Also On: Xbox One, PC
Developer: Take Two/Hangar 13
I'm hesitant to play armchair psychiatrist, but the more I play Mafia III, the more I get the sense that the developers at Hangar 13 very much had the criticisms leveled against Mafia II in mind the entire time they were developing it. If you'll recall, that second game in the Mafia series was roundly criticized for being devoid of interesting content. It set you down in this gorgeous reimagining of post-war New York City (renamed Empire Bay), then gave you absolutely nothing to do. The city was totally empty, and the plot was basically GTA pushed through a 1950s filter, only with characters that weren't anywhere near as memorable.
Mafia III very clearly sets out to address all these issues. The game is set in New Orleans stand-in New Bordeaux, and the place is bustling with life. There are people everywhere you go at all hours of the day, and you can't go a block without stumbling across something to do, whether it's a mission or simply a collectible worth picking up. Not only that, Mafia III gets the sounds of the era right, with a couple of radio stations and a soundtrack that have no problem getting you in just the right mindset to play a game set in 1968.
Even more importantly, you couldn't ask for a more compelling main character than Lincoln Clay. He's well-written and well-acted, and he's got a story so compelling and so well-presented that you can't help but get caught up in his quest for vengeance. In all honesty, if Mafia III were only 8-hours-long and focused solely on Clay's narrative, it'd be a strong contender for game of the year — that's just how amazing its story is. Basically, from an aesthetic perspective and from a storytelling perspective, I don't think you could ask for a better game than this one.
The thing is, Mafia III isn't a tightly-plotted, eight-hour narrative adventure. Instead, it's more an open-world sandbox, and you quickly learn that even if there's more to do, there's not necessarily more stuff worth doing. Most of the items you'll collect will be money, which, while somewhat useful, isn't a super-compelling reason to make you stop every few blocks to see what's hidden away. Likewise, while there may be more quests and missions, a lot of them are pretty similar, and essentially require you to go back and forth across the same well-trodden ground to kill the same identical-looking enemies repeatedly. For a game with so much flair and personality on the macro level, it's a shame that the same level of care and attention wasn't put into the micro level, too. In other words, Mafia III isn't all that different from Mafia II: it looks great, but it's all a little empty when you scratch past the surface.
And yet…when Mafia III gets things right, it really gets things right. It has the kind of soundtrack and vibe that most other games would kill to have, and it's built around an incredibly compelling protagonist. It's nowhere close to being perfect, but there's enough good stuff here that, ultimately, it's hard to stay too mad at Mafia III.