The year is 1968. The Vietnam war has been raging for over ten years but the American public have begun to protest against the reality of the violent images dominating the headlines. President Lyndon B. Johnson declares he will not go for re-election after assuming the Presidency following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which then sees the election of Richard Nixon at the end of the year. America begin to win the space race after Apollo 8 orbits the moon. Elvis Presley’s Comeback Special cements the artist’s place in music history. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated causing riots across the country and lead to the biggest social change in recent history. The Khmer Rouge comes in to power in Cambodia and a coup d’état sees Saddam Hussein become the Vice Chairman of the revolutionary council of Iraq leading to his assumption of total control. It’s safe to say that 2K and new studio Hanger 13 are right in saying they’ve chosen one of the most turbulent years in American and world history in which to set Mafia 3.
The story and the date are paramount to the sense of opportunity and upheaval that the America of the time presents. Mafia 3’s lead character, Lincoln Clay, comes back from the Vietnam War without a cause, without a family. He finds one in New Orleans with the Black Mob but as soon as he finds his new home, his world is once again shattered when the Italian Mob attempt to murder them all. Clay survives and starts his one man war against the Mob, starting his own “family” of close lieutenants and vying for control of The Big Easy.
The development of the Mafia has pinged about a bit as 2K reshuffled themselves and the 2K Czech studio closed. But the newly formed Hanger 13 picked up the mantle over in California and for the past two years has been up to a lot of secret work developing the game. One of those secret things has been a lot of upgrading to the games engine. You probably wouldn’t believe it but Mafia 3 uses the Mafia 2 engine that has been heavily updated and it looks absolutely awesome. The open world of New Orleans looks great with tiny little alleys and small buildings with neon signs advertising Jazz. But it also seems to operate well enough with a lot of entities going around. The streets are a buzz of life and people trying to forget the looming threats in the world. The big graveyards with concrete tombs painted in the vibrant colours and celebrations of life are the perfect meeting grounds for New Orleans’s dark underbelly. The clubs are frequented by many people looking for fun and a good time and behind every door in these clubs, in every cellar, there could be a hideout for the mob, waiting for a hostile takeover.
Hostile is very much the aim of the game here, hostile and violent. In a world that has been born of corruption, ruthlessness, warfare and oppression, violence is inevitably the human answer. Open world games have come on quite a way, even since Mafia 2 and one of the things that exposes a lot of the genre to criticism is violent combat. Mostly because it is taken out of an arena where violence is blindly accepted and put in to a social, close context. The game is very violent but only in the same regards as Hollywood action movies and rolling news’s normalisation of brutality. The third person perspective gives that feeling similar to GTA V and Uncharted in that the game suddenly turns from open-world exploration to cover-shooter and stealth killer. Anything from shooting guns and hiding behind scenery that slowly breaks with more bullet holes, to pulling your combat knife from your holster and lodging it deep in to the brain of your assailant via his eye socket. Car chases will ensue where the Police and the mob will chase you, highlighting the repercussions of your actions, shifting the power dynamic. But Clay is a man that knows nothing but violence. Between war and crime, it is the only way he knows how to respond effectively. This won’t be for the feint of heart.
That dynamic shifts as you take over the various businesses and hideouts that the mob controls. You don’t just want to kill those that tried to kill you, you want to take everything from them, everything they’ve owned, everywhere they deal, you want to annihilate them completely. Your lieutenants, after you’ve enlisted them, become vital to your operation. They can be set to control these new acquisitions and have different skills that will get different bonuses out of them. They can also be called from pay phones to help your situation, like clearing your wanted level for example. If you’re a Mafia fan, you might even recognise one of them. Vito Scaletta returns from Mafia 2 but his story has moved on somewhat. He’s joined by new characters Cassandra and Burke.
The New Orleans of the time is a vibrant and superstitious city. Louisiana is a place of the soul and of magic, the population as enraptured with voodoo and the darkness as they are with the escapism of 1968 America. The French Ward, which we were shown around in the demo, is a colourful place that feels like there is something going on everywhere. It feels like the multicultural party city it is portrayed to be and the soundtrack especially evokes that. Some excellent cuts come over the in-car radio as well as the clubs of the city. From choice riffs from Jimi Hendrix and the great hearty soul and blues of Sam & Dave, The Rolling Stones, and others, this is a game that wants to place you within a time and within an era.
From our first impressions, Mafia 3 looks like it will be a great game. Yes it’s going to be a departure from the Mafia’s we knew before. The move forward to the end of post-war America and a game at a time of social upheaval is actually quite exciting. We’ve had many games deal with sensitive points in history but never before have we had one so focused in a particular time and place that wasn’t a satirical pastiche or a historical war game. I’m interested to see more of how the game handles the time but I’m very confident in how the game handles gaming. It looks, sounds and appears to play very well and I’m looking forward to more.