Welcome to The Backlog. It’s happened! My backlog is getting a backlog! I’m still playing games but I haven’t had the chance to write about them in a while, but thanks to some prodding I’m going to remedy this. More soon!
I have always loved the Mafia series and had always been excited to try this third one out, especially since it’s been a while since I played my last GTA-style sandbox game. But I quickly remembered why that’s the case- I’m really tired of these kinds of games.
That’s mostly because I’m an OCD gamer. If there’s some kind of collectible on a map, I’m going after it. That icon needs to be cleared from my map screen and it needs to happen as soon as possible. Only when everything is gone do I feel like I can move on to doing what the game wants you to do.
Mafia 3 is a bit of a nightmare in this regard, as there’s a ton of junk to collect in this game and no real reason for it. Scattered issues of Hot Rod magazine and Playboy can be found in every corner of the world, and yes, you can even peruse their articles. Other collectibles include bits of electronic scrap that can turned into gadgets that can then be used to reveal even more crap on the map. It doesn’t end.
Most hilariously, a good portion of the collectibles are found in otherwise empty homes that are locked from the outside. This means that you will have to engage in a little bit of breaking and entering just to get at a free issue of a spank mag. Why you don’t just stroll on down to the corner store and pick up an issue, especially when your bankroll gets so large that you can call up an armed guard to come take it from you to a safehouse? Well what else are you going to do with that crowar?
So yeah, don’t come to this game for the collectibles or side quests. If any game deserved to be played solely for its main missions, this is the one, even though it’s pretty standard in that regard. Mafia 3 does what every other sandbox game does, starting you off as some broke low-roller and letting you build your very own criminal empire. It’s the story that changes everything.
You play as Lincoln Clay, a black soldier who’s return to his home in a fictionalized New Orleans. His surrogate dad is up to some shenanigans with the Italian mob and Clay quickly gets involved with a heist, and then betrayed by them. You can’t have a sandbox game without at least a couple double crossings, right?
Fortunately Clay survives in order to exact a murderous rampage and attempt to take over the entire city and divvy it up between his lieutenants, all the while dealing with being a black man in a white man’s world.
It’s not often you’ll encounter racism in a video game, if you have at all. You might have some slurs here and there in a game, but I can’t think of another one that made you feel like an outsider the way Mafia 3 does. No one takes Lincoln Clay seriously because of the color of his skin, and since this is set in 1968- a landmark year for civil rights if there ever was one- you can feel the old establishment trying to fight Clay’s ascension at every moment. No one wants him to succeed. You’ll start off with him in the poor swamplands but see more and more racism as you move through the game, such as restaurants that are “Whites Only” and call the cops on you if you try to enter. The response of the cops themselves is equally disconcerting- in the poor, majority-black neighborhoods they take forever to respond to a call, and you can hear their disinterest in coming by to check on a crime over your police scanner. In the rich, majority-white neighborhoods they show up if you so much as nick someone with your car, and in more force.
This works as a brilliant bit of game design, as it allows the game to scale the difficulty organically as you move up in tax brackets. It works really well for putting you in his shoes, and perhaps opening more than a few players’ eyes to what it’s like to be treated as “the other.”
Clay’s character is great as well, hard-headed but nuanced. Like most sandbox heroes he’s an absolute mass murderer of a monster (the body count in these things!) but that plays into who he is becoming. While he’s confident he’s conflicted and doesn’t seem to know who he is or what his place is in the world. The writing is superb, the acting equally good. It’s just in much more of a boring game than you’d like.
Along with the soundtrack, which is incredible but about as on-the-nose with its 60’s selections as you’d expect, you’ve likely done this all before. The gameplay adds nothing new to the standard sandbox experience, just a lot of shooting and car chases and so on. You know the deal as soon as you pick up a controller and there are no surprises. It’s competently done and compelling when you get into the story, and there there are even a few incredible set pieces (that boat!) but this is one I could have probably left on the backlog for a bit longer.
Next up: Homeworld Remastered