Mafia III was the big release of this week. As the title suggests, the game is the third in 2K Games’ Mafia series, taking the ‘mobster movie’ storytelling style into gaming. Mafia III has faced mixed reception, with general disappointment at the gameplay and lack of things to do. This is always a potential issue in open world games, but I’m more inspired by Mafia III than perhaps any other gangster game ever.
Why? Because its setting, characterization and narrative execution mark a refreshing and much-needed shift away from the ingrained formulae of gangster games and movies.
I haven’t properly played the other Mafia games beyond brief stints at a friend’s. Whenever they’ve re-entered my sphere of awareness I’ve been taking my fill of open world gameplay elsewhere. More fundamentally, I find myself put off by the settings and stories, which seem to borrow heavy-handedly from their classic predecessors (i.e. The Godfather and such). In my entertainment choices, I’m left feeling content with the classics to fill that particular genre itch — or looking for something that feels a little more… unique within the space.
Mafia III promises that shift, throwing things on their head by subverting the ‘Italian-American Mafioso’ focus and instead launching African-American (technically mulatto) protagonist Lincoln Clay into the world of the mob in New Bordeaux — a fictional version of New Orleans.
Upon his return from the Vietnam War in 1968, Clay experiences a series of unfortunate events that inspire him to take on the Italian Mob and wrest back control of New Bordeaux as a criminal overlord. He does this with help from allies of various backgrounds and organisations — including CIA agents and Haitian crime bosses — which makes the game’s cast much more varied and rich than ever before.
This is combined with the New Orleans setting, which opens numerous doors into a much more multicultural depiction of the crime world than, say, Chicago or New York ever have. From white supremacists and Confederate flags to the legacy of slavery upon the African-American community, Mafia III presents a thematic shift in the mob thriller genre; and for this reason is the first Mafia game I’ve ever actually wanted to play.
What are your thoughts on Mafia III? Does the disappointing gameplay put you off or are you as enthralled as I am by this distinctive addition to a stale genre?