TheMorty had been so looking forward to playing a mafioso.
There must be some kind of way outta here, said the Joker to the thief There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief…
Well, they can’t say they didn’t warn us. The writing was well and truly plastered all over the wall from the very beginning of the game as Hendrix’ iconic cover of ‘All Along the Watchtower’ boomed over the title screen. Call me nostalgic, but I hadn’t been this excited for a game since Saints Row 4. Nearly 7 years since the last Mafia game and we’re thrust straight into an unexplored era of America. Sure, we’d had the 40s and 50s with Mafia II, the 80s with Vice City, the birth of hip hop with 1990s San Andreas but I always felt there was a big gaping hole where sandbox games had just failed to explore the period in-between. Think of the soundtrack alone, The Beatles and Stones, the height of New Orleans R&B and the astronomic rise of disco and Motown. The announcement trailer alone filled me with anticipation as there was a previously unexplored opportunity to relive a golden period in history and have a break from the comparable norm of what’s been a very generic offering of third person shooters in the recent marketplace.
Perhaps the biggest draw of all was the idea of playing a mixed-race protagonist that carried all the stereotypical attributes of the badass from the Bayou during a period rife with racism. Surely there’s nothing more character defining than overcoming the extremely racist Italian-American mob on their own turf? Hell, the game even carried a warning that it was going to be extremely non-pc and felt it necessary to condone dropping the N-bomb as often as possible to stay true to the abhorrent problems that the character would undoubtedly have faced at that time. I mean wow, that obliterates the feeble cop-out of a warning from the Assassins Creed anthology – “we’ve got Christians, Muslims and Atheists working on this game, honest… ask me mum”. Surely all the above considered we’re going to be in for one hell of a journey… right?
Alas, I was conned. Sucked into the abyss by the siren of Jimi’s wailing Gibson SG Custom. Instead of the thought provoking, immersive story the preamble had promised to deliver – what followed was a hastily-released, buggy and boring mess without a resemblance of substance or stamina. A game that would not only leave me feeling disappointed, but one that made me fear for the future of a fantastic company that has delivered two of this sites all-time top ten games in Borderlands and Bioshock.
The game starts as it means to go on and opens in a tedious method of non-linear storytelling – a Black Mass-style interview with key players some years after the narrative ends. “I knew Lincoln as a boy” queue flash back to Lincoln being a boy… you get the drill. After an overly prolonged backstory about how I was a Vietnam vet (who would clearly suffer from PTSD before the game was out) the tutorial level began. As with all lecture levels, they’re dull – like teaching your granny how to suck eggs or Duke Nukem how to bed strippers. I’m on a job, dressed as a security guard and I get given my first “Choice”, kill a man or wound him. I pondered it. What would a future gangster do; kill him and keep him quiet or show humility. Turns out that what I do here makes absolutely no difference to the outcome (Commander Shepherd, Lincoln is not!) so of course, you pop the guy. Heading outside, we climb into an armoured security van. Grabbing the steering wheel for the first time, I take out a fence, crash through a gate and collide into a tree. Bloody hell, what am I driving? An oil tanker with a caravan hitched onto the back??!! Fair enough it’s the late 60s and power steering was more of a luxury than a standard - but this is ridiculous. On reflection, maybe it was my fault. While waiting for the game’s 30gb download I took a trip to Los Santos and spent three hours messing around in GTA V. Maybe the smooth cornering, quick breaking and responsive handling of my souped up Zentorno was the equivalent of filling up on bread at a nice restaurant and being unable to eat the main meal. Still, it doesn’t excuse how bad the driving mechanics are here. Like GTA IV, there’s two driving modes in Mafia – normal and simulated. Now, one is supposed to be the generic VG style driving mode – except trying a cool handbrake slide at half speed sends you flying into the Lagoon – the other, which per the game menu is a “fully realistic driving experience”, allows you to corner at 100kph without the need to brake. Who wrote that part of the game – the Stig? It’s frustrating given that driving is pretty much the cornerstone of any city-based sandbox game and to get it so fundamentally wrong was always going to make that inevitable time-trial mission even more impossible.
Not wanting to spoil, the tutorial missions end in the all too familiar gangster style. The double cross. Leaving Lincoln angry, bereaved and frustrated as hell. He’s on the warpath and won’t stop until he gets his revenge. Sounds promising, perhaps I can look past the poor driving mechanics…
Once the cut scenes are out of the way and the tutorial mission has been finished, I can finally free-roam. I head to my safe house and notice my wardrobe contains a nice little pre-order bonus pack of outfits. Thanks 2K, very kind of you. Oh, wait, you’ve given me one that makes me look exactly like Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson - I’m wearing it. Sod the 70s. This will be fun for the next 20 minutes at least. The generic costume is typical war-vet attire. Dog tags, big boots, green jacket – I’m looking very Travis Bickle (lazy Scorsese reference #2,458).
Sod that, dressed in my pre-order attire I leave the house, jump in my car and head over to the first mission point. As I walk through the door, something feels off, is it a trap? Am I about to get whacked? Nope. I’m dressed like Travis Bickle again for the cut scene. Are you serious? it’s 2017 and you’re still using QuickTime cut scenes? Character customisation is pretty basic these days; I mean most iOS and arcade games can cope with integrating your unique character look into cut scenes - why have bother even having a customised character if you can’t include them into the most powerful and memorable aspects of your story. Two seconds ago, I had a bic’d bonce now I’ve got a full head of hair. You’re beginning to irritate me Mafia and with a full shelf of games on my to-play list, you’re on real thin ice!
One of the new features in Mafia III allows you to have underbosses to your empire of crime (oh yeah, we’re 10 minutes in and have already forgot about revenge – we’re already thinking ahead before we’ve even had chance to spill some blood!). The first of which is Cassandra, a woman with the Haitian Mob who owns a voodoo shop in Delray Hollow. We “rescue” this girl in one of the earlier tutorial missions, not realising she’s the brains of the operation. I’m starting to like where the games going with this. A strong, black female in a world filled with powerful, white males – surely this promises to be tasty.
The first mission for Cassandra fully immerses you in the games fighting system. It’s quite good, but annoyingly you can’t use it unless you’re in stealth mode. I learned this the hard way, walking up to a group of gang members outside a bar thinking I’m going to go full Batman in Arkham City, when one of them shouts “hey, it’s him” causing his crew to whip out their shotguns and with one blast put Lincoln down – costing me a cool 50% of my wallet, Borderlands style. So not only are shotguns pretty much the BFG of Mafia III, but prepare to lose a lot of cash if you don’t make regular trips to your safe house to store the cash in your safe. Oh, that’s right. You must physically bank your cash. Again, something that should have been left behind in the stone age of gaming.
I’m trying to persevere with this so I head to the next mission and with it, a little more of the map is unlocked. I can now do missions to reclaim my turf - like CJ and Big Smoke’s missions to take over the hood for the Grove Street Families. Yes! Let’s make this map a little greener… I dive into the nearest enemy warehouse and enter stealth mode - taking out the lookouts on the door before making my way through the floor and up the stairs to where the piles of drugs are held. I attach some C4 and move on – looting a pile of cash in the head honcho’s office as I choke him out from behind. I wring the place dry, taking out every enemy and watching my XP slowly rise in the process before triggering the C4 and blowing the drugs. I’m a few quid better off and can move on to the next red hotspot on the minimap - this time it looks like it’s in a bar. I sneak around back armed with my signature Colt (avec silencer) and eliminate the guy on the payphone. Once he’s out of the way, I edge into the back room and take out the two guys in the office – helping myself to a chunk of cash and picking up the collectible playboy mag to appeal to the 14-year-old boys playing the game. Moving into the bar, I get spotted. Quick on the draw, I shoot the mobster sipping his scotch before he can even raise his pistol and then take out the other guy just in time before he leaves the building to sound the alarm for reinforcements. Smooth Clay, two hideouts hit, without a single triggered alarm. Maybe there’s some hope for this title after all...
At this point, I’ve been away from the story for a while, so I figure - best head over to Cassandra’s place to start the next story mission. When I get there, I enter the house dressed as Bickle again (FFS!) and Cassandra proceeds to tell me of some pesky drug smugglers holed up in a warehouse nearby (hmm, this sounds familiar…) and how she’d be ever so grateful if I could get rid of them for her. The cut scene ends, I leave the house and I’m dressed as The Rock. I follow the nav-point and as I’d feared - I’m back at the warehouse I’ve just cleaned out 20 minutes previous, only problem being the whole safe house has respawned. Same number of people, same positions, same AI movement. The only difference… no more cash to steal! How dreadfully dull and pointless. So again, I stealth around the room taking much less care than I ever did the first time, expending more ammo and using far too much health than I need as my brain desperately tries to avoid boredom during the repetition of the task. After 5 or so minutes, the coast is clear. I’ve taken everyone out and head back to Cassandra. “Thanks Lincoln”, no bother Cassy – what you got for me now - A high-speed chase… high profile assassination… what’s next on the agenda? “There’s a group of guys in a bar I need taking care of…” You’ve got to be shitting me. The bar I’ve just been in? Now I must re-do that again too? Honestly lads, why even try to be a sandbox game and offer the illusion of choice if all you intend to do is force me to play this as a linear third person shooter – and why am I dressed like Bickle AGAIN!! So not only does the game not reward you financially for doing twice the work, but it makes an open world free-roaming game extremely linear. There’s absolutely no point in exploring any of the map until after you’ve completed the story missions in that part of town – so why bother.
Understandably annoyed, I carry on and complete a few more side-missions before finally getting a unique task; take down Ritchie Doucet. Doucet’s a man aligned to the Dixie Mafia who happens to be holed up at a rundown theme park. Perhaps my favourite mission on the game, I arrive on a boat and sneak into the park. Think Bond if Idris Elba ever gets the gig. Making my way around various obstacles and taking out Douchet’s lieutenants in Deus Ex-style fashion was quite fun, despite the lack of space you can still combining long range shots and short range combat quite effectively without starting World War III. I finally track down the Boss and he takes more than a few bullets to put down but eventually – he’s toast. I’m Lincoln Clay. I’m a man to be feared. I’m again dressed like the love-child of Rambo and Travis Bickle. Sigh.
The game doesn’t progress much past this point, continuing to recruit underbosses while almost always being forced into running errands for them. What happened to the powerful shift in ethnic power? I’ve now got an Irishman and an Italian on the books and no-one gets on with one another. Oh, and why have I become so obsessed with making money that I’ve forgot about my revenge? I thought that was the whole point of playing through the most monotonous of missions in this games?!
The last straw was the hunt for Sal Marcano's nephew, Michael Grecco (another lazy Scorsese reference). Mission after mission comes and goes as we repeat the same old task reskinned for different locations to hit Grecco in the pocket and force him out of hiding. Finally, he appears and away we go on what should be an epic car chase. As previously mentioned, the car handling is god awful in this game so imagine how bad it is trying to aim, shoot and steer without breaking your thumbs – all while trying to stop Grecco’s escape. 10 minutes later and I’m still nowhere near Grecco as he inconceivably evades Lincoln whenever you get close enough to deliver a meaningful shot across the bow. Despites his motor being the same model as Lincoln’s he somehow manages to hit Mach speeds whenever you’re near. I eventually get close to him, he’s in shooting distance and I’m locked on his driver’s side rear-wheel ready to pull the trigger and blow out his tyres; bringing this dreadful assignment to its conclusion.
Just as my trigger finger is clenched and I’m about to gun him down, out of nowhere and as if by magic, a 20-tonne garbage truck spawns right in front of me. Where on Earth did that come from? I slam right into the back of it and blood covers the screen. Grecco gets away and the mission fails.
Genuinely, I haven’t seen rendering or draw distance this bad since the original Midtown Madness running on my late 90s Pentium 2. The mission restarts from the beginning. I’m furious. I don’t have time for this, I’m out. I quit. It’s just not worth the hassle.
I expect this from the likes of ‘True Crime: Streets of LA’, ‘Sleeping Dogs’ or even from ‘Just Cause’ but to play one of the most anticipated games of the year from a heritage franchise and to be so brutally let down borders on disgrace. The game just doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s taken the best aspects of several different genres and got them all horribly wrong. No wonder it was down to £19.99 only a month after its release and can now be seen floating around the bargain bins of second hand gaming stores. If you can’t compete with GTA then be different. Something Saints Row have prided themselves on across four wildly different games. If you don’t want to compete, then fine – but at least stick to what you do well. FarCry Primal is a great example of where a copy and paste game can go right, you just need to tap into your consumers longing to be back in the world they love, even if it is just a re-skin of what they’ve played before.
The game just feels like it’s 8-10 years behind the times and while the story feels like it might be going somewhere, the pacing is snail at best. It’s not only seen me question the integrity of a reputable gaming brand, but it’s see me never want to watch another Scorsese movie again. Bravo lads and lasses, you took Goodfellas, Casino, The Departed and Taxi Driver and somehow managed to make Shutter Island. You utter, utter buffoons.
2016 | Developer Hangar 13 | Publisher 2K Games / Take-Two Interactive
genres; RPG, Free-roam, Driving
platforms; Win, PS4, XO