saying, "Our game isn't the same at all."
I am intrigued.
Okay, here's some actual information about Mafia III. You play Lincoln Clay, a former Vietnam veteran in late 60's New Orleans. Looking for a place to belong after the War, Clay joined the local black mob, only to have his new family wiped out by the ruling Italian mob. Mafia III is a revenge story, with Clay building a new crew to take down the Mob.
When I spoke to Hangar 13 creative director Haden Blackman last year, this wasn't the game I expected to eventually see. The press release says Mafia III will heavily involve player choice, something Blackman was clear about in that old interview.
"Everybody does [story] in slightly different ways," said Blackman. "We want to make sure that we're building content that can be approached in multiple ways and support multiple playstyles. I felt we scratched the surface with that at LucasArts with the Force Unleashed, where you were able to customize your character and kit him out in the way that you wanted. If it's a mission-based game, creating missions the players can tackle different ways and compare notes with other players about how they approached it. That's the moment-to-moment."
"The macro-level is about how we create systems that are more robust. That the player can plug into and feel like, as a result of their decisions and interactions with those systems, they can change the world, change their character, and change the characters around them. We're looking at games like Shadow of Mordor, a game that had a strong player story. It's very easy for me to sit down and describe my experience playing that game with other players and see how it is different from their experience. That's something that interests us."
Personally, I'm excited to explore New Orleans. City-based games always pick the opposite ends of the United States, placing their action in either New York City or Los Angeles. Those are great cities, but there's just so much more out there to explore. Whenever games head to different cities, like Infamous Second Son's Seattle, I find I'm more keyed into them. The world is full of amazing cities, there's no reason to stick with just two.
New Orleans is great locale, one that's close to my heart. The city has such a life to it, but in the New Orleans of today, that's juxtaposed with such a decay. There's amazing music and art, with people looking to get the most out of their time on this Earth, but there's also intense poverty and places where it feels like time has been forgotten. (Also, some of the worst roads I've ever driven.) Once outside of the city proper, you drop right into the rural areas you've seen featured in True Detective or True Blood. (Between those shows and Treme, HBO really loves Louisiana.) Capturing the unique nature of New Orleans in a game has been done before - Infamous 2's New Marais was based on the city - but I'm looking forward to seeing what Hangar 13 builds with new technology.
The city is also a diverse one, something Mafia III looks like it will explore directly. The late 60's puts us right around the time when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, so tensions will probably be high. There's a lot of conflict in the city even before mob war breaks out. I trust Blackman will handle it well.
"The most important thing is to have characters that are human and relatable," Blackman told me in our previous interview. "If we put characters on pedestals because of gender or ethnicity, then they're going to come off as inauthentic. I don't want to do that. That doesn't mean we're going to be pushing the same characters that I've worked on in the past, but we're definitely trying to make sure I take the things I learned from my work on Batwoman and Elektra and apply it to games. First and foremost, I want to create characters that people care about."
Some Mafia fans are a little saddened that Mafia III doesn't look to be the direct follow-up that the end of Mafia II promised, but Mafia III does look to build on those previous titles. (Don't read the YouTube comments. Never read the YouTube comments.) The older Mafia-style gentleman in Clay's crew looks to be Vito Scaletta, the main character of Mafia II. And the hostage is referred to as "Tommy", meaning he could be Tommy Angelo, the lead of the first game. Sadly, not the best end for Tommy, but he had his day in the sun.
So I'm excited for Mafia III, which is coming to the current generation triumvirate - PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 - in 2016. I don't know how this new game plays, but I'm excited to see the shape of it in the future. Which is more than I could say before I watched the trailer.