Mafia 3 Should Have Been Linear.
High Expectations, Low Payoff
Mafia 3 was a game that initially seemed to hit all the right marks to become an instant classic. But, upon its release, the latest title in the Mafia series would land flat with fans and critics alike. The game was lauded by many before and upon release for its particularly strong storytelling. Due in part to how it was uniquely delivered as well as the strong subject matter it decided to tackle head on.
But outside of these elements, the rest of the game didn't hold up as well. The title was poorly received as many would say it felt repetitive and frankly boring. In comparison to other open world action titles, such as Grand Theft Auto and Watch Dogs 2, there wasn't a lot to do outside of main story content. And Without an incentive to really explore, the game had no meaningful way for players to truly interact with the world they were meant to be a part of.
First revealed in August of 2015, Mafia 3 would be the first game to be developed by the newfound studio Hangar 13. While once again published by 2K Games, seeing the original series developer 2K Czech moving into a support position rather than leading development on this entry. Mafia 3 would have players step into the role of a Vietnam veteran named Lincoln clay in the year 1968 set in the fictitious city New Boudreaux Louisiana. Lincoln Clay would be the first half black protagonist in the series, which for its setting; Hangar 13 promised would make for both unique gameplay and a story that wouldn't shy away from its infamous history of discrimination. When the game released on October 7th 2016 the dedication Hangar 13 put into the setting did truly show, as it had proficiently managed to feel like an authentic representation of its time and place.
Mafia 3 Reveal Trailer.
A Strong Unique Narrative
The story would be told in a very distinct way as it would be presented in three separate timelines. Starting as a documentary in 2016 following former FBI Assistant Director Johnathan Maquire as well as Father James Ballard, the first part recounts the events of 1968(which you play through, as the second timeline). The third section playing out through footage from a US Senate Committee hearing three years later in 1971. Through this footage, players would see Lincolns former CIA handler in Vietnam, John Donovan, testifying to his involvement with the events that had taken place. With Father James having known and caring for Lincoln at a very young age in his troubled life and Johnathan Maquire having investigated his crime wave in 1968, As well as John Donovan having a wealth of knowledge about his time in Vietnam, each would provide three very different viewpoints of who Lincoln Clay is as a character. This approach went a long way to sharpen the games focus on excellent character development and story telling that would work proficiently to make the experience feel unique.
One of Gamings Very Best Intros
The Finer Details of the Story
Outside of its excellent presentation, the story would tell a straight forward tale of revenge. In it we would see Lincoln Clay aiming to simultaneously kill the main antagonist Sal Marcano and the people working under and with him, who betrayed Lincoln after a heist gone wrong. Besides just killing these people, he also wanted to take control of the city away from them. To achieve this goal Lincoln would gather 3 others who had been betrayed by Sal Marcano. Including Haitian crime lord Casandra, Irish mob leader Thomas Burke and returning Mafia 2 protagonist Vito Scaletta, who would go on to become Lincoln’s under-bosses. With support from Lincolns former CIA handler John Donovan providing intelligence on the Marcano Empire as well. Every character has their own motivations (some more explored further than others) as to why they choose to support Lincoln and by extension each other. Together they provide tools and services to aid Lincoln in his quest for revenge while taking districts of the city for themselves.
Yet Another Large Open World
The game would be divided into 10 distinct districts, nine of which would include a number of rackets the player would need to dismantle in order to seize control from Marcano.Each district would then have to be given to one of the three underbosses, which could be decided upon by the player. If the player favored one of the underbosses, they would risk causing one if not both of the other two turning on Lincoln. But, yet as interesting an idea that seemed to be, the execution left much to be desired. The racket system was meant to create an open world full of entertaining distractions from the main story that made the world feel more alive, but the sections that saw players taking over rackets proved to feel rather repetitive with gameplay that felt functional but never ideal or great.
Everything Outside of the Story, is Something of A Drag
When the game focused on its narrative it was truly at its best. Yet there would be long stretches where it would would be pushed to the background in favor of the racket game play. This, once again, would create a pattern that became boring. This issue has, in recent years, become the norm as game developer’s (most often when pushed by publishers) aim to make games bigger, but not necessarily better. In the years since the PS4 and Xbox one released many games have gone on to become large 30+ hour experiences, which depending on the game can either be a welcome change or can create a very long game that feels bogged down by an overabundance of content. That really feels more like a checklist than a truly remarkable game play experience.
A Recurring Trend in Modern Gaming
These same mistakes have affected many games of the recent generation. But I believe Mafia 3 was one of the most adversely impacted games in recent memory that suffered from the idea that bigger is better. Games seem to have a need to be stretched into large open world experiences because it’s what is popular in today’s market. Titles such as Mad Max, Just Cause 3, and Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, as well as Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands (to name a few) are all examples of the issue that arises when there’s too much content that ultimately isn’t very engaging. In my opinion this is why linear games can avoid many of these shortcomings so often found in open world titles.
Quality Over Quanitity
That’s not to say linear games are better or easier to make by any stretch of the imagination. But sometimes a smaller scale can create a game that is more accessible to a wider audience. Depending on player’s preference and their available time. A linear game that is 12 hours in length can be an easier purchase as opposed to a huge 30+ hour game. Titles such as The Last of US, Uncharted and Wolfenstein (Wolfenstein Two having especially entertaining cut scenes) are great examples of games that never overstayed their welcome while managing to deliver an extremely engaging narrative that made each feel unique.
What may Have Been
While Mafia 3 wasn't an entirely bad game, the vast promise, its story had held was overshadowed by the otherwise lacking experience outside of its narrative. But maybe the game would have been a very different experience if Hangar 13 had been able to make the story the main game play focus. Games don’t have to be filled with large amounts of content just to be considered better or more fun than the rest. More often than not a smaller, confidently delivered and sharply focused game can make for a much better and further memorable experience.
One of The Final Game Trailers
With its excellent licensed soundtrack of music from the time, several highly memorable encounters and a unique approach to storytelling, Mafia 3 can be an exceptional experience when the story is its main focus. Despite the technical issues and the shortcomings of its gameplay, I still suggest trying it for its impressive narrative. But maybe if the game had been developed as a more linear and focused experience, it could have been a much more memorable game from start to finish.