Mafia III

A Blow-By-Blow Look At Mafia III’s Deadly Take On New Orleans
by Jeff Cork on Aug 05, 2015 at 02:01 AM
Platform PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Publisher 2K Games
Developer Hangar 13, 2K Czech
Rating Mature

Mafia III’s newly released reveal trailer shows just how far 2K’s latest studio, Hangar 13, is willing to go when it comes to subverting franchise expectations. Rather than tell another tale of the Italian mob, the third installment in the crime series is all about brutally dismantling the organization from the outside.

Protagonist Lincoln Clay returns to his home in New Orleans after serving a tour in Vietnam. His adopted family may not be the Cleavers – they’re active members of the city’s black mob – but to a man who grew up in a Catholic orphanage, it offers a stability that he’d been craving his whole life. That ends in a violent act, and now Clay sets out to take out the leader of the Italian mob, Sal Marcano.

“In our early conversations internally, we talked about one, wanting to reclaim the term ‘mafia’ to mean more than the Italian mob,” says Haden Blackman, studio head and creative director at developer Hangar 13. “We also wanted to continue the trend of moving Mafia forward in time, and that’s where we set on the sixties, and then sixty-eight specifically. There are lots of reasons we chose that year specifically. Those were sort of the first two pieces that came together, and from that it was like, ‘If we’re going to try to reclaim the word mafia to mean more than the Italian mob, who should our protagonist be? It’s going to be in the late sixties, does that inform who our protagonist is?’ And his experiences with being a Vietnam Vet, being mixed race in a city in the south, feeds into everything that’s going on in 1968.”

We start our demo in the streets near the city’s French ward. It’s dark outside, but the sidewalks are still abuzz in activity. People walk by in slouch caps, loud-patterned clothing, and other period-appropriate garb. The chatter seems largely positive and happy, but Lincoln isn’t having any of it. He’s out on the streets tonight to find and clear out a rival’s hideout. 

Brushing through the crowd, he comes to an intersection that’s blocked by a police car. The cherry light spins on the roof, bathing everything nearby in an eerie blood-like glow. As Lincoln approaches, he sees an interracial couple getting hassled by the police. They tell him to move along, and Lincoln gamely walks across the street. Players can choose to intervene in situations like these, but for our purposes trouble will be coming soon enough.

Lincoln continues on, and the music from a nearby club gets louder with each step. Soon, The Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night” blares into the night, drowning out the honking horns and ambient city noises. Across the street is a church, and that’s the first stop in Lincoln’s mission. Dancing will have to wait.

Drug dealers have made the cemetery their nighttime home, and the area is a study in contrast. A couple is getting high and having a great time, but, at the other end of the spectrum a man is passed out with vomit on his shirt while a nearby junkie begs a dealer for a break. One of these dealers has information about the hideout, and sure enough, an “interrogate” icon appears over one of their heads. 

Lincoln’s been patient so far, but that immediately melts. He tackles a nearby henchman and then a full-on gun battle erupts. Crypts, stairs, and other stone structures become points of cover as Lincoln hunkers down and takes potshots at the well-armed crew. His military training pays off, and the thugs are eliminated in a few seconds. In the chaos, however, the man of the hour is running away from the scene toward a low-slung convertible. Lincoln runs toward the car, jumps and glides over the trunk, and carjacks the vehicle in one fluid-looking motion. The dealer is already rattled, but it’s about to get worse.

A meter appears on the screen beneath a rear-view mirror, and Lincoln’s reckless driving inches it up with every near miss, drift, and swerve into oncoming traffic. Topping off the speedometer – rendered in full analog glory, needle and all – has a similar effect on his victim, too. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” plays on the radio, masking our new pal’s whimpers. Eventually the panicked passenger spills the location of the hideout. The player then has a choice of showing mercy. Lincoln opts not to, shooting him and sneering that you can’t trust a snitch.  

Lincoln may have avoided interacting with the police earlier, but they’re into him in a big way now. He manages to lose the heat by turning down a few strategic alleys and ditching his car. It’s only temporary, however, which is where it’s good that Lincoln has made so many friends.

In the trailer, three people joined Lincoln in the bayou to dispatch that Italian mobster. One is Cassandra, who heads a faction of Haitian gangsters, and who has issues with the Italians. Burke is part of the Irish mob, and he shares a similar set of problems with the traditional mafia. Finally, there’s Vito Scaletta, a name that may be familiar for Mafia II players: He’s the player character from that game, now out of prison and living a shabby post-Empire City life.

“His office is literally over a fish restaurant over the marina, and it looks out at the city proper, like the downtown. And he’s got this little, tiny piece of the pie, and he wants that,” says Blackman. “It’s like he’s still after that quest for power, he still wants the city, but we put him over a fish restaurant with a chum machine in it.”

As tempting as it might be to talk to Vito about the good old days, it’s not exactly the time. Instead, Lincoln pulls the car up to a pay phone and runs to the booth. Each of his lieutenants can offer a variety of different services, and with one simple phone call, the police have mysteriously lost interest in Lincoln. It pays to have friends in low places, especially if they’re buddies with crooked cops.

Now that Lincoln knows the location of the hideout, it’s time to pay a visit. The convertible is a little too hot right now, so he steals a different car. The previous driver had it tuned to talk radio, and we hear the beginning of a news report talking about George Wallace’s strong pro-segregation stand. 

As that earlier interaction with the police and broadcast hinted at, the game’s setting and time period are filled with volatile subject matter, particularly when it comes to race in America. That’s something that the developers aren’t erasing from their story, and there were certainly a few instances where characters used language likely to start fistfights today.

“It’s 1968, it’s part of the world, and we’re not going to shy away from it – but we’re also not going to be getting up on a soapbox,” Blackman says. “The language is going to be the language of the time, but the player’s reactions to that are going to be the player’s reactions to that – we’re not going to be prescriptive on that. We’re not forcing Lincoln to do anything specific based on what’s going on in the time period. I would also add that while race is one of the things that’s part of Lincoln’s identity, it’s not the only thing that defines him. It’s an important thing, make no doubt about it, but he’s also defined by the fact that he’s an orphan, by the fact that he’s loyal, that he’s a Vietnam vet – and all of those relationships.”

Continue to page two to see how Lincoln infiltrates the Cistern

For the time being, Lincoln’s current priority is infiltrating the hideout, which is known as The Cistern. Unfortunately, it’s below a busy nightclub, which is a front that gives the drug den a legitimate face. The Big Mouth Club’s patrons aren’t hip to the criminal underworld, and they’re likely to respond to gunfire with panic and calling the police – things that Lincoln definitely doesn’t want. For now, he walks in and plays it cool. There are a couple of thugs guarding a staircase below, and they’re clearly not going to move the velvet rope aside for Lincoln. Rather than press his luck, he moves to the exit and looks for another route. Sure enough, there’s a lone guard in a small shack who uses some particularly course language to try and shoo Lincoln away. That doesn’t work, and Lincoln takes him out with a melee attack. A guard down a flight of stairs catches a knife to the neck, and Lincoln commandeers the thug’s rifle. He won’t need it anymore, after all.

Looking around, it’s clear why this place is called the Cistern. The walls are caked with grime, and the floor looks like it’s coated with a later of dried, cracked muck. Moving further in, the interior space changes to a more traditional drug-den setup. Rugs are strewn on the ground, and we can hear the murmur of people and what sounds like music. The tunnel opens up into a large underground dome, with stoned people talking about whatever it is that stoned people talk about. At the bottom, a guy is doing his best Jim Morrison impersonation, sing-talking his way through poetry as a multicolored slideshow is projected on the walls of the bizarre, cavernous space. It’s all very groovy, but these aren’t the goons we’re looking for. 

Lincoln heads deeper, coming across an underground waterway – an alternate entrance for players who fully scout areas out ahead of time. We’re near a storage area now, and we can hear someone explaining to his boss why he’s short. He attempts to blame it on getting robbed by blacks – in so many words – but the boss isn’t having it. The leader of the hideout says he likes to be Black Jesus, but right now the underling is going to be seeing the devil. With that, the boss slices his underperforming employee’s throat. Lincoln takes that as a sign to make his move.

The leader and his guard are gone quickly, but the place is filled with loyal gangsters intent on making sure Lincoln doesn’t leave alive. The soundtrack shifts over to a plodding blues riff, which is a nice contrast to the guitar-shredding soundtrack or hyperactive orchestral score that typically accompanies this kind of action. Lincoln works his way back up to street level in a bloodbath of a shootout, but he makes it out in one big chunk.

Now comes the tough part. The hideout has been taken over, but Lincoln can’t run it himself. He’s a busy guy, after all. He’ll have to select one of his lieutenants to run it for him. These decisions have both immediate and long-term consequences.

“All three lieutenants give you very specific rewards based on the hideout,” Blackman says. “Cassandra has a specific reward for getting the Cistern that you cannot get unless you give Cassandra the Cistern. If you give Vito the Cistern, the only way to get that reward is by giving Vito the Cistern. It’s tied to that specific character and that specific hideout. So every time you bring it up you’re like, “Which reward do I want?“

“Even if you’ve assigned the hideouts within the district to different characters, you can then assign the whole territory to one as well,” adds Andy Wilson, the game’s executive producer. “And that will build friction among those characters, sort of like an uneasy alliance, and that will play out differently.”

“At the end of the day, they’re all criminals,” Blackman says, putting it into perspective.

Giving Cassandra the Cistern, for instance, earns the ability to call in drive-by reinforcements. For the time being, the other lieutenants don’t seem to mind too much who gets it. That doesn’t mean everyone else is happy with the Cistern changing hands.

Lincoln drives away in a beautiful black sedan (with the Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black” on the radio, appropriately enough), and a retaliation event pops up. Convertibles filled with rival gangsters pull from nearby streets, and Lincoln fights back as best he can. The first few waves explode after getting shot or rammed. In a neat cinematic effect, the rear-view mirror doubles as an instant-replay of sorts, showing cool stuff that happens behind the car in slow motion and highlighting the carnage. 

A roadblock appears ahead, and in a last-ditch effort, Lincoln bails from his car, letting momentum carry it toward his enemies like a four-wheeled missile. It explodes – taking out several gangsters in the blast – but more speed to the site. Now it’s another full-on shootout, this time in front of a movie theater. The marquee advertises a film called, “No Failure but Death,” which is all too fitting. It looks like it’s too much for our hero to handle, and the screen fades to black, ending our demo.

Mafia III is an unconventional sequel, but that’s one of the reasons it’s so exciting. We only saw a small slice of Hangar 13’s imagining of New Orleans, but it was impressively detailed and looks like a rich world to explore. Those interpersonal relationships sound as though they can be as treacherous to navigate as any swamp, and far murkier, too. We’ll see if Lincoln is able to rebuild his family, or keep the one he’s assembling together. 

Mafia III is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in 2016.

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