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There is a great sadness when a game comes out, and it had so much hype and potential behind it, but then squanders all that good fortune and intrigue on a rather middling experience. Every year, we have a couple of games that do this, like 2016’s No Man’s Sky being the biggest example. However, for me, my biggest disappointment gaming-wise was probably 2K and Hangar 13’s Mafia III. You can tell that there was a lot of effort put into the game’s setting, dialogue, characters, and story. However, the rest of the game was not thought out or fleshed out enough to be on par with everything else.
So, what happened, exactly? To me, it was like I said above; they focused too much one element, which was the story part. To give Mafia III credit, the story and writing of this game is superb. I was really hooked on the story, following Lincoln Clay as he got revenge on the Italian Mafia that killed his friends. You really feel engulfed in the time period of 1968 New Bordeaux, a reimagined version of New Orleans. The city itself has the New Orleans charm, but with a much grimier and non-progressive group of citizens. You can tell the studio did a lot of work to get the tone down, and write the kind of people you would encounter at this period in time. The actors are fantastic. You really believe that they are the characters they are portraying, and you get the chemistry and comradery between the characters you follow. In terms of an open world action game, it’s easily the most believable voice work I have had heard in a while.
So, what exactly happened? This should have been a home run. Unfortunately, that focus on a good story, writing, and a believable open world set in the 60s took over priority, and let the gameplay and everything else suffer. While I wouldn’t call it an ugly game, it just doesn’t scream PlayStation 4, but more like a high-end PlayStation 3 game. A lot of the characters will also at times have a case of the Uncanny Valley where they look real, but then one off movement makes them creepy. While I didn’t personally run into any bugs or framerate issues, I knew when this game launched; there were glitches and performance issues run amuck, on top of the game taking up so much space on the console. It also took forever to install for some people, and I’m sorry, but that’s not okay, publishers and developers. You have to either find some way to have install times go faster, or don’t have such silly or annoying things happen when we pop in this game to our consoles or PC.
The gameplay was so middling that it was aggravating. You can tell there is a good third-person action game in the overall gameplay department of Mafia III, but either they put in too much to do, testers weren’t putting up suggestions, or the designers were putting in only the bare minimum, in terms of how a third-person shooter is done these days. It’s not that the gameplay is broken or terrible, but it’s so average. How is the shooting? It’s pretty average. How is the stealth? It’s pretty basic and average. How is the driving? You guessed it, average. It doesn’t do any of these elements well, and it just leaves a forgettable experience gameplay-wise. Yes, you have memorable characters and missions, but when I don’t remember the fun gameplay attached to it, it feels hollow. It also makes for a soulless experience when the AI isn’t smart enough to come get you. It seems like this game’s definition of “difficulty” is putting swarms of enemies at your feet, and realizing that you are weak as Hades. You can’t take a lot of damage, and health items are not very abundant in the overall game. It feels like a half-baked third-person survival game with bland stealth elements. Yeah, you can argue Uncharted 4 didn’t push the gameplay enough, but it was well crafted and tight. I loved playing that game, due to the game and levels being memorable and fun. I also find it funny that the police are after you, but when they see a mass crash happen because of a dump truck not moving, they don’t go after the driver there. I remember in Grand Theft Auto V, where you could encounter random crimes happening, and you aren’t the one involved in them. It made the world feel alive and bustling. The world of Mafia III felt, once again, inconsistent. Some parts felt lively, but not in other areas.
So, Mafia III started with promising ambitions, an interesting story, investment-worthy characters, and a setting with themes being tackled in a very O.J. Made in America-style documentary. Sadly, it’s all almost undone by combat that isn’t up-to-par with everything else. I guess to me, the moral story of this situation is to make sure the overall game is well-rounded, and not just one part. If it’s not fun to play, then why should I play it from beginning to end? Hopefully if there is going to be a Mafia IV, they learn from their mistakes, and make an even better game.