Have You Played… Mafia 3?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

I was put off from playing Mafia 3 [official site] by John’s thorough review, which told tales of bugs, bad AI, repetitive mission design and more design flaws. But then a few people I respect kept praising it, for its supposedly exciting combat and its more-ish missions. I finally gave it a try a few weeks ago.

I had a nice time, for the five hours I played of it. I grew invested in Lincoln Clay’s quest for revenge and in exploring more of 1960’s New Orleans Bordeaux. I didn’t encounter bad AI and bugs in that short play time – I suspect they have been partly patched out since release – but towards the end of the time I could see both versions of the game I’d read about begin to come into view. Mafia 3 began to make clear what kinds of missions I was going to be doing for the thirty or forty hours to follow.

John found that long middle to be saggy and bloated, while others I’ve read found it to be satisfying and relaxing. I can see how it could be either, depending on what you’re looking for. But I lean personally more towards the former. Not because of the game exactly – I didn’t play long enough into this section to even form a real opinion of its merits – but because I know that I’m not looking to clean up a map of icons at the moment. I’m not sure I ever will be again.

Mafia 3’s story grabbed me, but its mechanics did not. I find myself therefore wishing the game were six hours long, with the narrative-driven missions of its opening continuing promptly towards closure. Instead, I know I’ll never see the end of its story threads. Even if I really loved the combat – and I think it’s fine but nothing more – and kept playing for hours, I’d likely still never see the ending. That puts me off even trying to get further. Now Lincoln Clay’s story will be forever unresolved in my brain, and that’s a shame.

Or I’ll go watch the ending on YouTube, I guess.

41 Comments

  1. emotionengine says:

    This post encapsulates so well how I feel about modern open world games these days. The Mafias, the Watch_Dogs, Shadow of Mordor, the AssCreeds, the Just Causes and the GTAs, I start out moderately interested in the story and the world, sometimes excited even. But a few good hours in, I reach a plateau where the realisation sinks in that I’ve signed up for a 50-100 hour icon cleaning marathon and any motivation I had just implodes. Maybe I’m just getting old, maybe I value my ever shrinking free time more, or I just don’t have it in me anymore. Shame, but it’s not like my backlog isn’t large enough as it is, so I guess it was nice knowing you while it lasted, game.

    • something says:

      It’s not you that’s getting old, it’s the format. It peaked around ACII/Fallout 3 and then swamped the market. While gamers have largely moved past the fetish for long play times, publishing execs still seem to think padding a game out with cookie cutter missions is essential.

      • Someoldguy says:

        I think it’s a matter of presentation. If each fight feels like it counts for something and feels enjoyable, then the fact that it’s repetitive does not matter anything like as much. You only have to look at the massive popularity of online multiplayer games of all types. Most of them revolve around small scale fights on a limited number of maps, but people hone their skills at them over hundreds of hours.

        Where a game makes it feel like you are progressing and being entertained, I want that experience to last 20+ hours. Part of that being that I don’t have a budget that allows me to toss £30+ at a new game every week. Only when the missions feel like lazy filler that is tedious to complete does it become a real problem, which can be addressed by improving that content.

    • Premium User Badge

      DuncUK says:

      I think what put me off buying the game were the frequent user reviews that said that Mafia 3 wasn’t a patch on Mafia 2… is that the same Mafia 2 that released to a tidal wave of negativity for being incredibly short, very late and with a largely unused open world and half finished content blatantly cut and then cobbled together to be sold as DLC later? With stories of development hell and a scriptwriter that cut all ties with the game late in development? It comes to something when a game you remember as being a massive letdown is held up as a high water mark for its sequel.

    • Thankmar says:

      Just Cause 2 and Shadow of Mordor do not have that long of a campaign. If I remember correctly, JC2 has only seven main missions, padded inbetween by reaching a certain amount of chaos or whatever to unlock the next mission. Mordor does not have some kind of hard gating the main missions up until the end (I may remember this wrong). Although, if you don’t spend some time doing emergent stuff, its much harder. You can ignore most of the clutter in both games, if you want to. Both can be finished in under 50 hours, I’d say about 15 to 20 for JC, maybe 30 to 40 for Mordor.

      I mention this because I started them to get to know what the fuss is about and was kinda relieved that they did not overstay their welcome to much.

    • fish99 says:

      I wouldn’t lump GTA in with something like Ass Creed. In GTA there’s very little you are required to do that isn’t a story mission with cut-scenes, voice acting, and all hand crafted. Ass Creed though, even the newest one Syndicate, is choc full of required repetitive activities.

    • Vandelay says:

      Agreed. I just can’t get invested enough into an open world game to dedicate the dozens of hours it is going to take to complete. Recent games I’ve tried such as Watch_Dogs 2 and Shadow of Mordor have followed the exact same pattern of me having about two or three sessions, getting to 5-6 hours play and then having zero interest in returning.

      They are perfectly fine games and I had a great time during those few hours, but I felt like I had seen the games by that point and was unlikely to get anything surprising coming along beyond that.

      I’m not sure how alone we are feeling like this, but I do sort of hope this feeling is common and the ubiquitous open world game “fad” comes to end. I want a return to fun, original, concise, single player games that don’t require me to spend 80% of my playtime doing busy work (Mafia 1 is actually a good example of this, even though it was a kind of open world game.)

    • Ragnar says:

      I share your frustrations with open world games that gate story missions behind having to complete repetitive tasks. All it does is pointlessly pad out playtime – and as my responsibilities grow along with my backlog, and leisure time diminishes, I want to make sure that limited time is well spent.

      If you want me to complete one of each activity as part of the story, to introduce them to me, fine. But then let me get on with the story if I want to. Don’t make me have to do the same thing over and over again to gain influence over an area before letting me advance the story – it’s like forcing me to re-read a chapter in a book before being allowed to move on to the next one. Just show me the activities and make them optional – if they’re fun I will seek them out on my own.

  2. Lukasz says:

    No.

    Maybe one day I will pick the game for a fiver. I did beat previous two games so I should give it a chance.

    It is interesting how the series always fails to deliver. Always there is something fundamentally wrong with the game for it to become a worthy getting at full price…

    If not the setting. The series would have not existed.

    I think they shoud go back to prohibition area. Don’t try to make a juggernaut to fight gta. Story driven 10-16 hours gameplay with few sidequests which might influence the ending. I would love to play it. Mafia 3… One day during a sale

  3. Premium User Badge

    Henke says:

    Played through it a few months back on PS4. The combat/stealth is solid, and the vehicle physics are great. I love how heavy the cars feel and they slide all over the place. It’s true about the terrible mission design tho. It starts off good with the bank robbery mission where you escape through the tunnels, but after that pretty much every mission follows the same template of “infiltrate a place, kill the boss, get out”. The core gameplay was satisfying enough that I didn’t mind seeing it through to the end, but I can’t whole-heartedly recommend it to anyone.

  4. nimbulan says:

    I’ve really been enjoying this game. The only problem I’ve noted so far is that it could run a bit better, though that’s almost a guaranteed problem with open world games these days. The missions are varied enough that it doesn’t feel too repetitive, though I can understand it feeling so if the combat doesn’t quite click for people.

    Personally, I find this game has far more to offer than wildly popular games like GTA V – much better writing and more content, if a bit less varied. I do tend to find that people are unusually harsh about minor flaws in less popular games, and ignore large glaring flaws in popular ones.

    • Plake says:

      Comments like these make me doubt that the writer even played the games in question…! If somebody liked the game is purely own oppinion, but saying Mafia 3 (which i liked even before all DLC’s) has more content than GTA V is not even untrue, but completely bonkers!!! Not sure what you intended with this statement, but it doesn’t make sense. A shame since your comment started strong.

  5. Zenicetus says:

    I lasted until the mission to save a mob boss (in a seafood restaurant, I think?) after the amusement park bit. And then bailed out on the first mission after that, where I ended up just repeating the same things I’d done before and it wasn’t fun.

    The faux-New Orleans setting and time period was great, and that’s what kept me going that long. The premise of the returned ‘Nam vet worked better than I thought it would, although it still never felt like a proper “Mafia” game.

    What really killed it for me is that the stealth element was entirely one-dimensional. There was basically just one thing I did over and over: hide behind a corner, whistle, drop the one mook who always responded, rinse and repeat. I’d end up with a silly pile of bodies around me. Either that, or go in guns blazing, and the all-out gun combat never felt as tight as the last Mafia game. It could have been a great game with more elaborate stealth options, and far less repetitive missions.

  6. Premium User Badge

    ErraticGamer says:

    I’ll add on to the positive opinions for this one. I know they did some heavy patching after the game released, and right now I think it’s a pretty great narrative-driven crime revenge story, even if it’s not a great “open-world game”. The combat is solid, the driving is solid, and the characters are decently written and well delivered. Especially if you’re invested in the Mafia storyline from the first two games (and I was), this is a pretty solid continuation of the series. I need to go finish it up and then download the DLC.

    And as others have noted the aesthetics are just superb. The sun-drenched (or rain-soaked) streets and buildings of New Bordeaux look phenomenal, and the music never got even a little bit old as I was driving around (which, without fast travel, you do a lot of).

  7. pelwl says:

    It has decent writing and voice acting and an excellent soundtrack. If they’d included the DLC missions and cut out all the filler to make it a 15-20 hour game it would have been a much better game.

  8. Unclepauly says:

    The original Mafia is a cool game. This game is not.

  9. Agnosticus says:

    I wish I didn’t! I’ve yet to encounter such a badly optimised AAA game, bouncing between 20 and 60 fps @1080p low settings(!), such a mess and barely playable.

    I’ve recently reinstalled it to see if anything has improved…ended up Alt+F4-ing the game after a minute.

    Some weeks before I’ve finished DOOM, 1440p @120fps with high settings (thx vulkan!), what a night and day difference!

  10. Freud says:

    I have not. I feel I am over icon littered open world games for the time being.

    The Witcher 3 was so good, so immersive and did such a good job at filling even the most minor side quest with some sort of world building that it just makes me unable to go back to the pointless busywork of the competition.

  11. Blastaz says:

    For all the people who can’t put 40 hours in a game, what do you play?

    I mean I’m thirty something and work a proper job, but I have no problem in putting my gaming time into one game for a couple of weeks to bash that out.

    Do you guys just bounce around or only play two hours a week on a Saturday?

    • Ragnar says:

      It’s not that we can’t, but that it’s a heavy commitment, and it needs to be worth it.

      I’m guessing you don’t have a family with kids? Because I long for the free time I had when all I had to deal with was a job.

      I usually have an hour or so of gaming time a day, so a 40 hour game is over a month’s worth of gaming for me. That’s a long commitment, and has to be judged against the many other games I could be playing in that time. The opportunity cost of playing Mafia 3 is not playing Dishonored or XCOM or Prey or Witcher instead.

      • Blastaz says:

        Wife, no kids.

        Witcher/Xcom are hundred hour + games. To play them you are “sacrificing” multiple other games. What this arguements really boils down to is “I have very little game time and I don’t really like the genre” rather than “this game is too long so I don’t play it”.

        • poliovaccine says:

          I mean, for me, being someone who doesnt have a family and whose only obligation right now is a job (well, two, but one I make the hours for), it’s not so much about the time sacrifice or one 40-hour game being “worth” five 8-hour games or whatever, it’s more just that, if something is gonna be 40 hours long, it better be 40 hours *good.* Mangling of the language aside, that’s how it feels to me. I still boot up Morrowind, I still replay missions in the various Thief or Hitman games, still start new campaigns in XCOM, and I’ve played Fallout New Vegas to completion, including DLC, several times over and I still go back to it. I’ll play a game forever if it’s entirely made up of stuff I want to do. I think focusing on the timespan is mistaken, cus the timespan is really secondary to how much you get on with the mechanics. The Tetrises and Marios of the world should be an object lesson in that.

          Cus I take your point, phrasing it in terms of time spent is kind of incongruous when you’re talking about your chosen recreation, but the fundamental problem of existence is how to spend our precious time, and nothing nags at the mortality-sense quite like unskippable cutscenes and poor checkpointing. Do enough repetitive missions and you start to get the Groundhog Day heebie jeebies. Because it’s really less about how much time you have for gaming, and more about how much time you have on this earth.

  12. simz04 says:

    You describe exactly how i feel about Mafia 3 and why i stopped halfway trough to never come back. The icon clearing chore is boring, extremely repetitive and tedious and it just ruins the game.

    Its all about how the devs hide that grind. In Mafia 3 the copy/paste with those missions and icon clearing is blatent and its a shame because technically and narratively the game is awesome and it could have been almost a GTA-level game.

    • Ragnar says:

      I totally agree with your comment.

      Though I find it amusing that GTA has become the metric by which all similar games are judged, in hopes of becoming a GTA-level game. I mean, it makes sense, since they rather created the style. But I personally enjoyed GTA-style games – like Sleeping Dogs, Just Cause, and Saints Row – much more than I ever enjoyed the actually GTA games. Granted I haven’t played 5, but I found 4 tedious and dull so I’m not particularly keen to.

      • poliovaccine says:

        Just fyi, while I agree in general that GTA games are a bit overrated and needlessly lionized as forebears of the genre, you really do owe it to yourself to check out GTAV. It’s not just GTAIV-2. GTAIV was definitely more “gritty and realistic,” which in a Rockstar game, for many people, translates to “bland,” but GTAV absolutely learned from GTAIV. It got more colorful and freewheeling again, and the level of content there really is an order of magnitude beyond even many open-world *RPGs,* which is saying something.

        I’m not exactly a fan of GTA in general these days, but GTAV really is just an incredible thing. And if you skipped it because you didnt like the tone of GTAIV in particular, trust me, it’s worth a look, cus the grey and dismal East Coast vibe went straight out the window.

  13. pendergraft says:

    I loved it in the beginning. Had only nice things to say. The cutscenes were absolutely top of the line, and continued to be, for as long as they actually used them. Unfortunately their budget didn’t allow them to work that magic with every NPC interaction, which meant that roughly three-fourths of your conversations happened, and I don’t know if this is the correct way to describe it, in-engine, with a camera just above and to the left of your character. If they’d allowed you to move the camera a little, like in The Witcher 3, it might’ve been tolerable.

    Oh, the driving was fun on realism mode.

  14. Hyena Grin says:

    I’m still kind of enjoying mindless map-cleaner games, so Mafia 3 definitely worked for me. The combat mechanics were fun and tuned enough that the missions were entertaining even when they were samey. Just having a different environment around you was often enough to keep me engaged enough to complete all of the ‘racket’ missions even after I’d hit the ‘damage’ threshold to move on to confronting the bosses. Also the ‘boss’ missions were often varied enough and told enough story to break up the slight grind.

    And honestly, there’s not too many games where you can drive around in a muscle car on a rainy night in New Orleans Bordeaux while Paint it Black or Fortunate Son plays on the radio.

    A game having a good and well-executed atmosphere can make up for a lot, in my book.

  15. buzzmong says:

    I still don’t understand why the series stepped away from the buggy, rough but very good Mafia 1, where the mostly open city was just an explorable backdrop between the missions.

    Cleaning a map of icons gets boring quite quickly.

    • poliovaccine says:

      The series didnt step away from that at first, on the contrary, they doubled down with Mafia II. That game was excellent, but at the time all people wanted was open worlds full of minigames and stuff to do, before Ubisoft came and taught people to be careful what they wish for.

      Thing is, the series knew its strengths before pretty much anyone else did. You could still buy clothes and hot dogs and drink beer out of the fridge and cars had utterly realistic damage modeling and you could activate faucets and windows and toilets for no other reason than immersion, and people called the open world “empty” and “lifeless” because, again, they still wanted huge icon-clearing exercises at the time. I *remember* that time – everyone’s golden idea for a game was “_____ but with an open world likr GTA3.” And people were still reading a lot more life into GTA3 than there ever actually was – which is normal for games overall, but it’s also normal that advancing tech makes that all obsolete.

      People complained at the time about Mafia II, and in the same way about the open world in LA Noire, but these days people have largely changed their tune. Would Mafia II really be improved by bunches of little minigames to play, or a bunch of “radiant quest”-style side missions? Would LA Noire? Has any open world game ever been improved by inserting hours upon hours’ worth of busywork?

      The reason so many Ubi games are icon-marathons is the same reason Mafia 3 is: for years, people were *clamoring* for precisely that, they wanted nothing else. Now the immersive technique du jour is “survival,” the need to eat, hydrate and sleep, since large maps are now as easy as a proc-gen algorithm. That will get old too, if it hasnt already. Mafia 3 would have been a smash hit if it had happened a few years sooner, bugs and all. It’s easy to see all the complaints they were attempting to answer. They should have just stuck with their guns though, since they were ahead of their time and a game like Mafia *II* is much more primed to be appreciated now vs. then.

  16. Barchester says:

    I did, and quite enjoyed it actually. Its biggest fault is that it is far longer than its repetitive missions really allow. Should have had a 10 hour campaign with a handful of side stuff and it would have been a far better game. Still, the atmosphere is top notch, largely due to the excellent soundtrack.

  17. elder_pegasus says:

    Open world games that rely on the story don’t just need a good story, it needs to be paced well – would highlight GTA:SA as a gold standard here. There was always a story thread to look to – the few times it stopped the story for territory control were limited in duration, good opportunities to level up, and fitted with the story.
    The alternative is the just cause approach of relying on the sandbox, so you don’t mind waiting for story as you’re having too much fun pratting around.
    Sounds like mafia 3 fell between those two stalls.

  18. 4004 says:

    Mafia 3, much like Mafia 2, can be a very beautiful/stylish game at times. I mostly played it for this sense of style, the vibe. Not quite LA Noire, but not bad either.
    Gameplay mechanics are indeed bad, sadly, so no idea if I’ll ever finish it

  19. Jahandar says:

    The old games were damned for not having more openworldy fluff, the new game is damned for having openworldy fluff.

    • haldolium says:

      Were they really?

      Mafia came out half a year after GTA III and I found it a refreshing counter part to the more arcade-fun of GTA III while having the world around it acting mostly as scenery. It helped a lot in driving the story and did not feel empty or irrelevant. It still delivered a great free experience with a lot of focus on stealing cars ironically.

      Mafia 2 was just an awful beg for attention to get noticed in the by then already horrible trend group of “open world” games. Didn’t work out that way.

      I stayed far away from Mafia III and will never touch it since it furthermore ruins the name of what could’ve been a great series on it’s own. But it’s just a single great title w/o any numbers.

      • fish99 says:

        Yeah the first Mafia wasn’t criticized for not being a proper open world game as far as I remember. Rather it was lauded for it’s storytelling.

        I always saw Mafia as the inspiration for R* going more cinematic and story-focused with GTA4+5.

  20. nullcorp says:

    Finished the game with all the DLCs a few weeks ago, and I really enjoyed it. But I used the NoFuckingGrindMod which reduces the amount of damage needed in each area by 60% and makes the game a lot less repetitive : link to mafiamods.com

  21. montfalcon says:

    I haven’t, but this article and the back-and-forth of the comment section have bumped back up my to-do list. I got it free with my GPU purchase last year, and the thought of trying to flog the code just seemed like too much work. I popped it into my Steam library and forgot about it. Plus I like to have a healthy backlog of games in a variety of genres for financial hard times when games that are already paid for are an excellent value proposition.

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