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.

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.

Omerta: City of Gangsters (PC) Review

Omerta: City of Gangsters (PC) Review

Omerta: City of Gangsters is the latest title from one of my favourite simulation developers Haemimont Games best known for their work on the Tropico series. Traditionally, Tropico is rife with political
commentary and caricatures of political figures and ideals. Omerta: City of Gangsters on the other hand, is a bit of a different direction for the developer. This time, instead of skewering global politics, Hamimont Games has decided to use their simulation skills to give players the opportunity to be bootlegging, drive-bying, fast talking, hard drinking gangsters in 1920s Atlantic City. In the Tropico series players typically controlled the action from high atop their palace balcony as they ran their island republic much like in SimCity. However, while Omerta still features that trademark civic and construction simulation gameplay this time it’s been mixed with turn-based ground level combat similar to what players have seen in Jagged Alliance or more recently XCOM: Enemy Unknown. It’s a pretty good effort and I appreciate the developers trying something new, but they have a lot to learn about making a challenging, well designed tactical turn-based combat experience.

This Is My City Now

As I mentioned before a good 60 per cent of Omerta’s gameplay takes place at the neighborhood level. Each mission in your quest to rise through the ranks of the criminal underworld takes place in a different district of Atlantic City. Each map features detailed buildings, citizens going about their day and some of Atlantic City’s classic landmarks like the infamous boardwalk or Absecon Lighthouse. The attention to detail of the environments and authentic and consistent aesthetic of the game are some of its strongest features. Where the cracks begin to show is when you begin to navigate these detailed maps. Since the game takes place during the prohibition era, and you are the leader of an organized crime syndicate, you’ll be setting up operations and joints in relatively nondescript buildings.

Unfortunately, this makes the map a little difficult to explore since most of the building look the same. One way to tell one building from another is by the icon floating above the structure, which is helpful, but kills that realistic vibe that I thought the game was going for. Another big problem navigating the map comes at night. I find that the streets get too dark. I understand it’s necessary but I should still be able to find building even in the dead of night, the lighting issues don’t end there either but I’ll have more on that later. Despite the problems with navigation once you get used to the map the game gets rather fun. It’s quite enjoyable to set up things like speakeasy or boxing rings to entertain the fine folks of AC and make a quick buck while you’re at it. It’s also a good bit of fun and smart business to run your rivals out-of-town. This can be done by assigning one of your henchmen to “Drive-by” or “Raid” other private businesses. This is a part where I wish I could take direct control of my goons in a combat encounter but since there’s no vehicular combat, and it would really bog down the game’s pacing, it’s no surprise that those don’t come until a bit later. Each mission will have you establishing different types of businesses to carve yourself out a nice piece of the pie and get closer to that all important dream of running the town.

Omerta_City_of_Gangsters_6.jpg

Come On Guys, Get On The Trolly!

For the most part the turn-based based tactical combat found in Omerta is a competent effort it’s just nothing to write home about. It works well enough, but doesn’t inspire the same type of tension or excitement that can be found a game like XCOM: Enemy Unknown. A big part of that may be that if one of your gangsters catches too many bullets from a Tommy Gun they’ll only go down for the rest of that combat encounter. Once the encounter is finished they’ll still be alive and usable but will have penalties to their actions and movement. These “wounds” as they’re called will heal over time but provide a very different experience than the permanent death experience of soldiers in XCOM. This would be why there is a bit of a lack of connection between you (the Boss) and your goons. You can also fire them a will, but hey, organized crime is a cut throat business. The tactical combat isn’t the most accessible thing either it will take some getting used to and the lack of camera options made for a frustrating first couple of missions. However, the most annoying and downright bothersome element of the combat is the lighting. I understand that on a tactical battlefield visibility is key but why the hell did they make the combat maps for this game so incredibly dark that often I can’t tell which way the camera is facing? Let alone find my target? Time and again, I found myself searching the map with my face pressed against the TV just trying to find that one enemy who is hiding in the shadows. To be fair, not every single map features this terrible lighting but quite a few of them do and oftentimes made what could have been a completely serviceable combat experience frustrating and more troublesome than it was worth.

The prohibition era isn’t used in games very often and for trying something totally different I salute Haemimont Games. Omerta: City of Gangsters is a competent package that blends some fun civic management with tactical combat that just could have been executed a little better. While I wish the game was a bit brighter and featured some better map design, it’s still a unique experience that I would recommend to gamers looking for a setting that’s different from typical fare. The game does have it’s problems but they only get in the way of the enjoyment if you let them. Despite the problems found in Omerta, I see potential here. I would really like to see the tactical turn-based combat here show up in the Tropico series. Haemimont Games is so close, they just need a little more time to hone their level design and lighting skills and they’ll have an excellent formula for strategy games on their hands.

 

 

Mafia II (PS3) Review

Mafia II (PS3) Review

Organized crime is nothing new to gaming. From Grand Theft Auto to the Godfather franchise itself, there’s a longstanding fascination amongst the gaming public to put on the shoes of a Wiseguy and threaten, blackmail or otherwise whack anyone who gets in the way during the long climb up the Mafioso ladder. Mafia II is the sequel to the 2002 Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven, and comes from a pedigree with a lot of critical praise. While it tries to follow in its predecessor’s footsteps, it gets mixed results, surpassing the original in some respects while abjectly failing in others.

The Mob Needs A Few Goodfellas

Mafia 2 (PS3) Review 4Mafia II, like the original, wears its cinematic roots proudly on its sleeve, evoking shades of The Godfather, Goodfellas and other mob fiction over the course of its tale. You play Vito Scalleta, a child of Sicilian immigrants who, like many in the 1920s, come to Empire City (a stand in for New York) and grow up in an immigrant district, living in squalor and idolizing the mobsters that show the only tangible promise of bettering his station in life. When the action starts, Vito is now an adult, a war veteran and ready to re-join his childhood friend Joe, who already has promising ties with one of the Families in the area. As is the case in most crime stories, things go anything but straightforward from there. It’s not an original story, but it’s told very well.

Visually, 2K Czech has done great job with the graphics in certain areas. Light is well done, as seems typical of most European games, and the character models in particular stand up extremely well to the punishing demands of nuanced facial performance in up-close-and-personal in-game cutscenes. The environments in Mafia II themselves also largely nail the feel of the 40s and 50s eras the game takes place in, with a progression of seasons from winter to summer, and some striking detail on the buildings and automobiles that really drive home a sense of time and place. The total package can be a little sparse sometimes, and the cities lack the grime and grit of Red Dead Redemption’s crumbling towns, so in some respects it looks like a kind of idealized, super-clean, Norman Rockwell interpretation of the 50s. Technically there are still some flaws, with the PS3 version lacking blood and blades of grass, while both versions suffer from the usual pop-up and draw-in problems of games this size. Screen tearing is also a regular occurrence.
Mafia 2 (PS3) Review 9
The sound of Mafia II is flawless. Uniformly strong performances from all the voice actors really sell this Rags to Riches story, and the sound effects of the automobiles and guns is both authentic and immersive. The icing on the audio cake, however, goes to the music. A well scored original, orchestral track accompanies dramatic moments of the game, while the in-game radio stations have an amazing mix of jazz, big band, pop and rock music from the 30s, 40s and 50s. If you were too young to sing along to Dean Martin on the radio while driving along the freeway, now, virtually, is your chance to give it a try.

Unbalanced In Empire City

One thing that players need to get out of their heads when they sit down and play Mafia II is that it is an open world game. It isn’t. If that’s what you’re looking for, Mafia II is not for you. Rather, Mafia II is a tightly focused, 3

rd

person action game that happens to take place in an environment the size of an open world game. This is an incredibly streamlined game compared to its predecessor, with its races and its emphasis on following traffic law and intricate car damage. Mafia II has been simplified for a console audience and the result is a game that beats out the standards of storytelling set by its predecessor, while falling short in gameplay because of balancing issues with the content and its pace.

Mafia 2 (PS3) Review 7The biggest culprit is the driving. There is a lot of it, and not in the exciting “car chase” sense, although that does occasionally occur. A large portion of this game is spent simply going from point A to B, because there’s no quick travel option. Sometimes, with a passenger, some enlightening dialog can occur, but often it’s simply Vito, alone, making his way to the next destination which is either a cutscene or else some real action. To say that driving makes up the bulk of gameplay is not an understatement, but whereas the original Mafia was almost a simulation, with its painstakingly rendered 30s cars, its realistic damage models and strict police, driving in Mafia II has been given a more arcade-y feel with better handling, faster cars, and police that can still raise a fuss but are easy to lose with a quick change of clothing or license plates.

When on foot, the action is competently done in the cover-based shooter with regenerative health style of expected in modern games. The weapons are distinct, and it’s impossible to win by being a hero, as a couple of rounds from a shotgun can—and will—drop you in short order. It’s not an inherently broken combat system, it just fails to add anything new or interesting to the genre. There’s also an option for fist fighting, although this is useful largely only in scripted game events, as you’ll probably still want to rely on a gun in most combat situations. It’s a simplistic combat system, lacking the depth or visceral impact of something like Yakuza, which made melee combat a focus.

All of this culminates in Mafia II being a game of mixed virtues. It’s got a story to tell and for players that enjoy a good story, the tale here is worth seeing. On the other hand, there are a long stretches of inactivity that involve just driving from one point to the next in a large game-world almost entirely devoid of side missions, barring some collectibles like Playboy Magazine centrefolds, Wanted Posters, and activities like robbing stores, or stealing cars for extra cash, but money is plentiful and almost unnecessary in the game anyway.

Mafia II is for players looking to “play” a good crime film. All the elements are there, they’re just scattered around a game that has pacing problems due to an overly large world with little content in it. People looking for a long term, “killer game” won’t find it here. Instead, there is a fascinating but flawed game with a great story and a world that needs polish. At 10-12 hours with no multi-player, this can be finished in a dedicated weekend so gamers are advised to rent it or wait for a sale.