Mafia 3 – Preview

M3PFT

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Gamescom 2015 – Day One


It’s been an interesting 24 hours here in Cologne. Europe’s premier games conference and industry trade fair is buzzing with people. Today is the calm before the storm where industry and press get to see some things before the peoples of Europe come and wreak absolute carnage. How much carnage? Well the organisers are expecting around 400,000 people approximately. That’s just under the population of Cardiff.

We start today with yesterday. Xbox’s annual briefing gave us some new glances into things we’ve been waiting for, such as Halo 5 Guardians, and Rise of the Tomb Raider. The latter of which we were treated to a secondary demo of after the breifing. Lara Croft’s adventures seem to follow the exact same system and style of the 2013 remake. Some have criticised it for being and Xbox exclusive (which we now know it isn’t after Winter 2016) and that Lara was a bit too indestructible. Honestly, whilst she certainly takes some pubishment, you don’t feel that she’s immune to the physicality she endures. The game has a frenetic and terrifying way of creating urgency in how you react against obstacles and big crazy events like collapsing caves. It does look good and we can hardly be critical for wanting more of the same and getting it.

Crackdown 3 appears to be the most technologically progressive out of the games we’ve been shown. The use of Microsoft’s cloud servers in delivering a better in-game experience is nothing new (we found out last year that Dead Island 2 was due to use the system). But there doesn’t appear to be a game that has ever been so reliant on it. The 100% world destuction is an ambitious ask for a console that has begun to find its gaming feet but it raises some questions. Will this be unplayable offline, will this be reliant on server connections being stable, will the amount of players cause lag and issues? The 4 player co-op sequel is in the pre-alpha stage so it’s going to be a while but what we’ve seen is impressive. The 100% destruction is based on actual construction with elements in the buidlings. There’s no empty shells with textures, every shatterd pane of glass, broken concrete, collapsed steel pillar and brick is a physical element in itself, with each building being based on its own server as to not interrupt gameplay. The demo we saw with ultimate destruction used 12 servers in addition to the Xbox One. Is it too ambitious? We’ll see next year hopefully.

We saw new game Scalebound (a rather jaunty hack and slash with dragons), debut some gameplay, and we saw some almost blase news that Cities: Skylines (the Sim City rival/usurper) will be making it’s way to the console. But the biggest new annoucement was a sequel we were all hoping for and from a studio that we really should have predicted. Halo Wars 2 is coming and it will be developed by Total War studio Creative Assembly. I for one am sad that it isn’t in house with a reformed Ensemble Studios but I’m more exctactic that it exists with a studio that has such pedigree.

Quantum Break was given more of an outing and we saw an expansion of the third person gameplay to something that looks quite like a rival to inFamous and the like. Remedy studios appear to be brilliantly keeping their TV style presentation for the game with Aiden Gillen (Game of Throne’s Littlefinger) sticking to one accent alongside a great cast. The gameplay does look excellent but we need to see some more, less demo-y gameplay now, and maybe even some hands on time.

We also had DVR announced (if you have that much memory left then teach me your ways), a new keyboard peripheral and backward compatibilty for Games with Gold. So your Xbox 360 Games with Gold from now on will be playable on the Xbox One. None of your previous ones sadly and there’s no telling how that’s going to limit the game choice but apparently everyone is on board so, we’ll see.

The next morning EA held a conference which, from the social media reaction, hasn’t really been well received. We have more news on FIFA 16’s Ultimate Team mode, a new Sims 4 expansion, some Mirror’s Edge gamplay, some Need for Speed and, most importantly, a new trailer for Star Wars Battlefront. To be honest, we weren’t expecting much from EA than what they had already announced at E3, with a new Battlefield game being slated for 2016. I personally didn’t see it as I was busy checking out Dark Souls 3 (a preview of which will come next week) but here’s the trailer for Star Wars Battlefield.

We also has a press conference from Blizzard which introduced new characters to Heroes of the Storm including the monk from Diablo, along with some gameplay refinements. We also saw a new standalone expansion to Starcraft 2, Legacy of the Void, new Hearthstone cards and more news on Blizzard’s first person shooter, Overwatch, including new maps and their 16th character – carnival loving Brazillian Lucio.

There’s still some noise to come from Blizzard with the reveal of the new World of Warcraft expansion and I’m going to be deep in halls checking out all that I can so stay tuned to our Twitter for more and more reports over the next week.

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