This fall we saw the first preview for Mafia III, the new installment in the Mafia gaming series, and it was a pretty exciting reveal. Developed by Hangar 13 and published by 2K, the game will take the third-person shooter action of the Mafia franchise to the massive open-world environments we’re growing increasingly accustomed to on modern consoles. The game is due out in 2016 (with no specific release date known as of yet), and it will be available on PS4 and Xbox One with accompanying versions for Windows and Mac.
Here are a few expectations based on early information about the game.
It Won’t Present A Traditional Mob Environment
Strangely, when you think about it, mafia gaming has sort of fallen by the wayside in recent years. 2010’s Mafia II was certainly traditional, involving characters with stereotypical mob names and even a Sicily-based back story. But in the years since that release, no noteworthy titles have really approached a genuine mob setting, and mafia gaming has instead been a sort of fringe genre for mobile and online gamers.
In the app stores you can find a number of mafia-related gaming options (including the terrific Metamoki Inc. title Mob Wars), and online the very concept of mafia profits and cash stashing has been used as a suitable setting for some casino games. In Gala Bingo’s slots and games section, the Mafia Millions title is actually one of the most faithful and traditional mafia games out there. It’s not a live action game, but the “wise guy” atmosphere it cultivates as players seek to win real money is appealing in its own way to fans of mafia fiction.
Mafia III looks like a far cry from this sort of traditional atmosphere. The story takes place in late-’60s New Orleans, where a Vietnam veteran gets caught up in various mafia conflicts. It’s a brilliant setting and appears to make for a very unique gaming environment, but this won’t be about Italian-Americans toting Tommy guns and piling into black sedans in New York City. Mafia III is going its own direction.
That Said, The Setting Will Be Rich
When you think about the open-world concept in video games, it becomes pretty clear that the best games are those with inventive settings, rather than familiar ones. It’s one of the reasons that the Arkham series has been viewed as so superior to a host of Spider-Man games that took on the open-world concept; Batman is gliding around a massive, imaginative city filled with twisted fictions, whereas Spider-Man basically inhabits a version of New York City. This is also why so many people love games like Far Cry 4, Skyrim, or even the new Fallout 4: these games make up their own worlds, either as wholly original places or fictionalized versions of existing areas.
It’s hard to say from just the trailer and early synopses how exactly 1968 New Orleans will look in Mafia III, but we at least know this isn’t your average gaming metropolis. New Orleans is a haunting and intriguing city in real life, and an over-the-top mafia shooter set there during a turbulent time in American history ought to bring out the best in it. The only prominent example of a game that spent significant time in and around New Orleans that comes to mind is James Bond 007: Everything Or Nothing (which earned a great review at IGN, incidentally). Even then, the city made for a fascinating backdrop, so doing it with modern scope and graphics is an exciting concept.
It Needs More Than Action
Overall, Mafia III looks and sounds like a pretty satisfying game. It’s never bad to have a few Grand Theft Auto imitators out there, and any third-person shooter in an appealing open-world setting is going to draw a crowd. But a discussion at Kotaku made an interesting observation that it looks at this stage as if this game is mostly about shooting guns and driving cars. In other words, its action may extend only as far as what we all enjoyed in GTA III over a decade ago.
That doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t be a fun game to play, or even an experience to explore in the same way we might do with other, similar titles. But particularly given the incredible range of activities players can enjoy in GTA V, it would feel a little cheap for this game to be all about the primary action. Gamers have grown accustomed to wreaking havoc in urban areas. Without side activities, mini-games, and things like that, Mafia III may risk being somewhat dull.
We’ll surely learn more about this game in the months ahead, but for now it feels like a wait-and-see title. Visually it looks promising, and the promise of some open-world shooting action is always interesting. But time will tell if this game really has anything unique to offer.