What Kept Me Interested In Mafia III

Foreword: There’s pretty much no way to get around what happened this week before going into a blog post I already had planned at least a couple weeks ago. I try to keep things on this blog (and my twitter if you haven’t noticed) centered on games and tech with a bit of other entertainment, but pretty much never politics. I do have my own political opinions, I just don’t find social media and blogs to be the best place for me to discuss them. Something did pop up on my friend’s blog however that I think strikes a good point about the recently wrapped-up US Presidential Election centered on writing and journalism.

The basic jist I got out of it is that the media spent a bit too much time chasing scandals and a bit too little time actually going over the policies of each candidate. You could say media took on the easy subjects it thought would attract viewers instead of digging into the details that might have had a better chance of swaying them.

I think that’s about as much as I’m going to say here on that subject. If you’re interested in taking a bit of time off to read about video games, continue.

Real Post: 

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I probably spent way too much time getting through Mafia III, but I just finished it. Everyone has likely moved on from it, but I had my reasons for sticking with it over the last month. The main thing I want to say about Mafia III is that it has the same overall good points and flawsMafia II had, I think both cases are interesting when it comes to people’s enjoyment and perception of video games.

I think the general critical consensus on Mafia III was that while the game has an interesting and unique setting along with above-average storytelling, the franchise can’t figure out any unique or compelling action gameplay to match it. This is pretty much how I feel about the last Mafia game. It isn’t just the settings that hold them up for me, it’s how they’re presented.

From an action gameplay standpoint Mafia is a franchise that’s struggling to find a reason why it should be an open-world Grand Theft Auto clone. Mafia II had almost nothing to do outside the story missions, and the latest game put players through a lot of repetitive tasks for the main story and side missions. What each game’s open world did leverage though was atmosphere. That’s pretty much the main reason Mafia II is open-world — so you can experience driving across the city landscapes with the music of the era in the background. While it did this with an interactive recreation of the typical American gangster movie, Mafia III gave it a new spin with New Orleans, Aretha Franklin, and The Temptations. I took interest in Mafia III mainly because I just thought that was really cool. If nothing else Mafia III needs to be looked at for best licensed soundtrack in a video game of 2016. That’s not even mentioning Mafia III’s willingness to tackle the issue of race as head-on as it does. It was a bit on-the-nose and ripped-from-the-headlines for my taste, but I really appreciated the surprise.

It isn’t just atmosphere though. I think these two games start to become worthwhile as video games at many points for how they handle storytelling. Maybe not in the content of those stories, but mostly just the mechanisms they sometimes use to deliver them. There are story moments in Mafia II and Mafia III that work better because they are interactive and part of a video game. Most of what’s conveyed in these games is still through non-interactive cut scenes, but they had moments that genuinely caught me off guard and put a smile on my face. Both games leverage the car ride conversation in interesting ways (often with the radio), I like how in Mafia II the main character wakes up every morning at the beginning of each story mission like anyone else going to work, I think Mafia III for all its faults started strong in this department. I just think the Mafia series has kind of made some interesting use of the medium, and that this has been overlooked.

That atmosphere and storytelling is why I stuck with Mafia III for so long despite its lukewarm critical response. I did a lot of the repetitive side missions just to hear more dialogue and backstory from some of the tertiary characters. I feel like it’s another one of quite a few games in the last few years that got a lot wrong but tried some things that were interesting or different. If there are more Mafia games, publisher 2K games and whoever it decides develops them just needs to figure out a core action apparatus to make them stand out more.

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