Okay, today I booted up Steam and after I took a while to look at it, something caught my eye: The metascore for Mafia III was in. And it's 60. Which is a real shame.
Do not get me wrong here, as I like the Mafia-series I am not a fan. They are not game for my Top 10 list but surely occupy the area of "not a waste of time" in concousness.
I will also not suggar-coat that the game is another entry in the series of open world games which launched with hillarous bugs (e.g. today I found a car with the driving NPC inside wedged in alley Austin Powers-style).
That being said, here are five reason why you should check out Mafia III if you have the chance. (Conicidentally it will take about two houres of playtime on medium to see all of this at least in parts, so you might be in the Steam-refund range).
1) The attempt to make the most out of setting
This featured heavily in the game's actually marketing, so I won't belabour the point too much. There is gone a lot of care into setting the stage of 1968 and considering how other games seem to treat their ability to cram the world full of details, it is good to see someone actually pulling in a worthwile direction.
2) The narrative framing
You might also have heard this in the game's marketing and it is better than just a jumble of buzzwords they used as a sales pitch. The chief narrative device is a faux documentary about the events the game depicts. Whenever a story section concludes, the game switches to a small clip from said documentary featuring characters related to the events you just played, or giving additional context to them from a NPC.
While it is certainly not a novel approach in media overall, it works well for a game: It neatly covers the behind-scenes peroids when the game reinstantiates the overworld to a new state, e.g. after I busted up a Prostitution Racket in game which was housed in a theatre with a really, really racist decor, it swtiched over to the documentary and then dropped me back in said theatre which now -under management of my Underboss- had become a respectable-looking nightclub. What in another game would have been a break-by-loading-screen was well-covered.
3) Lincoln Clay
The big elephant in the room about Lincoln of is of course his race, so score one for the representation. But that is not what I want to mention here: Video game protagonists usually have a bit of problem with regards of being (hyper)competent - what ever they do, they are at the skill of player and that can lead to some really ridiculous missteps between what the story says their competence level is and what the player can do. And that goes more so if the game -like Mafia III- goes an increasingly violent route.
Lincoln however is quickly established as having military -even special operations- training and the game doesn't just drop it there to fill a gap. It becomes a point of story inself, from the WWII-veteran which talks to Lincoln the moment he arrives back in New Bordeaux to the congressional hearings in the faux documentary. His veteran status and background of his service also neatly interact with the genre-typical violent content of game in regards to setting the tone: Lincoln is not a psychopath but he has seen and done brutal things in the past which propably don't compare to gunning down street thugs. He is driven man tapping back into skills that are fresh in his memory to achieve his goal - matching the violence he suffered with the kind he has been trained and ordered to inflict before.
One of the criticsms leveld against Mafia III is that is heavily reliant on its combat mechanics (which also a have a blend of stealth in them). That criticsm is fair as combat is the focus of the game.
But unlike other open-world action titles Mafia III's combat is honed. Gunplay works well, meele fights work well without being over-the-top (think Batman Arkham-games) or simplified to death (think AC IV) and the enemy AI put the driving NPCs to shame. Plus the game transitions well between "stealth" and "open combat" periods and unlike other games (*cough*Deus Ex*cough*) never make me feel that I screwed up hard when transitioning to open shoot-outs. It makes stuff more difficult as going around undetected and stabbing isolated enemies is path of least resistance but aside from "I shouldn't have switched my shotgun for this rifle before going inside" it never felt like having failed.
And I can't stress that the gun-play works very very well.
5) The revenege story
Video game revenge stories have a usually a big problem as you spend too little time with the characters that you should feel a connection to before they get killed or betray you for reaons of the plot. Because "revenging" is the game, a video game revenge story doesn't spend much time on motivatioin or down-time that makes the wish for statisfaction grow out of proportion, prime suspect: Dishonored. While the time with the key figures of Lincoln's life before he goes on his campaign is short, it is in turn also bittersweet. It is a testament to the character work that I actually would have liked to spend more time with the characters, despite knowing from the get-go that they had the single prupose to die for the story.
I will keep you all appraised as I continue with game.