Mafia III could be a very short revenge story. Lincoln Clay, the Vietnam veteran whose mobster friends are killed in the first act, could quickly make his way over to the mafia boss and take him out. But the game coming from publisher 2K Games (a Take-Two Interactive division) on October 7 is a very deep open world with some very different story threads that can lead to alternative story outcomes.
The reason that this game is so deep and varied is that Clay’s idea of revenge is so much bigger than just killing crime boss Sal Marcano. It says a lot about Clay, the “gifted anti-hero” of Mafia III, that he wants to take apart Marcano’s criminal organization, piece by piece, district by district. Clay wants to take over all the rackets, taking out the low level foot soldiers, climbing up the ladder, and then replacing them with his own people.
Check out our Reviews Vault for past game reviews. Editor’s note: This story has spoilers for the beginning of the game.
“The characters discuss this in the game a couple of times,” said Bill Harms, lead writer of the game at developer Hangar 13, in an interview with GamesBeat. “That goes to who Lincoln is as a character. He says early on that is not enough. His goal is to systematically destroy, not just Sal Marcano’s life, but his life’s work, which is the Italian mafia in New Bordeaux.”
And that is why Mafia III is massive. I was able to get a good look at the whole first act of the game at an event at Hangar 13, a new studio headed by Haden Blackman, in Novato, Calif. In order to move through it fast and absorb the story, I played it on the Easy level. But for a more deliberate game and bigger challenge, I recommend you play it on a tougher level. While the shooting and gameplay wasn’t bad, I found that the story really drew me in to Mafia III.
The open world of New Bordeaux
The studio has created a massive open world with the city of New Bordeaux, which is modeled after New Orleans. The game is set in 1968, a tumultuous year for history that included the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, as well as the major events in the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War.
Those events are mentioned in the game, not to make some statement about the 1960s but because they add to the authenticity. Clay was shaped by his experiences as veteran, and his ideas of loyalty and revenge are unique to his time.
“We wanted to take a gift anti-hero and place him in a specific time and place in American history,” Harms said.
The narrative is told in a series of flashbacks, so you move forward and backward in time. The overall narrative is that the game is part of a modern-day documentary where key figures are interviewed about what Lincoln Clay did when he took on the mob. At some points, the characters are older, and then you see them as younger characters in the flashbacks.
We learn that Lincoln Clay was the son of a white man and a black woman. He categorized as “black” and was given up for adoption when he was a couple of years old. When the orphanage shut down, Sammy Robinson, who runs the black mob, and his family took Clay in as their own. Clay went on to fight in Vietnam and became a Special Forces soldier in Laos, where he earned multiple medals in combat.
He returns to New Bordeaux on February 27, 1968, and goes back to Robinson in a parish known as Delray Hollow. I was immediately transported back in time as the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil song came on the car radio. I also wanted to stay in the car longer when I heard Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction.
In that car ride, Clay’s friend Ellis asks him what Vietnam was like. Clay relates a story where a woman being evacuated went aboard a boat with a baby and a pig. The U.S. soldiers told her she could only take one with her. So she threw the baby overboard. Clay said that was an example of what happens when you take everything away from someone and their only goal is to survive. It is a story of inhumanity that foreshadows what is to come.
A racist time
The scene shifts to a heist. (Giorgi apologizes ahead of time for having to go along with that racist banter). The racist moments are disturbing, but it’s part of the time and place.
“We really did everything we could to not climb up on a soap box and preach. There is racism in the game, but the game is not about racism,” Harms said. “The game is about Lincoln Clay, who destroyed the Italian mob in our version of New Orleans. You get a feel for a time and place. We reinforce where the game is set…. We have a term for it. We call it ‘cinematic realism.’ It’s not about those things. Those things are part of the game. It’s authenticity.”
The heist gets going, but hen the game fast forwards to an earlier time. We get some very interesting commentary from Father James Ballard, the parish priest who tries to guide Clay and serves as a kind of narrator.
During the heist, we see the seeds of the story sown. Collaboration. Betrayal. And then revenge. During this storytelling, we see what kind of person Clay has become. Even though he’s violent, he lives by a code.
Through the action of the heist and the flash backs and flash forwards, the story is set up. Father Ballard rescues Clay, and Clay makes his pledge to take down Marcano’s empire. At this moment, I found the writing to be particularly good. And Clay goes after Marcano from the bottom up.
“In the mafia, it’s all about how the money flows up,” Harms said.
The sit downs
Andy Wilson, executive producer of the game, said in an interview that every player’s story is going to be unique because of the choices that they make during these big “sit down” meetings. After reaching a milestone, Lincoln has to decide which of his three underbosses will take over a territory. If he favors one lieutenant — Vito, Burke, or Cassandra — then the other two are likely to rebel or betray Lincoln. You may wind up finishing the game with only one lieutenant left, or you may finish the game with all three of them alive.
“You can choose to balance it out or trigger one to betray you,” Wilson said.
Toward the end of the game, you’ll have some very wide open world and you can choose from among multiple missions to pursue. I haven’t seen those later missions, but I’m looking forward to playing the full game. The acting is superb, and the writing is good as well. The title debuts on Windows, OS X, the PlayStation 4, and the Xbox One on October 7.