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Mafia III: Definitive Edition Review

Mafia III: Definitive Edition Review

As someone who has a lot of games in their backlog, I try to pick my next game in relation to upcoming anniversaries or releases. If a game on my list is approaching its one, five, or ten-year anniversary I am more likely to play it next. The same goes for if a new entry in a game series is about to release. I missed my chance to review Mafia III back in September of last year when Mafia: Definitive Edition was released. But as I saw the one-year release anniversary for Mafia III: Definitive Edition approach, I couldn't miss the chance again. However, as I booted up Mafia III and read the opening disclaimer from Hangar 13 which warns of the harsh reality which it depicts, I realized that the game was perhaps more relevant today than ever before.

Mafia III centers around Lincoln Clay, a black Vietnam War veteran who comes home to have his life turned upside down. After recovering from a near-death injury, he vows to dismantle and destroy the Italian Mob and take over the city of New Bordeaux in the process. Although New Bordeaux isn't a real city, its imitation of 60s America is intensely accurate. Full of instant classic songs on the radio, cops turning a blind eye to crime in black neighborhoods, and white people throwing out the N-word like it's their mother's maiden name. The presentation of Mafia III's narrative is incredibly effective. Lincoln's story is stung together with documentary footage which is mostly CGI cutscenes made to look real but some of it is genuine archival footage from the era. Mafia III also has some fantastic performances with Alex Hernandez (Lincoln Clay), Gordon Greene (Father James), and Rick Pasqualone (Vito Scaletta) being my personal favorites. The voice cast's work is a big part of why the narrative is as engaging as it is. However, with a campaign that takes roughly 25 hours to beat, there are times where the game starts to drag. This is mainly due to the fact that Mafia III is significantly longer than its predecessors and the length doesn't always feel warranted. But Mafia III always managed to reclaim my attention before it wandered too far off. 

Mafia III: Definitive Edition Review

How much you enjoy Mafia III will depend on if you like its gameplay loop. After the first few missions, the game pretty much repeats the same mission structure as Lincoln Clay takes on on one district after another to bring down the Italian Mob. For me, it was good. I enjoyed the familiar gunplay and controls that are now commonplace in these sort of open-world games, and though I wasn't a huge fan of driving at first, once I switched to simulation style in settings I enjoyed it significantly more. The game does add in small extra features, like slow motion during gunfights as well as the ability to slide across the hood of a car when you run at it, but, having recently played Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition, the gameplay, especially in the melee sections, in Mafia III didn't have that much personality or variety.

There is also some overlap between gameplay and story, the biggest example of that being how you manage your startup mob. Once you progress enough in the story you will have three people under you that run the business while you are on your revenge path. With each racquet you bring down you must assign it to one of the three, and this will, in turn, give you a new or increased income and gameplay enhancing perk. However, you have to think through your decisions because favoring one or two members will leave the third feeling offended and that could lead to negative outcomes down the line. These sort of gameplay mechanics do a great job at merging the story and the gameplay resulting in a more immersive experience. Unfortunately, even with such mechanics, Mafia III doesn't let you step into the shoes of Lincoln Clay for too long before it yanks you right out.

That is due in large part to glitches. And there are plenty of glitches to report in Mafia III. From mission items, like a stack of money not loading in, to NPCs standing on the coffin during a funeral scene. And while I can list all of the times the game bugged out on me, I'd instead like to give one example that, I think, puts together the Mafia III experience. So to set the stage, I am in front of a warehouse where a group of guards stands between me and my target. I'm scoping the place out, trying to see how I could get in quietly when I realize I have $5,000 on me, which may not be a lot but every time you die you lose 50% of your cash. This is where I look into calling an associate. Associates are NPCs that come and help out in some way, like bring you a weapons cache or, as in this instance, pick up any money you have and drop it at the bank for safekeeping. Not wanting to lose my money, I call Vito's associate and she arrives promptly on the road I'm standing on. I give her the money, and she says "great, off to the bank." Then she takes a sharp left turn and plows straight into the warehouse I was about to enter. Now, what makes this so great, is that the guards that stood in front of the warehouse seemed convinced that it was me in that car coming to kill them and they start surrounding it. Using this distraction to my advantage I enter the area undetected. Then, as suddenly as she arrived, I looked away for a second, and the associate's car despawned, and the guards, forgetting about the incident, returned to their usual posts. Was that a polished experience? No. But I would argue that it was a very entertaining one.

Mafia III: Definitive Edition Review

Then there is specifically the Definitive Edtion aspect to touch on. This not only brings visual upgrades to the game but also bundles in all the DLC. These DLC include extra story missions as well as some accessories for Lincoln. As someone who likes to fully commit to the narrative of a game, I played a majority of the first half of the game looking like Shaft from, well, the movie Shaft. And later on, once Lincoln had established himself more in New Bordeaux, into a two-piece and eventually a three-piece suit. The reason why I bring this up is that the cutscenes in the game are inconsistent with which look they picked. Some cutscenes showed Lincoln in the outfit of my choice and others showed him in his default skin. I understand not making the player outfit appear in cutscenes because you don't face the Dead Rising dilemma of having the character in a serious scene whilst wearing a hot dog costume, but the seemingly random way in which it picks which look to go with was confusing. As for the story DLC specifically, they are all good in their own right and work to build out the side characters a bit more. If you are interested in playing them I would suggest you use the official Mafia III DLC guide.

Mafia III's weakest link is its visuals. Despite playing on the Xbox One S, I saw lots of pop-in and unloaded textures that made it feel like a poorly optimized Nintendo Switch port. There were times where I would see a grey box in the distance only to find when I approached it that it was a building with unrendered textures. And when it rained the roads simply turned into a blurry mirror which was just unpleasant to look at. It isn't bad all the time with prerendered cutscenes looking pretty decent, but I came across them often enough to mention it. Accompanying the visual oddities are occasional stutters in gameplay. The game froze on me twice during my playthrough. Neither of these issues are game-breaking but they do make you question the legitimacy of the "Definitive Edition" in the title.

Mafia III: Definitive Edition Social Commentary

Keeping in mind the year we just had in the United States, it's hard to play Mafia III without thinking about its social commentary. It's clear that Hangar 13 made the deliberate choice to have Lincoln Clay be the protagonist of this story and I commend them for not only taking a risky route but making it so authentic. Even if that authenticity sometimes makes you sick to the stomach. It's no secret that being a person of color in the South at that point in American history was tough, and it's depicted with the good and the bad. One second the radio is blasting Paint It, Black by The Rolling Stones and the next a white radio host is preaching off-handed racist statements on air. Earlier I listed three voice actors as my favorite performances in the game but there's a fourth. Nolan North as Reverend Duvall. His character, an eccentric Southern radio host with a family tree tied deeply to the history of the city, is written with such frustrating accuracy that it compares, to a startling degree, with some of the reporting I've seen on the news in 2020. If you listen to the radio in Mafia III often you will notice some stories develop over several days. On day one you hear of an incident where a white man shoots and kills two black men. On day two you hear a black radio talk show discuss how atrocious the act was. On day three you hear Reverent Duvall bring the white man onto his show and mention just how unfair it was that he is being prosecuted for his actions, especially since he was a veteran. And the coverage continues until a verdict is passed. The radio could have simply been a collection of top hits from 1968 played on loop, but instead, it's utilized to add depth to Mafia III's story in ways few games manage to pull off.

Social commentary aside, Mafia III is still an open-world video game at the end of the day and there's one more thing I want to touch on: achievements. If you want to go for the 100% completion of this game you will have to really get to know the city of New Bordeaux because there are a lot of collectibles packed into the map including the series staple Playboy magazines. Joining the Playboy magazines are Vargas, which are paintings of (often) nude women, records, and propaganda posters. Luckily, there are no collectible-related achievements, meaning unless your name is Jirard the Completionist, you can ignore the collectibles if you wish. You can get a majority of the achievements by clearing out the map and all its optional objectives. The game throws more objectives at you than you actually need, meaning you can easily meet the mission requirements necessary to draw out a specific boss without actually finishing all the markers on your map. Luckily, if you are chasing the completion, before you end each story segment you are given the option to go back and complete corresponding objectives before continuing the story. There are also more random achievements such as "Get eaten by an alligator" and "Steal a Police car" but those should only take a few minutes. While I did enjoy my time in Mafia III's open world, I did not have it in me to go for all the achievements. However, it wouldn't truly be a review written by Sri Kandula if I did not mention trophies or achievements.

It's clear that Hangar 13 wanted to take Mafia III in a different direction than the rest of the Mafia series, but this change makes Mafia III feel less like a Scorsese mob drama and more like a revenge story akin to Liam Nesson's Taken. This isn't to say the game's bad and it can often be enjoyable when it's not muddied by bugs and visual oddities. Mafia III's setting and protagonist are a deliberate choice and playing it with the current political climate in mind is an alarming reminder that while a lot has changed, a lot still remains the same. However, it's often the case that what Mafia III is trying to say is better than how it says it.

Mafia III: Definitive Edition | 7 | Good

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