Mafia III (PS4) Review

Mafia III (PS4) Review

After sneaking into a dark compound, I stabbed a random goon in the throat. Then I whistled to get the attention of another goon, only to stab him in the throat too. Wandering out of my cover, I got spotted by another goon I didn’t notice, prompting a gun fight. Hiding behind one of several convenient wooden creates, I took headshots and plowed through the thugs until I got to my goal. Now, was that goal breaking a box? Or was it stealing some money? Maybe this was one of the “kill an important guy” missions? I’m honestly not sure. See, 2K’s Mafia III blended together into a homogenous glob of a game in my head. Aside from major narrative beats, I can’t really tell you much about my time with it. Which is troubling, considering the dozens of main missions, side missions, and other things I’ve done throughout my play through. There’s a lot of nebulous “stuff” to do in this game, but none of it feels all that significant, and most of it feels identical.

The Sounds of Mafia IIIThe same can’t be said about the narrative, which is legitimately engrossing. Lincoln Clay, as a character, is one of the more interesting protagonists I’ve gotten my hands on in gaming. A Vietnam War vet, Clay returns to New Bordeaux (a thinly veiled New Orleans) and gets mixed up in his family’s gang warfare. As he gets back in the swing of things, a former ally stabs him in the back, murders almost everyone he cares about, then leaves him for dead inside of a burning building. When he comes to, Clay’s driven by one thing and one thing only – revenge, come hell or high water.

Mafia III’s bloody, pulpy revenge yarn is satisfyingly dour and downtrodden, treating organized crime and violence like the nasty thing it is. At no point are you led to believe you’re doing the right thing, or that there’s any fun to be had. Every bribed cop, destroyed storefront, wiretapped block, or brutalized mobster makes you feel grimy. Few games treat crime like this with the gravity it deserves, and Hanger 13 deserves kudos for that.

It also deserves kudos for tackling racism in a nuanced way, and in a AAA game no less. 1968 is every bit as prejudiced as you’d think, and Clay, as a man of color, gets to experience the brunt of it. Haitian mob members question your loyalty to your race. White supremacists actively taunt and try to inflict violence against you. Even your closest allies, such as an Irish metalworker, repeatedly call you dehumanizing, demeaning things. But it’s not just dialogue that makes you feel the inequality Lincoln faces. Shoot someone in a lower class, mostly black neighborhood, and cops will stroll over when they feel like it. In a white, upper class neighborhood, they swarm you and shoot to kill immediately. Whole mechanics in the game remind you that your player-character is looked down upon by society.

I really can’t recall the last big game that tried to tackle racism in a major way, and especially not one that used it as a game mechanic. In 2016, it’s about damn time, and I hope Mafia III sets a precedent in that area.

Unfortunately, as much as I’d like to let the game off easy because of that, I can’t. Because frankly, so much time was spent on crafting the story, the tone, and the delivery (a pseudo-documentary framework which punctuates the narrative,) that it feels like gameplay fell to the wayside. Mafia III feels like one of the dreaded mid-2000’s “GTA clones.” Its lifeless open world, sloppy mechanics, and repetitive mission structure squander the potential of this game, and make it legitimately not fun to play through.

The Sounds of Mafia III 5Most egregiously, the very structure of the game is a monotonous slog. In order to progress, players have to damage different sections of town, kill a major mobster, then repeat. Eventually, you kill enough of these people and cost a gang enough money that you get to progress the story, and go on a mission that’s actually fun. In the meantime, you have to “smash X amount of Y thing,” or “steal Y amount of Z thing.” That’s basically it. Occasionally, you can do things like bribe cops, but that just facilitates you doing more of the same. The reasoning behind this is that you’re freeing up venues for your underbosses to make money, which in turn gives you more cash as well. But your underbosses, after their arcs end, are just soulless figureheads. They’re resources that make your money go up, and not much else.

The Sounds of Mafia III 4That is what pains me most about Mafia III. It features such an engrossing narrative, led by such a compelling protagonist, but is ultimately undercut by the fact that it’s a bog-standard open world crime game. All of the side activities feel like dated, tacked-on slogs, and none of them feel particularly distinguishable from each other. It feels like the developers responded to criticism of Mafia II being too linear with open-world mechanics that rightfully died around 2008 or so. I would’ve preferred a more linear game to one that shoves repetitious activities down my throat in order to get to the good stuff. A shootout in a creepy amusement park, or a blistering chase across town at night, would feel much more satisfying if I hadn’t had to smash a million boxes, shank dozens of allegedly important mobsters, or do the same dumb mini-games (driving enough to scare information out of somebody, for example) umpteen times. Linearity isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it can bring focus to a game. And Mafia III could’ve used a little more focus.

It also could’ve used a little more polish. Even by open-world game standards, Mafia III isn’t a particularly attractive game. City blocks feel dull and lifeless, and every enemy hangout that isn’t a major set piece runs together. Textures are muddy, edges are jaggy, and only lighting effects manage to make things look pretty. Save for some expressive and nuanced character models, and some really beautifully composed cutscenes, this game can’t hope to compete with the big league open-world titles in the looks department. Awkward physics and occasional control wonk don’t help, either.
Mafia III Preview: Gangsters’ Paradise 23I really, earnestly wanted to like Mafia III more than I did. At every possible turn, I tried to forgive the game’s shortcomings because of the good work it was trying to do with the narrative and setting. In fact, I don’t totally dislike it. There are moments of soaring highs between the crushing lows, moments that remind me how good this game could’ve been. In the end, however, its insistence on shoehorning in a whole lot of nothing undercuts what could’ve been one of the decade’s most important games.

For people willing to overlook some serious flaws and open to a lot of mindless repetition, there’s some originality there, and the moody, ambivalent narrative is worth it for people in the mood for a good story. However, if you’re looking for a polished, consistently enjoyable game, Mafia III is one offer you might want to refuse.

The Sounds of Mafia III

Mafia III: Rivals Coming to iOS, Android

Mafia III is easily one of the most anticipated titles of this generation. With its 1960’s Louisiana setting and cast right out of a Scorsese film, it’s easy to see why. But much like its predecessor, Mafia III features a unique score that fits its time period like a glove. Much of that is thanks to the composers Jesse Harlin and Jim Bonney. To discuss the sounds of Mafia III, the former was very candid about his creative process and his excitement for 2K’s upcoming title. In our conversation with Harlin, we discuss his process, and his excitement for the upcoming 2K title.

CGMagazine: A lot of your previous work was based in the Star Wars universe. Now you’re going in the complete opposite direction .  It’s something based in reality, Louisiana in the 60’s. How did that affect the sound you were going for?

Jesse Harlin: Massively, actually. What we wanted to do when we started was to figure out a signature sound for Mafia III. Being that it’s the third game in the series, there was sort of an established sound. We didn’t know if that established orchestral sound they had in the other two games was going to be the right thing for the new game. What we did was a lot of musical concept art, at the start. A lot of pieces to try and figure out what was the right approach and direction to take the score into. One of the things I suggested was “What about a cinematic approach to the blues?” Cinematic in this case not meaning orchestral, but using traditional blues instruments in a cinematic storytelling way.

Blues is definitely there in the score. A lot of the material that the game’s other composer (Jim Bonney) wrote is just straight up blues rock. What I was doing, then, was trying to support the story and cutscenes with a blues underscore. I was trying to figure out if you’re going to score or underscore scenes the typical crutches of things like an orchestra. How do you approach that with things like a piano, electric guitar, dobro and upright bass? I found myself taking sounds that I wanted to use with an orchestral approach and then translating it into what I feel would be the replacement for that sound. Instead of using orchestral instruments, we have certain characters that are from all over the place in terms of their backgrounds. For example, some of the characters are Haitian, so I was using Haitian and Afro-Cuban percussion to underscore those sections. It very much dictated the radical departure from the Star Wars sound that I was used to.
Mafia III Preview: Gangsters’ Paradise 22CGM: Did you have time to see Mafia III before you started the score or were you told “This is the setting we’re going for?”

Harlin: I got to see a little bit of it. I’ve been working on this game for about two years. It was early when I first started, and there was little more than concept art at that point. When we were trying to figure out the direction of the game, they had story ideas and they had concept art, which was very representative of what ended up being. They also had a lot of descriptions based on what they knew they wanted the characters to be, and that was where we started working: Mostly using Word documents that were descriptions of the world they were going to build.

CGM: Are you a fan of the Mafia series?

The Sounds of Mafia III 3Harlin: I did play Mafia II and I dug it. ability to create characters that were believable was really nice and rich. When I played Mafia II just as a gamer, I wished there was sort of more to go off and do in the open-world aspect of it. I think that’s one of the things they’re really trying to address with Mafia III, so I’m looking forward to playing it. Even now, I don’t think I’ve played any of it. I got to see some of it, but I haven’t gotten to play any of it, so I’m really looking forward to it.

CGM: Were you excited about working on the scores for some characters that you’ve already played as?

Harlin: Yeah, it was fun to see come back. The game’s director, Haden Blackman, was very insistent that he wanted the score to be thematic and have characters represented by themes. It made total sense that when it came to scoring Vito, I made some callbacks in Vito’s music back to the main menu melody of Mafia II. It may not immediately jump out as being instantly recognizable as a quote of it, but it’s definitely there. It’s this descending b-minor melodic line that I carried over and referenced in at least one section in the new game.
Mafia III Preview: Gangsters’ Paradise 21CGM: That actually leads right into my next question. Obviously when you’re told “We’re doing 1960s, New Orleans, heavy blues influence”, where did you find your inspiration for that?

Harlin: Early on, what I proposed to the team was that after I had been thinking about it for a couple days, I got in touch with their audio director and said, “here’s how I see this breaking down. I think you’ve got four different cardinal direction points that you can take this score in. What I’m going to propose is that I do four different demos for you of each style in its pure form. We’ll call these ‘fence posts,’ where we’re fencing off the area within which the score may eventually be. The final score may end up being some combination of some or all of this. But these are going to be the four pure fence posts within which we’ll define the actual sound.”

One was orchestral, a traditional orchestral demo. One was the blues where we ended up. One was 60s rock-inspired, like if the game had been scored by 60s-era Led Zeppelin and The Doors. Reading through the script and looking at the story, there were elements of it that seemed like a Blaxploitation film sort of approach, so I did a very Lalo Schifrin 1970s funk-based score. I did all of that, then sent them in.

The Sounds of Mafia III 4Haden and Matt sat down together and had a lot of thoughts on everything and decided that the orchestral one was the safe way to go, so let’s explore other things, and if they don’t work, we know we have that in the back pocket. Let’s try and do something more interesting.

The 60’s rock one was cool, but there was a concern that having a giant wall of guitars might become a problem in terms of trying to make frequency space for all of the guns and dialogue and ambience. You can have a big wall of sound when you’re just listening to music and it isn’t a problem, but if you’re actually trying to telegraph important information to the player, then that giant wall of guitars is probably going to get in your way.

The funk one, everybody agreed that it sounded cool, but Haden was insistent that this is not a Blaxploitation story; this is not the direction we’re going, so that idea was off the table. Everyone was excited about the blues demo, so I started doing more iterations and explorations on that, and that was ultimately the direction that the game went in, with one exception. In the orchestral demo, Matt loved that I had a solo cello in there at one point, and so the score is actually blues and a solo cello that comes in at certain spots. It’s just one of those things that’s sort of a hangover from the original demos I did. He loved the expressive nature of the instrument, so that found its way into the final score.

 Continue reading on the next page.

Mafia III: Rivals Coming to iOS, Android

Mafia III: Rivals Coming to iOS, Android

The popular hyper-violent mobster inspired Mafia series from 2K is getting a mobile game, Mafia III: Rivals for iOS and Android, to expand upon the world of upcoming Mafia III

Mafia III: Rivals Coming to iOS, Android 1

Both Mafia III for consoles and Mafia III: Rivals share the same goals: as a gangster in 1960s New Orleans-inspired New Bordeaux, take down rival mobs and run the city.

Whereas in Mafia III you’ll achieve these goals through classic action-packed shooter gameplay in an open world, Mafia III: Rivals introduces a “completely different way to fight your way to the top of the criminal underworld” with “battle RPG combat.”

We’re not entirely sure what a “battle RPG” exactly entails, and without screenshots to extrapolate from, we’re assuming Mafia III: Rivals will be a turn-based or tactical RPG that focuses on collecting characters to battle with and items to equip them with. The mobile game will include 40 crime bosses recognizable from the Mafia III universe and plenty of weapons and gear to collect.

This is an entirely different approach than the series used with its previous iOS and Android game, Mafia II Mobile, a top-down shooter that attempted to emulate a full Mafia game without the console specs to back it up. Pocket Gamer said “Mafia II Mobile’s foray into the mafioso is fine, but ultimately forgettable.”

Maybe this new approach will prove to be as engaging a game as its original counterpart and sincerely enhance fans’ experience with the series. Mafia III: Rivals is made by Cat Daddy, the developer behind puzzle and strategy game Evolve: Hunters Quest, the Evolve companion app, which received mostly positive reviews.

You can pre-register on iOS or Android for Mafia III: Rivals for a limited time to receive a secret bonus character and weapon at launch on October 7, 2016, the same day Mafia III is set to release. The mobile game is free to play, but most likely will include in-app purchases.