The real problem with Mafia III

…is a lack of realism.

Mafia III’s first trailer was shown at Gamescom 2015 and warning bells are already sounding off in my head.

Set in Louisiana, or at least somewhere that looks a lot like the place, Lincoln Clay’s family has been murdered. Whether it’s his actual family or a group of people who had taken him in I don’t know, but he’s taking on the mafia in a twist that flips the series on its head.

Instead of playing a somewhat redeemable bad guy as you did as Tommy Angelo and Vito Scaletta, you’re now a dubiously good Vietnam veteran who is taking out the trash.

And the game looks ok, so far.

It has a soundtrack that uses era-appropriate music and even features Vito Scaletta, the protagonist from the previous game, who will be one of your allies.

The problem is that the game looks so generic and unrealistic.

The video above shows Clay in various states of violence where he stabs one guy to death, shoots a bunch of people, and uses a grenade launcher to take down some mafia goons. And for me that’s not even the most egregious part of the video.

Does Louisiana have stop lights?

I mean, looking on Google Maps it looks like there are stop lights in downtown Louisiana and they’ve been around since 1912, so that’s not really an excuse for the insanity that takes place when Clay gets behind the wheel. He drives like a maniac with his car spouting nitrous out of the back like a Burnout Car. He then rams a car making it asplode in a cloud of sparks, fire and exhaust.

This was the exact moment when the game went from being a new Mafia game to being more like Saints Row, Grand Theft Auto, or Sleeping Dogs.

***

If you were around during the time of the original Mafia’s release you probably remember how the game was marketed. It was as realistic alternative to Grand Theft Auto.

Although the game wasn’t marketed on that exact line, critics said it was one of the best games of the year as it combined GTA’s driving and Max Payne’s story. There were stop lights, rules of the road, and slower cars. There were believable characters, varying settings, and interesting missions. It was as realistic of an experience as a developer could create at the time aside from the shenanigans of Free Ride Extreme.

Players were invested because we saw the beginning, middle, and end of Tommy Angelo’s tale of murder, criminality, and redemption. We got to know him and we learned that he simply wasn’t a cold-blooded killer. He was a complex figure who was both kind and naive, but also loyal and fierce when he needed to be.

Tommy was aided in telling his story this by the realistic cast of characters. Paulie and Sam were his foils and represented the spectrum of the mafia. Paulie put himself first trying to get himself ahead in life. Sam was loyal to the don and always put the mafia first even before his friends.

There were explosions, yes, and gun fights, but they weren’t easy. I remember more times of flipping my open-top car over only to be killed during a chase or being hit by stray bullet to the head than getting killed in a fiery explosion. It felt realistic although it looked far from it.

The point being: realistic gameplay usually means you’ll get a realistic plot because the world is grounded in reality.

Now Mafia II did its best to emulate games like Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row by taking away all of the realism and strong writing that made the original game so powerful.

Vito Scaletta is an utterly unlikeable protagonist, the customization options were meaningless, the game’s violence was over-the-top, the script set a world record for its use of the word “Fuck”, and the PlayBoy pin ups in the game were a cheap grab.

They even had to throw out a tonne of awesome features that could have saved the game like a Free Ride mode due to some development tribulations.

So on the one hand we have a game that’s complete unique and a sequel that’s does its best to emulate the more successful series around it. What do you think this new game is going for?

***

Mafia III looks like its taking dive off the deep end of realism with its gameplay, and I have a sneaking suspicious that this mentality will leak into its story.

Lincoln Clay will blast his way through the story taking down one base after another with a grenade launcher in one hand and some shitty Playboys in the other just like Vito Scaletta did five years ago minus the grenade launcher.

The game is taking place at one of the Civil Rights Movement’s pivotal moments in 1968! If this is really a game about examining the racial tensions at the time have Clay participate in a sit-in not act like a psycho on a warpath. During the gameplay demo shown at Gamescom there is a scene where Clay can stop a police officer from searching a young black man, which is an interesting touch, but then it launches into generic cover shooting.

Give me a realistic world where Clay’s abilities aren’t bound by skill points but by the colour of his skin, give me a game where just living a normal life is tough because of the Jim Crow laws, give me a game where his status as a veteran isn’t simply a detail about his character but a defining characteristic, give me a game that feels real and then we’ll have a true Mafia game.

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