Mafia III Preview: Gangsters’ Paradise

“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”

Those words, spoken at the beginning of Goodfellas, would describe me if I wasn’t afraid of violence and didn’t have social anxiety. But that’s what videogames are for. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of titles that capture the feeling of being a mobster quite like Hollywood does.  That’s the niche the Mafia franchise feeds. It’s the closest to being a gangster I’ll ever be, and Mafia III gives you the chance to be a mob boss without the worry of everyone trying to actually kill you. While a lot has already been said about this upcoming title, 2K showed off a little more than we expected at E3 this year.

Taking place in the 1960s New Orleans-inspired New Bordeaux, the game puts you in the position of a gangster whose goal is to run the city.  You do this by strategically taking out your enemy’s wallet. You shake people down to get information, kill your enemy’s pimps, attack their brothels, and generally find ways to dismantle their business.  To do so, call up your friendly neighbourhood arms dealer, buy some weaponry, and, to quote The Rock, “layeth the smack down” on the unsuspecting criminals. Once you’ve dealt enough damage, the underbosses come out of hiding. It’s your job to murder them and claim your territory.

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It’s reminiscent of the old Godfather II videogame from 2009 where you do something similar to a much smaller degree. You capture enemy outposts and protect them with guards and barricades when they try to take them back. What sets Mafia III apart from that is the ability to divvy up the land between  your own underbosses. New Bordeaux is a big town, too big for the Vietnam vet Lincoln Clay to run by himself.  So he’s hired a few caporegimes to help him take over. Those capos are: the veteran mobster Vito Scaletta (you might remember him as the main character of Mafia II), the fiery Irishman Thomas Burke, and Cassandra, the leader of the Haitian gang.

There is an art to dividing land, because the NPCs take it personally when you don’t pick them. However, each capo has his or her own specialties and weaknesses, so there is some strategy required as well.  In the demo for Mafia III that 2K played for me, they showed a deprived Burke who just got refused again. His reaction involved threatening to shoot Clay before storming out.  I don’t think it should ever come to that in your playthrough, though, because the map is gigantic with a lot of wealth to share.  While this isn’t the main mechanic in the game, this is something I’ve wanted to see in a gangster game for a very long time. The fact that you actually get underbosses, strategize with them, and deal with their egos shows a commitment to the genre that fans will really appreciate.  It adds intrigue, and it gives players a chance to write a bit of their own narrative for the game. Not only that, but it actually gives players the feeling of wielding underworld power.

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If that’s not really your thing, don’t worry, because there is a lot more on offer. At its heart, Mafia III is still a shooter. It’s hyper-violent and action-packed, and, from what I was shown, surprisingly creative..  In the 2K playthrough, Clay kills an enemy’s brother to send a message. To do this he first sabotages a boat ride (setting a man on fire in the process) then chases his target through a swamp, hunting him down with military ruthlessness, almost as if he were back in the war. Finally, he slits his prey’s throat and displays the remains very visibly in a public space.  It almost reminded me of the scene in the Godfather where Jack Woltz wakes up to find his prized horse’s head in his bed, except you get to play through each gruesome part leading up to that infamous scene.

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Those little winks and nods like that, along with attention to the minutiae of running a crime family, could make Mafia III the best mob game ever. As a lifelong fan of all things gangster in pop culture, I haven’t yet seen a game that truly understands what makes these types of stories so intriguing.  Maybe I want this game to succeed more than it deserves, but I’m excited to get my hands on it.

Mafia III doesn’t release until October this year, but if that demo is any indication of what to expect from the finished product, I’ll be happy.