Mafia III can be an almost sickeningly brutal and violent game at times. Lincoln Clay has more than a little capacity to resort to a truly no holds barred form of combat, making use of every gun at his disposal, smashing Italian mob goons into the environment, and barely giving time for quarter to be considered when ending the confrontation, if you catch my drift.
I’m not sure what it was that made me feel that way about what I was seeing on screen, desensitised to the macabre as we are in this day and age, but whatever the reason, it’s violence for the sake of violence without context, a darker alternative to Saints Row’s hyperactive nonsensical mayhem. You don’t have to play that way, and stealthier, non-lethal approaches are there, but the violence does fit with a narrative that steps back in time to 1968 and particularly tumultuous times in the US.
The Tet Offensive at the start of the year was a major turning point in the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King’s assassination in April rocked the country with riots across America – though just a week later, the Civil Rights Act was signed into law – and Mafia III draws upon both these powerful movements, while delving into the underbelly of corruption, racketeering, drugs, trafficking and violence of organised crime.
So yes, it’s a violent game depending on how you want to play, but it fits the setting and the story. Organised crime and the mafia is often romanticised in film, whether as the protagonists or the antagonists trying to exist in their own bubble outside the law, but Mafia III isn’t really a parallel to a crime film, it’s got more in common with a revenge story and a blaxploitation film. Lincoln Clay is the sole survivor from the Black Mob in New Bordeaux, having been double crossed by the Italians, seeking to get revenge on Sal Marcano and overthrow the Italian mob in the city.
Hangar 13 avoid simply telling the story from Lincoln’s perspective though. A Vietnam War veteran, he’s got the skills to take on the legions of mob goons – and probably the cops on more than a few occasions as well – but his story is made more interesting by giving you, the player, a peek behind the curtain at the other side of this war between criminals.
As Lincoln hunts down Tony Derazio, the man pulling the strings behind all the inner city government corruption, we’re shown a gorgeous-looking cutscene that demonstrates how ruthless this guy is. He’s clearly a bad guy, assured of his own power and safety. You get to bring that mentality crashing down. Literally. The story as a whole is also framed by the recorded interviews held by a government committee years later, trying to piece together just what it was that happened.
That certainly implies that things got very messy, and they do, but you’re given a degree of freedom to tackle the task at hand how you see fit. Do you, for instance, fight your way through the lobby of a hotel to get to the elevator, or do you find Tony’s bag man, doing the rounds and collecting cash for the local racketeering scams, and ride his car into the underground garage for a stealthier approach. You can go through making silent and non-lethal takedowns, or given Lincoln’s military experience, barrel in with short, sharp and incisive takedowns that blend melee with lethal gunfire.
Of course, as Lincoln is carving a bloody trail through the lieutenants of the Italian mob, that leaves a power vacuum for his own growing criminal organisation to fill. He has his own lieutenants and allies – Cassandra, Burke and the familiar face of Vito Scaletta – and can put these in charge of the various criminal ventures that you’re liberating from the mob.
These are spread out across the city of New Bordeaux, a fictionalised take on New Orleans that gets to fudge the reality somewhat to suit Hangar 13’s demands. Yet that New Orleans identity is clear to see all the way through the game. There’s the broad variety of environments to explore, from the bayou marshland on the outskirts of the city gives way to the poorer, deprived areas, and then there’s the glitzier heart of the city where the government and wealth reside.
Then there’s the soundtrack. 100 licensed songs from a rich, deep and varied era of music, covering all of the genres from rock and pop, through to soul, blues and jazz. As Lincoln stepped into a car and the radio clicked on, it just brought a smile to my face to hear what was being played.
That’s really what makes Mafia III so appealing to me, almost despite the barrage of trailers that have been appearing over the last couple of months. The music is just one – admittedly very important – part of helping to ground the game in the late 60s, and just as I said there’s a certain romanticism for stories about the Italian mob, there’s a romance to the 60s, the years of hippies and free love and all the reactionary counterculture. This is a game that’s the epitome of ‘old school cool’, it’s just that it can be a bit violent at the same time.