There's a turf war going down in New Orleans, and we've witnessed it firsthand.
For the next chapter in the Mafia series there's a new developer. The game's also based in a new city. There's a new protagonist and it's set in a new era. It's all very new.
The game's developer is Californian outfit Hangar 13, and the mantra at the studio is to create games that allow players to create their own experiences. The Mafia series has had this focus before, with stories that had us captivated because we were able to make them our own. Mafia III should be even better in this regard, because it's connected to an open-world and offers the player plenty of authorship over their own narrative. We tell the story the way we want it told.
A young orphan is looking for a family, a home, for something to give him support and guidance. Lincoln was born in New York. He never met his parents and grew up in a church orphanage. Only after going to war does he find something that resembles family. Finally, in 1968 after his return from Vietnam, he ends up in gangland New Orleans. However, his new family is slaughtered by the Mafia that has been spreading through the city. It's a good starting point for what comes next.
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The city, in turn, provides an equally interesting backdrop. New Orleans has long been one of the most important cities in the southern States, it's cosmopolitan, the birthplace of jazz. Of course it's also known because of the voodoo culture that has historically bubbled under the surface. There's plenty going on, and tons of atmosphere to soak up.
Lincoln wants to build a new empire and raise it like a phoenix from the ashes. He can't create it alone, but fortunately the Mafia has left scorched earth in other places. Thus the protagonist enlists the help of three other characters. First there's Cassandra, a young black woman with a huge afro. Then there's Burke, a middle-aged guy with flared trousers and an eye-catching (but quite usual for the time) Fu Manchu beard. Finally there's Vito. Correct, Vito Scaletta from Empire Bay has drifted over to New Orleans. Why and how this happened the developers don't want to say, however they did reveal some information regarding our motley crew.
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Each character lets us use his or her special skills. Burke, for example, is with us during one mission and quickly proves to be a big help. After we first extract some intel from an enemy informant using crazy driving skills to push him to the brink of having a heart attack, we then decide to kill the snitch anyways. Of course we're confronted with law enforcement, who chase after us hot in pursuit. However, a quick call from a pay phone to an associate and the problem is sorted. Each character has different advantages and abilities, and what's available to us will depend on our relationships with them.
In order to keep our cadre happy, it's important not to make stupid decisions that'll annoy them. On top of that we should occasionally try to make them happy by doing them little favours. As we retake the city piece by piece we can occupy businesses, clubs and bars, letting Cassandra, Burke and Vito run them. They will take care of everything, and we get various bonuses in return, depending on who we pick to control each venue.
During the short gameplay demo Lincoln tried to take control of one such venue. It bears the name "The Cistern" and it's a club which plays psychedelic music. There's several options when choosing how to make an entrance for the first time. There are different ways to proceed, and some of them require force while others are less bloody. Because New Orleans is so close to the water and based in a swampy area, even the waterway is an option.
We personally felt the the use of explosions, blood and brutality was a little too much given the particular scenario. There are certain moments where you'll shoot up a car and watch it go up like a spectacular firework. Lincoln, in the demo, is pretty fast with a blade, and during the Cistern level he slashed several enemies by cutting their throats, or by stabbing them repeatedly. The camera angles seemed good, and did a solid job of framing the brutal action. The shotgun also felt like a really nasty weapon.
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Brutality is a part of this game's makeup, such is its subject matter. Within the gangster framework, Lincoln is a very special character; he's unscrupulous and has seen plenty of misery during his time as a soldier. His background also explains why he can handle all of the weapons as well as he can. There's a cool boldness that comes across and fits the character really well.
Of course the level of brutality also depends on the way each person plays. Some might prefer to be more methodical and stay away from confrontations, at least as far as possible. The speed with which you can fight your way through a scenario is nevertheless impressive, and should appeal to those wanting something more confrontational. Nevertheless, Lincoln should be a character who many people will feel comfortable with. Were he just a callous killing machine, that might not be the case.
When it comes to the player-perspective during action scenes, the character is very much pushed to the side and we have a clear view of the scene ahead. It looks great. Hanger 13 has done a cool job in decorating the game, especially at night when we see multiple beautiful lighting effects, things like reflections in puddles. There's a compelling night sky, and plenty of small details on the billboards and signs dotted around the city.
Added to the beautiful visual design comes the city's particular climate. New Orleans is based in the southern States, right in the middle of swampy land. It's very hot, and it has a hazy feel. Even in the rain the city's usually very hot; you can almost feel it. In addition, Hangar 13 has captured the vibrancy of the city and its population, it never looks too empty or too full. The music is also pretty fabulous. During our time with the game we heard "All Along the Watchtower" by Jimi Hendrix, "House of the Rising Sun" or "Paint it black". In terms of atmosphere Mafia III could certainly end up a masterpiece.
We were also impressed with the attention to detail found in the cars from that period, although since we weren't allowed to drive them, we can only trust that the driving physics work as you'd expect. What we could see was that even the car chases were well presented. We just hope that the studio doesn't overdo it with the explosions. In this respect the demo reminded us of an action movie from the 1980s, and we're hoping that the American studio don't go too over-the-top.
We only saw a small slice of the game, a taste of what will be released sometime next year. We were introduced to the background of the main character and that side of the game seems pretty interesting. What business the other three characters have with the Mafia and how such a powerful organisation can be defeated, we will at least partly find out in the coming months. Lincoln sums it up at the end of the first trailer really well: "Now you know what I would do for my family. What would you do for yours?"