It’s been six years since the last Mafia game. Where you were climbing the ranks of the Mafia crime families in Mafia II, Mafia III sees a slighted member of the black mob (that’s putting it kindly considering they murdered everyone and left him for dead) building his own crime organization to dismantle the Italian mob piece by piece. While it may seem like a simple open world experience similar to Grand Theft Auto and others from the the outside, there hides a layer of depth and complexity in New Bordeaux’s seedy underbelly that makes Mafia III far more unique than any other open world title.
New Bordeaux — based on a reimagining of New Orleans — is modeled after a time of turmoil in US history. There are 10 districts that each have different criminal rackets led by different underbosses. The unique criminal flavor of each district means that you won’t be undertaking the same old side missions over and over to disrupt the hierarchy of the Italian mob. The Bayou for example, houses moonshiners and gun running, while somewhere like Delray Hollow is the home of heroine production and sex rings in New Bordeaux. Each of these rackets funnel money to the Italians and help them retain control of the city. Wresting this control away is crucial and can be undertaken in a number of different ways, ultimately resulting in a confrontation with the region’s underboss.
Stealthy approaches are possible as well as going in guns blazing, and the tactical approaches in between are also an option. In the segment I was shown, the lead character Lincoln sneaks into a brothel to kill the pimp over the local call girls. After bypassing all of the threats on the way in, he puts a single bullet through the brain of his target and leaves much more loudly than he arrived. They used this opportunity to show us favors that you get from your own underbosses, in this case the ability to call in a bunch of grunts to help you take out the rest of the pimp’s guards.
Skipping ahead, I was shown the assault on the region’s underboss. It was a fantastically brutal sequence on a sinking and burning riverboat, chasing the pudgy mob man through a political fundraiser intent on making an example of him. The fun part of this was the contextual execution animations done by performing a melee attack on an enemy and timing a button prompt just right. These animations feel definitively mob style in their cold and calculated brutality, such as knocking an enemy to their knees and sending a load of buckshot through the back of their neck.
After this, Lincoln was part of a sitdown, which is a gameplay mechanic where you must decide which of your own three underbosses to give the region control to. This choice has impacts on bonuses that you can receive, but beyond that can have more far reaching consequences based on the friction among your allies, and accusations of favoritism. They indicated that every player may not have this happen, but briefly showed us a sequence where Lincoln was forced to confront one of his own underbosses that had betrayed him.
Balance of Power
Far more than just the standard open world model of clearing out areas using basic side missions and gaining control, everything in Mafia III is said to be tied to the larger narrative of disrupting the Italian Mafia and ultimately taking revenge on its leader for what he did to Lincoln. In order to gain enough power to do so, you must manage your own criminal underworld in such a way as to actually retain power when you take over a district. Both the widely unique mission structure and management of your own underbosses aren’t elements that are commonly — if ever — seen in an open world game of this style.
Finally, the game’s setting — both in time and geographically — gives them a massive opportunity to fill Mafia III with amazing music from that era, including 60’s rock and Cajun jazz. Everything about what I’ve seen evokes a deep sense of the geographical and period culture, from a time and place that hasn’t seen its way into too many games of recent memory. If the final game can deliver on its promise of unique missions throughout the open world and making building up your own power as important as taking the Mafia down, we could end up seeing a game that easily qualifies itself as one of the best releases of the year. There’s not much longer to wait now. Mafia III transports us to 1968 New Bordeaux on October 7 of this year.