Short and sweet review: Mafia 3 is surprisingly mature and progressive. A three-hit punch of some of the most fantastic writing, character development, and world building that I have seen in a recent title.

This is a one-way road, Lincoln, and once you start down it, there ain’t no turning back.
-Father James

Why Mafia 3 is My Current Favorite “Underrated” Game 

Okay, this is the weirdest review I’ve ever had to write, and it’s completely about me, a simple otome-and-adventure-game-playing fangirl, completely adoring freakin’ Mafia 3 by Hangar 13 (published by 2k).

I have never been overly fond of mobster films or stories. My husband, on the other hand, loves them. So how do I, the fangirl who usually goes for titles in franchises like Assassin’s Creed or Mass Effect, and artsy walking sims, end up falling in love with a Mafia game?

Because this game surprised me in all the right ways. 🙂

In fact, how did I even get the idea to play Mafia 3?

My friend Christen first planted the suggestion in my brain, explaining it had a really good story and that it was worth giving it a go. And then my author/history teacher friend, Don, praised the game multiple times on Facebook, especially about its portrayal about racism (and setting racists on fire) in the deep south in ‘68. (Quick shout-out to his book The Token Black Guide: Navigations through Race in America).

Best Buy had a copy for $16 on sale, Allen gave it a shot, and then when I saw the Collector’s Edition on sale for $40 (a STEAL), I decided to give it a go.

Okay, so what the heck is Mafia 3 about anyway?

Long story short: You play the entire game as Lincoln Clay, a Vietnam vet who returns home from war and gets mixed up in a revenge plot.

(Minor Spoilers) The story unfolds in New Bordeaux, a direct homage to New Orleans. Lincoln’s family (they took him in after he was orphaned) happens to be the leading black gang in New Bordeaux, controlling Delray Hollow’s criminal activity. Lincoln is initially torn when he returns home from war. He’s delighted to see Sammy (his father figure and the leader of the black mob), but wants to move on. He doesn’t feel ready to tell his family, just yet. How do you tell your criminal family that you maybe just wanna have a simple skilled laborer job?

But Lincoln’s main weakness is his loyalty to his family. When Sammy finds himself in debt with Sal Marcono, the head of the Italian mob and the boss of all the districts, Lincoln volunteers for an impossible heist to clear Sammy’s debt. Unfortunately, Marcano betrays them, killing everyone and leaving Lincoln for dead.

The only two people Lincoln has left in his life are his local pastor, Father James, who gives Lincoln a place to recover and seek spiritual guidance, and his CIA ops buddy, John Donovan, who offers to help him enact his revenge.

Leaving Lincoln with an angel and a devil firmly on each shoulder.

Despite the challenges and the long road ahead, starting with almost nothing but the burned-out bar that Sammy owned, Lincoln is ready. He’s done more than his share of violence in Vietnam, and his experience in warfare enriches the story as he prepares to wage his own war over the districts Sal Marcano owns. Just like he and Donovan did in their ops missions, they’ll chip away at Marcano’s resources until he has nothing left.  

Sal is a cancer. A leech. The only way to make that right is by killing every cocksucker who’s ever looked at that piece of shit.
– John Donovan

Fangirl Impressions

The main characters are written well and incredibly engaging, but the standouts in the game are definitely Lincoln and Donovan.

First of all, I would like to raise my arms in the air and praise the developers for putting so much love into all the characters; the underbosses you recruit, the leaders you take down, and many of the side characters. The cutscenes are cinematic with some fantastic mo-cap performances. The voice acting is top notch. Additionally, the characters are deliciously complex; it’s a crime story, and nobody is coming out of this with their hands clean. And the game doesn’t shy away from this fact. But two characters in particular hit just right for my inner fangirl.

The main character, Lincoln Clay, is A+.

Lincoln is charming as hell and it’s a blast to play him. He’s not the typical Hollywood black gangster stereotype (Lincoln is bi-racial). He’s a complex character who left me constantly surprised. Lincoln is open-minded, charming, and displays a disarming patience in dealing with racist assholes of the deep south. He’s loyal to his family and friends, and later earns the trust of major gang leaders (while making sure they know he means business if they decide to screw him).

But then the switch flips. Hangar 13 does a great job of showing us how brutal, efficient, and tactical Lincoln is, and we discover it’s how he was in the war; that he has a gift at controlling the battlefield and getting the job done with overwhelming odds. Lincoln’s life as a soldier and now a rising mob boss work very well in the narrative, and it helps the construction of the tale and why he’s able to pursue a problem in a way that other criminals may not have considered. Especially with some particularly brutal public executions to get his point across throughout the game in a shock and awe scheme. 

I also loved how he treats groups differently in his kill moves. Racists get stabbed 6 times in the face. Others get a quick throat slash. And for a few ladies I meleed, he punches them in the face before politely laying them on the ground to nap. 😛 Lincoln has a soft side and doesn’t like murdering women (though you can override this and shoot them/knock them over in the street). The gameplay itself adds just the right details to understanding who Lincoln is as a man.

John Donovan is fantastic as a handler and… well, utter psychopath.

When Lincoln is nearly killed, he utters one name: Donovan. And immediately, we know that the dude’s going to be fairly important. John Donovan is a product of the CIA, and the one person Lincoln clearly trusts as brother throughout the entire game. Donovan realized Lincoln’s combat skills in classified missions they ran in Vietnam, and for inexplicable reasons (likely how well they operate together), he seems willing to drop everything to swoop in and act as Lincoln’s handler again. Donovan coops up in a nearby hotel room with stolen FBI surveillance equipment. So as Lincoln seems to pave down anyone in his way, it’s Donovan that helps him learn who to target and what their weak point is.

Donovan is also absolutely fucking nuts. In all the best possible ways. He clearly loves being a tool in war. He convinces himself that he’s just willing to do what it takes to serve his country (and seemingly his best friend, but he takes such deadpan delight in it that it’s really hard not to fall in love with his personality. His voice actor seriously gets major kudos from me for absolutely nailing it. Donovan is the perfect character to act as Lincoln’s “man in the sky,” and provides excellent comedic relief.

He’s also happy to accept that he and Lincoln are fucked up in their own ways, and are just doing what they have to do.

It doesn’t shy away from the racism of the era.

The game has a pretty cool disclaimer before it starts, saying that in an effort to have an accurate time piece, there is going to be a lot of content that is offensive.

You play a black dude in the south in ‘68.

Folks are going to do more than yell “nigger” at you.

I feel that Mafia 3’s treatment of this reality, especially today where there are still countless racist injustices, is a positive over a negative. It acknowledges that racism is an issue, and we know Lincoln would be able to eradicate it, but at the very least we can run over racists motherfuckers with their own confederate flag-waving trucks. In fact, Lincoln has much more violent kill animations with the racist assholes of the Southern Union gang in the game.

You can even set set racists on fire with molotov cocktails.

It’s encouraged in a mission and it’s very therapeutic! (AND you get to gun down a KKK rally!)

The location, music, and all that A+

New Bordeaux is beautifully crafted, and seizing control of the districts is pretty satisfying.

While there are flaws in the sandbox of New Bordeaux, is still stands out as its own character piece. The lighting and game rendering suit the landscape, and the districts stand apart. Downtown, suburban, bayou, slums, industrial; everything is there and the era is reflected in every corner, from the roads to the architecture.

Every district has its own lifeblood, and the game adds an extra layer of complexity as you get to directly decide which of the three underbosses – Cassandra, Vito, or Burke – get to control the districts and rackets within. You can even choose to let one underboss has sway over all the districts, but naturally that’s going to lead to strife and possibly betrayal.

The soundtrack is gorgeously curated and really enriches the game.

It’s super satisfying to hear House of the Rising Sun, Paint it Black, or Sympathy for the Devil as I wage war on rival mob members and roll around New Bordeaux. 🙂 I’m very happy I splurged on the Collector’s Edition (which was on sale for $40), which included some actual vinyl records.

Great DLC content adds to the story

The DLC is absolutely worth it; if you can afford it, you should get it. I mean, the game’s on sale for $20 at this point, and if you’re lucky the Collectors Edition or the Deluxe Edition can be snagged for dirt cheap too.

Faster Baby and No Stone Unturned should be be played during the main campaign. Faster Baby allows you to help the game’s equivalent of the Black Panthers in a sundown town, and No Stone Unturned gives a side story with my favorte character Donovan as he tries to stop a former operative who left him for dead.

Sign of the Times is suited for post-game, and it’s a nice send off because the DLC allows you to (minor spoilers) restore Sammy’s bar. It’s also a gameplay departure, as it walks you through a cult story with some fun murder-investigation mechanics and some freaky-ass scenes.

Honestly, the game did have some minor flaws (and glitches).

I wanted more customization for Lincoln. Watch_Dogs 2 is exemplary in how it handles character customization. Lincoln is an awesome character, and I wish I had a ton more to dress him up with to make him look fine as hell as we drove over racists.

I wanted fast travel. Driving gets old at some points. I mean, this one is a hard one to complain about, because the driving around does flesh out the districts (as you drive from on to another), but after doing that 40 times….

I wanted more customization for his car. Because there’s no fast travel, you have to drive. I wanted a killer car customization system, and the game’s was a little lacking for me.

I wanted more variety in side missions. With the Faster Baby DLC, I decided to say “screw it” to the side missions that allowed my district bosses to generate income and just hover around my weed house with MJ.

Glitches were frequent. I know patching games aren’t easy; I did experience a few graphical glitches, but thankfully it didn’t kill my experience.

New Bordeaux can feel lifeless at times. Again, I wish the Ubisoft devs on Watch_Dogs 2 could help them flesh out the interactions in the world the way they did for San Francisco.

If these issues didn’t exist, Mafia 3 would have almost held a GOTY spot in my heart.

Problematic Content Warnings:

  • Lots of violence. In-your-face-I-have-to-look-away-for-a-sec-wow violence. Lincoln is BRUTAL. Other characters are also brutal.
  • Some rape content, but nothing directly shown (not glamorized like Game of Thrones). Addressed respectfully. 
  • Many, many adult themes. Drugs, human trafficking, sex, murders, super violent murders. Not a kids game. 🙂

The game is on sale, so at this point.. you should get it. 😀

Seriously. Minor issues aside, it’s wroth $20 for the story and characters. Give it a go!