Hands On With Mafia III’s Violent City Of 60s Organised Crime

New Bordeaux’s quite lovely this time of year. The sun hangs lazily in the sky, painting the city orange as it waits for night time to fall. Mardi Gras is in full swing, and the streets are full of costumed revellers, but nothing lasts forever. The city’s balance of organised crime is about to be torn asunder, and that gorgeous weather can change in a heartbeat to torrential downpours.

Lincoln actually starts the game in high spirits. He’s returning from his tour in Vietnam, reconnecting with his adoptive family. Sure, they’re all part of the Black Mob – and one very lenient and forgiving priest – but to him they’re family, they’re friends, and there’s a joy and levity that accompanies his return. Let’s just say that first night back features quite a lot of liquor.

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Of course, things get rather serious right afterwards. There’s an audacious heist that very nearly goes south, a callous and sudden betrayal by Sal Marcano and the Italian mafia, and any frivolity that might have lingered in Lincoln’s soul is banished. If you’ve even vaguely followed the marketing campaign for Mafia III, you’ll know this, and it’s this moment that really sets the story and the game into motion.

There’s a long set of names on his hit list, and that means taking on each of the city’s mafia-run rackets. Sal Marcano’s crooked crime empire will die a death by a thousand cuts, as you first disrupt each racket’s business on a small scale, drawing important lieutenants out into the open and giving you a chance to take over. Each district is capped off by giving you a crack at a character that’s close to Sal.

The larger bases, for want of a better term, are teaming with bad guys, and marching in guns blazing can be tricky at times. Stealth is always an option, trying to whittle down their numbers and make sure they don’t call for backup, but sometimes it’s difficult to see the route through without opening fire. The cover-based shooting is decent enough, and you’ll do well with a shotgun in hand, that’s for sure, but it’s the melee that stands out.

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There’s one game design choice that I don’t think sits quite right with me, in relation to how it handles lethal and non-lethal melee. Many situations can be tackled in a stealthy fashion – at least, to start with – sneaking through and catching guards unawares, but where I’d expect a context sensitive approach, letting me choose between lethal and non-lethal kills on the fly, as in games like Hitman. Lincoln will always pull out his bowie knife and go straight for the jugular by default. If that’s a bit too much for you, you have to find a menu option and toggle it there, but even then, the takedowns can be very visceral. Sure, there’s pistol whipping and choke holds, but let’s just say that slamming someone to the floor and stamping on their head doesn’t feel particularly non-lethal to me…

But these are all bad guys, a motley assortment of Italian mafia goons and other gangs that they associate with, all of whom commit a wide variety of organised illegal acts, from racketeering to running prostitution rings, peddling drugs and so on. Lincoln’s no angel, either. As soon as you clear out one operation, he’ll call in his underbosses to take over and run the joint. This might be a revenge trip, but Lincoln’s planning on taking over at the same time.

Of course, you can’t then run your own criminal empire as just a single man. You need some allies of your own, and there’s a potentially quite fractious element to trying to keep them all happy, so that they don’t try and usurp your rule. Still, early on, Cassandra helps you out by getting you in touch with a gun runner, who will come careening through the city to bring a shop of guns to you when you call through a government issue radio, courtesy of your friendly CIA friend John Donovan.

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The gun runner isn’t the only one who can drive recklessly through the city. 1960s American cars aren’t exactly known for their handling, but once you get past the wheelspin of a muscle car, they’re a lot of fun to hoon around corners in. Even car combat works quite well, letting you lock on and shoot out tyres, though I didn’t quite get the hang of targeting actual enemies. The only thing you have to be a little bit wary of is the cops who will give chase if you’re really acting out and they see you, or if your crimes are reported by citizens, but outrunning the cops isn’t all that challenging.

Another inescapable truth of the game and of the city of New Bordeaux is with its place in American history. It might be a fictional city, but one of the things that Hangar 13 decided was important to represent was the tumultuous American culture of the time, and they note this as the game is loaded up for the first time. It’s not just a white guard calling Lincoln the n-word and him simply acquiescing – don’t worry, he gets his revenge on him too – but smaller things as well, like the way a woman clutches her purse and her eyes shift in surprise as Lincoln walks past in a cutscene.

Hopefully there’s a good deal of substance to this side of Lincoln’s story when exploring the full game, but even just a slight shift in how police dispatchers describe Lincoln adds to the overall setting. New Bordeaux is incredibly evocative of New Orleans and the late 60s – there’s a nice balance between the actual look of the city and the sepia tones that so much TV and film of the era has preserved for the last fifty years.

But really, it’s all just a backdrop of a cinematic tale of revenge. Someone did Lincoln and his family wrong, and he’s going to make them pay.

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