Mafia 3 - An open-world crime drama as cerebral as it is spectacular

Posted on 07/05 18:08 in | 0

After simmering with potential for a good long while, 2016 could be the year that Mafia – no pun intended – really blows up. 2010’s Mafia 2 is a great action game, smart, genuinely dramatic, and sumptuous in its period detail. But it isn’t an entirely successful open-world game, its city functioning more as elaborate set-dressing for an otherwise largely linear tale. Mafia 3 though, is shaking things right up, but it’s doing so while still paying close attention to what made the series so special in the first place. 

We have a new setting, a new time period, and a new protagonist, but just as importantly we have a new approach to gameplay design, one that looks to really make the most of the series’ free-roaming potential without losing the essence of its grounded, affecting characterisation and intelligent storytelling. We’ve seen – and played – a fair bit of the game since its initial reveal at Gamescom 2015, so it’s high time we filled you in on everything. So here it is. Everything there currently is to know about Mafia 3. It’s all looking very good indeed. 

Mafia 3 is set for release on October 7, 2016. That’s a notable date because a) it’s not too far off, and b) it’s a hell of a confident move from 2K. You don’t drop your game as the autumn rush kicks off unless you’re sure you’ve got something special enough to compete. 

Here’s the latest story trailer. Want some context? We’ve got all of it. Read on. 

Last time around it was the ‘40s and ‘50s, and the setting a beautifully realised blend of New York and Chicago. But Empire Bay is long gone. Nearly two decades gone, to be more precise. Now we’re in the late ‘60s, in New Bordeaux, Mafia’s just-as-beautifully realised evocation of New Orleans. 

Hmm. The late ‘60s. The south. Sounds like a recipe for serious, socio-political turmoil, and it is. In keeping with the series’ traditionally smarter, more grounded, more dramatically affecting approach to the open-world crime caper, Mafia 3 is embracing the difficulties and concerns of its chosen time and place with the same vigour that it’s recreating its look and feel. The action will often be spectacular, but the game’s tone, and conceits feel refreshingly very grounded indeed. 

We’ve got a very different set-up in our lead character this time around as well. Lincoln is an ex-member of the Black Mafia and Vietnam veteran, trying to find his way in a world without his old crew. The reason for their absence? They were wiped out during a double-cross by the local Italian mob. But Lincoln isn’t going to just sit down and accept it. No, he has much bigger plans, and grand ambitions for both vengeance and power. 

Big and varied, that’s what Mafia 3’s map is. With the game’s fictionalised version of not-Louisiana to play with, it has huge scope to deliver eclectic environments, and it looks to be embracing that potential wholeheartedly. Comprising 10 districts, from bustling inner city to sprawling, eminently explorable swampland, with everything from entertainment districts, to industrial areas, to slums in between, Mafia 3’s map won’t just decorate the gameplay, but will direct and flavour it as well. 

Steering directly into the socio-political issues of being set in the South in the late-‘60s – and having an African-American protagonist – the game is ensuring that different regions will respond to your presence very differently in certain situations. In the poorer areas, for instance, crime might be fairly well tolerated and cops will be sparse. In the richer, whiter districts, however, simply running down the street will be enough to cause suspicion. 

We haven’t got an official list of Mafia 3’s vehicles yet, but we do know that there will be a lot of them. We also know that the game’s particular historical setting has inspired a major shift toward the big, ‘boatlike’ muscle cars of the era. Fear not though, for they handle like a dream, the game’s driving model balanced very well between plausible heft and the kind of arcadey artistic license that lets things get hectic while still affording full control. 

In fact, on the subject of the driving model, there’s a ridiculous amount going on under the literal and figurative hood. Although not currently activated, the game’s driving engine – an updated version of Mafia 2’s excellent system – has the capacity to calculate the pressure and temperature of every individual tyre on every car, even taking fuel use into account when working out the vehicle’s weight at any given time. Don’t necessarily expect this kind of complexity to make its way through into the final game, but it bodes well for how seriously Hangar 13 is taking the design of its world. Hardcore realism mode, anyone? 

Lincoln’s plan is simple: take down the ruling Italian Mafia and replace it with an empire of his own. The execution though, will not be simple. He’s going to target each major mob racket in turn, destabilising its income and exploiting the Mafia business structure in order to take out its lieutenants by cutting off their revenue stream. But this is no dry business sim. Lincoln’s methods are less shares and contracts, more direct and very hostile takeovers. The plan is to aggressively hit the street-level businesses that kick up to the bigger guys, who in turn kick up to the biggest guys, undermining their authority while also lining his own pockets. It’s going to be a long, tough, dangerous job, but fortunately he has help. Because… 

But that brings its own problems. Lincoln has three lieutenants of his own, recruited from the other gangs being oppressed by the Italians. There’s Burke, of the Irish mob. There’s Haitian boss Cassandra. And most excitingly to Mafia 2 fans, there’s Vito Scaletta, protagonist of the previous game, now somewhat older and decidedly worn down by the events of his own bid for power, and running the rebel Italian forces in New Bordeaux.  

Your lieutenants will help you out during missions, furnishing favours like weapon resupply trucks, gangs of hired muscle, gadget upgrades – think distraction lures for stealth – and phone taps for acquiring intel. But first you’ll need their professional approval. And here’s where it gets tricky. You see, to keep them all sweet, you’ll need to divide territory up equally once you ‘liberate’ it from the mob. But that won’t always be possible, or at least, desirable. Maybe one of your council will have an upgrade or offer than you really, really need right now. But what if another is feeling distinctly left out? How do you reconcile that? Get it right, and you’ll have a strong, unified force backing you up. Get it wrong though, and one of your lieutenants might go as far as turning against you, giving you a new enemy faction to deal with as well as handling the main job. 

As for the main job, attacking it will be no simple case of ‘complete missions, win game’. Rather, Mafia 3 presents each racket as a menu of options for marauding and mayhem. Each mob industry has a certain amount of income per month, and it’s Lincoln’s job to reduce that until shit hits the financial fan and he gets a chance to finish off the respective middle-man. Along the way to that point, your options are many. 

Do you want to take out mob supply vehicles? Go for it. Chase them down in road battles or sneak in where they’re parked up and roll a grenade underneath. Or maybe you’d prefer to take out (or convert) key enemy players? In that case you’ll want to scope out their business operations and make a plan of attack. Or how about plain, old fashioned theft? Where there are Mafia enclaves, there’s a lot of cash lying around. But how to get hold of it? Well… 

It’s not just the ‘what’ that gives you options. It’s the ‘how’ too. Because once you’ve decided on your next angle of attack, things get even more granular. Say you’ve elected to take out an elevated goon. Say you’ve found his operation, in a back-alley in the middle of the city. How do you hit it? 

You can go loud. Charge in through the gates with a volley of grenades, then use Mafia’s delightfully meaty cover-shooting to batter your way through to victory. Just watch out for those ‘Squealer’ units running for the phones when they see you. You’ll want to kill them before they can call for reinforcements. Or maybe you’ll partake in the subtle approach, using that cover to sneak through the yard to a quiet one-to-one with your target, his foot soldiers oblivious to your presence. Or how about you get even more creative? How about you sneak up onto the roof and set up an elaborate, almost Hitman-style strike, quietly sniping the Squealers as they wander into dark corners, before dropping sound-emitting lures to pull the rest of the goons toward those highly explosive ammo caches? 

And when you eventually do reach your quarry, what do you do? Do you take him down for a clean kill, or do you turn him to your side, to reap perks and bonuses from his allegiance further down the line? A working knowledge of internal mob relations, say, could inform your plans rather handsomely later on. 

It’s not all intricate machinations. Mafia 3 knows when to unleash a good, cathartic slice of cinematic carnage, too. You see, each racket takedown culminates with a big, more traditionally linear level in which you finish off its respective boss. Back in April we played the climax of the construction racket phase. It’s a huge, multi-stage assault on a hotel penthouse, starting (by our choice) with the quiet infiltration of an underground car park in a known, stolen mob car, and culminating in a rampaging attack on the top floor and a rocket launcher-powered fight back down through the lobby. But at E3 we saw something even more impressive. 

Tracking the head of the city’s ‘party’ industry to a lavish casino soiree on a paddle steamer, Lincoln cripples the boat by downing a huge industrial structure in its path. He then boards and shoots his way through the sinking vessel until he reaches the main man, at which point an explosion throws them both overboard, instigating a tense game of stealth-kill cat and mouse through the moonlit swamp. Make no mistake. Mafia 3 is looking as spectacular as it is cerebral. 

In-keeping with the series’ dedication to evocative historical authenticity, Mafia 3 has a soundtrack of 100+, period-specific songs. The ones announced so far are an eclectic bunch, and also damnably good. How good? Rolling Stones good. Otis Redding good. Jimi Hendrix good. House of the Rising Sun good. Mafia 3’s soundtrack is going to be a banger, and will permeate its entire world – via car radios, bars, and nightclubs – with the vibrant spirit of hope and unrest that typified the period. 

Mafia 3 is being made by Hangar 13, a new 2K studio formed of staff from original Mafia dev 2K Czech, as well as notable – and rather interesting - industry veterans pulled in from elsewhere. Heading up Hangar 13 is Haden Blackman, previously of Lucasarts, and also a fairly storied comic book writer for Marvel and DC. There’s something decidedly reassuring about having a literarily-minded director on a series as narratively driven as Mafia. In-keeping, Blackman is joined by fellow comic scribe Bill Harms, as Mafia 3’s lead writer. 

Looking for more updates on Mafia 3, as and when they happen? Then keep your Twitter dial tuned to @GamesRadar, and like us on Facebook. 

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