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What’s in Your Box: On the Bayou

/ Jan 21st, 2017 No Comments

Mafia 3 Collector's Edition

Each week, we here at Gaming Illustrated are always playing a number of different video games. However, we may not be talking about them in reviews or editorials. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth talking about, but for any number of reasons an avenue to speak on them doesn’t come up. To remedy the issue, we’re going to ask our staff (and you, honestly) what’s in your box?

What’s in Kalvin’s Box

While I’ve been obssessively playing Yakuza 0 for review, I have found myself making time to check out another fun open-world crime game with a unique setting, Mafia III.

This holiday season was chock full of open-world games. It was kind of overwhelming. The one drawback to the open-world approach is it makes each game a massive undertaking. Exploring a huge world with plenty of side quests and activities to investigate can be a bit daunting. Making matters worse most of the open-world games this holiday season were heavy hitters like Final Fantasy XV, Watch Dogs 2, and a return to Skyrim.

One of those open-world games got a bit lost in the shuffle is Mafia III. Not helping matters, it came out in a month packed with shooters like Titanfall 2, Battlefield 1, Gears of War 4, and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. It is unfortunate the game got lost in the shuffle because it has a gripping story, satisfying gameplay, and a remarkable sense of place.

Smoke on the Water

Mafia III tells the story of Lincoln Clay, a Vietnam War vet returning to his home of New Bordeaux and his family in 1968. Clay’s family is part of the black mafia in New Bordeaux with his adopted father figure, Sammy acting as the head. While the war in Vietnam is still raging on without an end in sight, at home Sammy and the black mafia are feeling tension from their relationship with the Italian mafia due to an ongoing struggle with the Hatians.

Mafia III

The framing device is highly effective in giving the game a sense of historical distance and to feel like a classic mafia movie.

Clay’s return is fortuitous because his military training and no nonsense attitude makes him the perfect person to handle the troubling Haitians. After a bloody conflict with the Haitians, Clay catches the eye of Sal Mercano, the head of the Mercano crime family. He believes Clay to be the man to head up the black mafia, but Clay refuses out of loyalty to his father, Sammy. Annoyed at the refusal, he still wants Clay to help on a major heist at the Federal Reserve with his son, Giorgi.

This opening is what makes Mafia III such an immediately engrossing experience. Mafia III opens up with the beginnings of the Federal Reserve heist, an intriguing crime story premise. It cuts from there to the problem with the Haitians resulting in a killer assault on the Haitian hideout to execute their leader, Baka. As you get a feel for the gunplay, the stealth elements, and gruesome and brutal takedowns, the game cuts back to the heist that just gets progressively crazier. It ends with a sweet ass boat escape through the sewers until you emerge into the heart of Mardi Gras.

Mafia III

Cassandra will be a powerful ally, but what she faced at Baka’s hands will never be over.

The tense escape from the police ends in a euphoric celebration of an impossible heist pulled off without any deaths and a butt load of cash. In the midst of a job, if not well done, then done you get the feeling something is up. When Sal shows up for his cut and Giorgi looks pained, it is clear what the plan is. The crux of the story is the bloody double cross of the Mercanos where they murder Sammy, Ellis, and leave Lincoln for dead.

Through the intervention of Father James, Lincoln makes it out alive and his mission is to take down Mercano and everything associated with him.

Lost in the Bayou

One drawback to such a brilliant opening is the game loses a bit of steam after Lincoln goes after Mercano. Mafia III becomes a more traditional open-world crime game with a lot more conventional missions like shake down informants, wipe out this group of enemies as you get closer to the more exciting missions. That isn’t to say it is a bore, but it lacks the thrill of that first hour.

Mafia III

While the missions to close down a racket can be routine for an open-world game, they build toward the missions where the game shines.

To get closer to Mercano, Clay works with his old CIA contact, Donovan to assess assets and allies that will hurt Mercano most when Clay takes them out. In order to hurt Mercano most, he needs to bust up the rackets Marcano has under his thumb. He starts in the Hollows formerly run by Sammy, now given to the racist, redneck Dixie Mafia. Clay has to make bedfellows with Cassandra, the woman he saved from Baka after he killed him. She is the true power behind the Haitians, and Clay needs to trust her to run the Hollows if he wants to take down Mercano.

While targeting each racket to lure out the head of the racket is routine, assaulting the compounds to kill the boss is plenty of fun. These missions mirror the opening assault on the Haitian hideout. They also serve to highlight what makes the combat dynamic. While you can go in guns blazing, it is often more opportune to sneak around and take out foot soldiers silently. The stealth elements of the game are super surprising, if a bit rudimentary, but are satisfying to pull off.

Mafia III

Mafia III’s frantic gunplay is tempered by an engaging stealth approach to missions.

Mafia III has rough edges like plenty of texture pop-ins, which kills some striking imagery like Clay and company coming out of the sewers into Mardi Gras. Watching NPCs and textures for their skin load in ruin what should be a memorable moment. None of this is to say the game looks bad, but there are some obvious flaws with the presentation.

Where it recovers is an excellent sense of place, New Bordeaux is a beautiful and haunting place to explore. Also, the story telling is top notch with the great framing device of a documentary in the present discussing the events of the game.

If you haven’t checked out Mafia III then you should do yourself a favor and do it in these lazy months.

Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. While he is Orange County born, he now resides in Portland, OR. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs
Kalvin Martinez

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