When I walked out of the Mafia 3 demo, several thoughts sprung to mind. What on earth did I just see? Is this going to be one of the best games of 2016? Why don't I listen to The Rolling Stones more often? Suffice to say, the short gameplay demo American developer Hangar 13 presented to us blew me and, well, everyone else in the room away. Everything about the game just felt right.
The game is set in the city of New Orleans in 1968, and it follows the story of Lincoln Clay, a Vietnam war veteran who seeks vengeance against the Italian mafia after they killed his friends and left him for dead. It's clear that Clay will let nothing and no-one stand in his way - he's utilizing all of the techniques he learned in the war to take out his adversaries. He'll sneak up on an enemy, and brutally cut their throat with blood pouring out.
And the game certainly is brutal. In the demo alone, Clay must've cut down a dozen men in close quarter combat, and it felt and sounded so good. The weapons look and handle extremely well. Even without actually playing the game, I could feel the kickback and power of the Magnum revolver used to shoot up enemies, as the loud gunfire blasted through the speakers. The classic third-person, cover-based gunplay Mafia is known for has never felt better.
But Mafia 3 isn't just gunfights, there's plenty of stealth action gameplay as well. The developers emphasized that there's several ways to approach your objectives: you can call in back-up from the Black, Italian and Irish mafia and go in guns blazing, or you can sneak your way in by means of the backdoor. Through exploration you can even enter the mission site from New Orleans's elaborate underground sewer system. It's all up to the player, and it adds a depth of strategy that Mafia II really did lack.
House of the Rising Sun
Thinking back about Mafia II, what really stuck with me was the game's amazing atmosphere. I remember driving through the city in classic cars and really feeling like I was in New York in the 1950's. But then I remembered the game's missed potential: they built a huge, sprawling city only to force the player through it in a linear fashion, with absolutely zero other things to do. Whether or not Mafia 3 will suffer from the same issue remains to be seen, but it was concerning that the developers once again mentioned the game was a "very linear" experience.
But even if it'll lack the open world elements of other games such as GTA V or Red Dead Redemption, they sure did not hold back on the design of New Orleans. It felt very authentic, filled with jazz bars, neon signs and dark streets. The game's atmosphere really drew me in, and I'm sure I'll spend hours just driving through the city to take in the environment.
What I'd like to see make a return from the previous Mafia II are the speeding tickets. When you drove too fast in the city, the cops would pull you over and fine you. This is one of the amazing touches that made the older games feel realistic and unique, and really added even more to the atmosphere in the game. The new game does have a speed meter on screen when driving, as well as a back mirror, so I'm hopeful that these and other small but important features such as being fined for running red lights return.
The game's soundtrack's also shaping up to become one of the best in recent years. During the demo, plenty of classics were played like CCR's Fortunate Son, The Rolling Stones' Paint it Black and of course House of the Rising Sun by The Animals. This soundtrack supplements the game's excellent sound design. The voice acting in the demo was also superb, and the sounds when savagely killing enemies and racing through the streets of New Orleans is true ear candy.
Conquer the city
An entirely new gameplay element introduced is that of conquering enemy fronts and hideouts, reminiscent of The Godfather: The Game that came out in 2006. When you clear out buildings, you can claim them as your own and assign them to one of your lieutenants. These lieutenants will then give you new perks and bonuses, such as having the Irish mob pay off the police and call off a chase, saving you a hot pursuit through the city. Other perks include simply calling in muscle to aid you in conquering fronts, or having the Italian mob assassinate an opposing mob boss.
These lieutenants will play a critical part in the game's story, and one of them will be very familiar to those that played Mafia II. None other than Vito Scaletta, the protagonist of the previous game, will stand by your side on your quest for revenge. You'll have to carefully choose though which of the bosses to support, as they may turn against you if you only favor one of them too much.
In a market that's being flooded by open world games, Mafia 3 feels like a very distinct and fresh experience, even to those that have played games such as Red Dead Redemption and GTA V. The game's atmosphere feels unique and autentic, and it'll hopefully immerse players as much as the past games. This, in addition to the visceral combat, makes it looks like the game might be among the best of 2016, and certainly one of the most stylish ones.