By Jarrod Jones. This is LOAD FILE, where hey, great — we’ve played ‘Grand Theft Auto’ too. This week, Jarrod reviews ‘Mafia III’, developed by Hangar 13 and 2K Czech, for all major platforms.

Image: Hangar 13

Image: Hangar 13

It’s well past time we put a moratorium on the phrase “AAA game,” at least until game developers get over the perceived importance of their insanely expensive babies and realize that, more often, those babies will either develop into rather banal entities, or more likely, become disastrous garbage piles constantly hitting the rest of us up for cash. Sure, giant-sized sandboxes with really expensive music licenses can be marginally impressive, but the more that come to exist in this world, the less exceptional each one becomes.

Better to hone in and focus on the stuff that matters, the stuff that will ultimately turn your precious little bundle into a functioning member of society instead of another hastily assembled piece of shit that ends up taking me for sixty bucks whenever I end up letting my guard down. (Which, when it comes to “AAA games,” is far too often.) High-wire drama, consistently engaging sequences of mystery and action, robust rewards systems, and stupendous controls are what we’re looking for in our GTA clones, so if your delicate little snowflake can’t even be arsed to perform on those levels, it’s probably time to sit them down and convince them to go back to school or something, because their ambitions aren’t going to turn out the way they want them to.

Yes, like the single man with a mustache who pays for his foot creme with exact change at my local Wallgreens, Mafia III probably had a lot of potential when its parents, Hanger 13 and 2K Czech, announced that they would be bringing yet another Mafia game into the world. Like that stiflingly irritating fellow, Mafia III turned out to be just as hollow, empty, and lifeless an entity — and if it didn’t exactly cost me much money, it certainly cost me my time.

Image: Hangar 13

Image: Hangar 13

HERE, HAVE A HISTORY LESSON — ALSO, SOME MURDER

Mafia III takes place in the Southern United States during 1968, a crucial moment for the Civil Rights movement, almost comical Cold War paranoia, and the so-bad-it’s-still-bad animated movie Yellow Submarine, but you can just forget about listening to any expensive-ass Beatles records in this loving ode to one of the darker years in American history (unless you just turn off the maybe-forty-song soundtrack to Mafia III and kick on The White Album instead, which will go a long way in terms of crushing the sonic monotony that will otherwise be your experience).

You play as Lincoln Clay, a biracial orphan who also happens to be a high-functioning Vietnam War veteran thanks to his years of causing brush fires and crushing larynges as a special forces operative during his formative years. Lincoln comes home to his surrogate mob family in New Bordeaux (which stands in for New Orleans for reasons I’ll happily speculate on in just a minute), only to find that his would-be father figure has dug himself an exceptionally deep financial hole with the Italian Mob that features carry-overs from previous Mafia games. Once the snare is set, mafia don Sal Marcano executes Clay’s adoptive family and has Lincoln shot in the head. And wouldn’tcha know it? Lincoln gets better.

That prologue sequence, which is the most interesting part of Mafia III by the way, ends with Hangar 13 openly declaring “that’s all the necessary character-building Lincoln needs from now on, thank you very much.” After a cinematic-ish heist and a getting-to-know-you sequence in New Bordeaux, Lincoln ceases to be a victim of the world around him and turns into an A+ mafia killer in exactly no time at all. If you’re looking for any kind of moral dilemma in Mafia III, might I suggest any of the numerous mob movies this series has pathetically aped for well over a decade. Otherwise, you’ll often be left alone with your own thoughts about the game, its characters, and most specifically, its location.

That Mafia III takes place in the fictional New Bordeaux instead of New Orleans seems pretty superfluous, especially when the game goes out of its way to shove in real-life historical events in its poorly-produced radio news reports (1968, you’ll remember, was a nutty year for the United States — both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, Apollo 8 landed on the moon, etc). And that’s completely ignoring the fact that we’re put on a completely arbitrary Easter Egg hunt for real-life album covers, Hot-Rod magazine covers, and actual Playboy pictorials (also interviews, which should go without saying, *ahem*).

Perhaps Hangar 13 took one look at the backbreaking work Team Bondi put into making L.A. Noire a nigh-identical facsimile to 1947 Los Angeles and said, “Fuck it; that would eat up time we could be using to destroy our lock-picking interface.” I understand that we’re trying to capture the zeitgeist of 1968, particularly the chaotic mood of the era, but aside from outwardly addressing the game’s casual (and outwardly hostile) racism at the beginning of the game, Hangar 13 ends up using it for little more than window dressing instead of providing Lincoln some kind of existential threat.

There was never a point where I feel worried about the paths Lincoln took, that there were forces out there that’d tear him down faster than he ascended. Lincoln is your prototypical AAA anti-hero, formidable to the point of lunacy, competent to the point of omniscience, and charismatic as that booger that flies out of your nose and onto your hand after a particularly obnoxious sneeze. The most interesting thing about him is that crazy-ass scar along the side of his head. But even that’s there to constantly remind us of how superficial all of this is.

Image: Hangar 13

Image: Hangar 13

WASH, RINSE, REPEAT UNTIL YOUR HEART GIVES OUT

My god, is there a lot of driving in this thing. I mean, there’s other facets to the gameplay, and all of them suck in their own unique ways — it’s a cover-based shooter that you can work around with marginally intuitive stealth modes (the sharpness of enemy AI dips in and out), the combat is belligerently obtuse (mostly you press O until you’re not supposed to for some quicktime execution shots), and movement is a disaster (there’s no jump; the action button allows you to leap over and maneuver through items it deems worthy instead of what would make the most sense, like, say, moderately tall walls and bushes) — but, yeah. The driving.

Mafia III acknowledges this particular chestnut by adding a Simulation mode for all the driving you’re about to do, which is Hangar 13’s way of admitting that, yes there’s quite a bit of driving in the game, isn’t there. (Look, they seem to be saying, It’s not a cancerous mole if I draw two eyes above it and a smile underneath; it’s just an exceptionally large nose on a face that happens to be on my shoulder.) 

As obnoxious as the presence of the driving Simulation was, what was even more galling was that I couldn’t glean much of a difference between the Simulation mode and the Regular driving mode: No matter which I used, every car handled like either a greased-up epileptic on a Slip-n-Slide of K-Y Jelly or a concrete brick shoved up a bumpy hill and the tires were also made of concrete bricks.

When you’re not busy driving all by yourself, stuck with the same three radio stations on endless repeat (escort missions are on short supply, and Lincoln don’t talk much), the game lets you strut about scenic New Bordeaux to do whatever it is you will (in the beginning, that’ll mostly be picking up your kickbacks and generally fighting the urge to kill all in your path). It lets you know when you’re about to commit a crime, so you have more than enough warning before the fuzz pops in to slap the cuffs on you for snatching up that bulletproof jacket behind the grocery store. It’s here where the AI is moderately impressive — I snuck behind the counter of a gas station only to have the proprietor yell at me from the back, come out front to scold me, and then mean-mug me until I complied.

Of course, your mileage for mayhem may vary, so use caution — there’s always gonna be some pain in the ass good Samaritan who can’t wait to call in your evil deeds, so either cap the witnesses too (the number of which can become ridiculous before long) or run like hell.

The game has numerous side missions designed to keep each Underboss on your team happy, but they don’t really matter to the overall arc of the game, or are even all that exciting. Taking them on is where the monotony of Mafia III becomes woefully apparent, and the funny part about that is the game acknowledges the inanity of these missions by referring to them as “Optional.” It’s almost as if Hangar 13 came up with the concept of Mafia III and couldn’t be bothered to see its execution all the way to the end.

Before long you’ll acquire a courier, a gun dealer, and a handy 911 operator who’ll make all your Blues disappear for a premium, which makes the game far too wieldy. You contact them via radio (supplied by a rather scrupulous CIA operative), and they pop up almost immediately, which is like having Amazon but without all the guilt of knowing that somebody probably went to the hospital so you could use it. Aside from the errant cop (all of them are white, by the way, and bore holes in the back of your head even when you’re just trying to cross the street), a few chatty locals, and the odd alligator, the game is rather empty, and your wanton carnage doesn’t seem to upset the day-to-day lives of those around you. So stock up on weapons and steal to your heart’s delight.

Image: Hangar 13

Image: Hangar 13

CONCLUSION

Through it all, I never really hated playing Mafia III, but I certainly whined about how bored I was to anyone willing to listen. (As you can imagine, I don’t have many friends.) If it’s a sizzling social parable you’re looking for, I would suggest Netflix. If it’s an innovative sandbox adventure game you’re looking for, I would suggest going outside. And if it’s a charismatic lead to which you’d like to hitch your star, I would suggest looking in the mirror, friend, because that astonishing hero you’ve been looking for has been inside you all along.

Also, if it’s driving you’re looking for, engage in the challenging game that’s called the DMV. You’ll at least feel something by the end of that particularly nauseating experience. For sixty bucks, Mafia III is a AAA game in name only.

Developed by Hangar 13 and 2K Czech.

Published by 2K Games.

Distributed by Take-Two Interactive.

Directed by Haden Blackman.

Written by Bill Harms.

Platform(s): Microsoft Windows, OS X, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

4.5 out of 10

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