After simmering with potential for a good long while, 2016 could be the year that Mafia – no pun intended – really blows up. 2010’s Mafia 2 is a great action game, smart, genuinely dramatic, and sumptuous in its period detail. But it isn’t an entirely successful open-world game, its city functioning more as elaborate set-dressing for an otherwise largely linear tale. Mafia 3 though, is shaking things right up, but it’s doing so while still paying close attention to what made the series so special in the first place. In fact it currently looks like one of the most thoughtful crime dramas we've ever seen in a game.
We have a new setting, a new time period, and a new protagonist, but just as importantly we have a new approach to gameplay design, one that looks to really make the most of the series’ free-roaming potential without losing the essence of its grounded, affecting characterisation and intelligent storytelling. We’ve seen – and played – a heck of a lot of the game over the last year or so, and it's all looking very good indeed. So it’s high time we filled you in on everything. So here it is. Everything there currently is to know about Mafia 3 (with the basic rundown at the top and the newest details near the bottom). Read on, get excited, and cross your fingers that everything turns out as well as we hope.
Mafia 3 release date
Mafia 3 is set for release on October 7, 2016. That’s a notable date because a) it’s not too far off, and b) it’s a hell of a confident move from 2K. You don’t drop your game just as the autumn rush kicks off unless you’re sure you’ve got something special enough to compete.
Mafia 3 trailer
Here’s the latest trailer, detailing the depth and variety of Mafia 3's tactical combat. But want some story context? We’ve got all of it. Read on.
It’s set in 1968, in New Bordeaux
Last time around it was the ‘40s and ‘50s, and the setting a beautifully realised blend of New York and Chicago. But Empire Bay is long gone. Nearly two decades gone, to be more precise. Now we’re in the late ‘60s, in New Bordeaux, Mafia’s just-as-beautifully realised evocation of New Orleans.
Hmm. The late ‘60s. The south. Sounds like a recipe for serious, socio-political turmoil, and it is. In keeping with the series’ traditionally smarter, more grounded, more dramatically affecting approach to the open-world crime caper, Mafia 3 is embracing the difficulties and concerns of its chosen time and place with the same vigour that it’s recreating its look and feel. The action will often be spectacular, but the game’s tone, and conceits feel refreshingly very grounded indeed.
Mafia 3's protagonist is Lincoln Clay
We’ve got a very different set-up in our lead character this time around as well. Lincoln is an ex-member of the Black Mafia and Vietnam veteran, trying to find his way in a world without his old crew. The reason for their absence? They were wiped out during a double-cross by the local Italian mob. But Lincoln isn’t going to just sit down and accept it. No, he has much bigger plans, and grand ambitions for both vengeance and power.
Mafia 3 map
Big and varied, that’s what Mafia 3’s map is. With the game’s fictionalised version of not-Louisiana to play with, it has huge scope to deliver eclectic environments, and it looks to be embracing that potential wholeheartedly. Comprising 10 districts, from bustling inner city to sprawling, eminently explorable swampland, with everything from entertainment districts, to industrial areas, to slums in between, Mafia 3’s map won’t just decorate the gameplay, but will direct and flavour it as well.
Mafia 3 is being made by Hangar 13, a new 2K studio formed of staff from original Mafia dev 2K Czech, as well as notable – and rather interesting - industry veterans pulled in from elsewhere. Heading up Hangar 13 is Haden Blackman, previously of Lucasarts, and also a fairly storied comic book writer for Marvel and DC. There’s something decidedly reassuring about having a literarily-minded director on a series as narratively driven as Mafia. In-keeping, Blackman is joined by fellow comic scribe Bill Harms, as Mafia 3’s lead writer.
Mafia 3 cars
We haven’t got an official list of Mafia 3’s vehicles yet, but we do know that there will be a lot of them. We also know that the game’s particular historical setting has inspired a major shift toward the big, ‘boatlike’ muscle cars of the era. Fear not though, for they handle like a dream, the game’s driving model balanced very well between plausible heft and the kind of arcadey artistic license that lets things get hectic while still affording full control.
In fact, on the subject of the driving model, there’s a ridiculous amount going on under the literal and figurative hood. Although not currently activated, the game’s driving engine – an updated version of Mafia 2’s excellent system – has the capacity to calculate the pressure and temperature of every individual tyre on every car, even taking fuel use into account when working out the vehicle’s weight at any given time. Don’t necessarily expect this kind of complexity to make its way through into the final game, but it bodes well for how seriously Hangar 13 is taking the design of its world. Hardcore realism mode, anyone?
It’s not about progressing through the Mafia, it’s about building your own
Lincoln’s plan is simple: take down the ruling Italian Mafia and replace it with an empire of his own. The execution though, will not be simple. He’s going to target each major mob racket in turn, destabilising its income and exploiting the Mafia business structure in order to take out its lieutenants by cutting off their revenue stream. But this is no dry business sim. Lincoln’s methods are less shares and contracts, more direct and very hostile takeovers. The plan is to aggressively hit the street-level businesses that kick up to the bigger guys, who in turn kick up to the biggest guys, undermining their authority while also lining his own pockets. It’s going to be a long, tough, dangerous job, but fortunately he has help. Because…
You’re not fighting alone this time. And Vito Scaletta is back
But that brings its own problems. Lincoln has three lieutenants of his own, recruited from the other gangs being oppressed by the Italians. There’s Burke, of the Irish mob. There’s Haitian boss Cassandra. And most excitingly to Mafia 2 fans, there’s Vito Scaletta, protagonist of the previous game, now somewhat older and decidedly worn down by the events of his own bid for power, and running the rebel Italian forces in New Bordeaux.
Your lieutenants will help you out during missions, furnishing favours like weapon resupply trucks, gangs of hired muscle, gadget upgrades – think distraction lures for stealth – and phone taps for acquiring intel. But first you’ll need their professional approval. And here’s where it gets tricky. You see, to keep them all sweet, you’ll need to divide territory up equally once you ‘liberate’ it from the mob. But that won’t always be possible, or at least, desirable. Maybe one of your council will have an upgrade or offer than you really, really need right now. But what if another is feeling distinctly left out? How do you reconcile that? Get it right, and you’ll have a strong, unified force backing you up. Get it wrong though, and one of your lieutenants might go as far as turning against you, giving you a new enemy faction to deal with as well as handling the main job.
Mafia 3 gameplay: Freedom of choice is king
As for the main job, attacking it will be no simple case of ‘complete missions, win game’. Rather, Mafia 3 presents each racket as a menu of options for marauding and mayhem. Each mob industry has a certain amount of income per month, and it’s Lincoln’s job to reduce that until shit hits the financial fan and he gets a chance to finish off the respective middle-man. Along the way to that point, your options are many.
Do you want to take out mob supply vehicles? Go for it. Chase them down in road battles or sneak in where they’re parked up and roll a grenade underneath. Or maybe you’d prefer to take out (or convert) key enemy players? In that case you’ll want to scope out their business operations and make a plan of attack. Or how about plain, old fashioned theft? Where there are Mafia enclaves, there’s a lot of cash lying around. But how to get hold of it? Well…
No really, freedom of choice is KING
It’s not just the ‘what’ that gives you options. It’s the ‘how’ too. Because once you’ve decided on your next angle of attack, things get even more granular. Say you’ve elected to take out an elevated goon. Say you’ve found his operation, in a back-alley in the middle of the city. How do you hit it?
You can go loud. Charge in through the gates with a volley of grenades, then use Mafia’s delightfully meaty cover-shooting to batter your way through to victory. Just watch out for those ‘Squealer’ units running for the phones when they see you. You’ll want to kill them before they can call for reinforcements. Or maybe you’ll partake in the subtle approach, using that cover to sneak through the yard to a quiet one-to-one with your target, his foot soldiers oblivious to your presence. Or how about you get even more creative? How about you sneak up onto the roof and set up an elaborate, almost Hitman-style strike, quietly sniping the Squealers as they wander into dark corners, before dropping sound-emitting lures to pull the rest of the goons toward those highly explosive ammo caches?
And when you eventually do reach your quarry, what do you do? Do you take him down for a clean kill, or do you turn him to your side, to reap perks and bonuses from his allegiance further down the line? A working knowledge of internal mob relations, say, could inform your plans rather handsomely later on.
But it’s as cinematic as you’d like, too
It’s not all intricate machinations. Mafia 3 knows when to unleash a good, cathartic slice of cinematic carnage, too. You see, each racket takedown culminates with a big, more traditionally linear level in which you finish off its respective boss. Back in April we played the climax of the construction racket phase. It’s a huge, multi-stage assault on a hotel penthouse, starting (by our choice) with the quiet infiltration of an underground car park in a known, stolen mob car, and culminating in a rampaging attack on the top floor and a rocket launcher-powered fight back down through the lobby. But at E3 we saw something even more impressive.
Tracking the head of the city’s ‘party’ industry to a lavish casino soiree on a paddle steamer, Lincoln cripples the boat by downing a huge industrial structure in its path. He then boards and shoots his way through the sinking vessel until he reaches the main man, at which point an explosion throws them both overboard, instigating a tense game of stealth-kill cat and mouse through the moonlit swamp. Make no mistake. Mafia 3 is looking as spectacular as it is cerebral.
The Mafia 3 soundtrack is marvellous
In-keeping with the series’ dedication to evocative historical authenticity, Mafia 3 has a soundtrack of 100+, period-specific songs. The ones announced so far are an eclectic bunch, and also damnably good. How good? Rolling Stones good. Otis Redding good. Jimi Hendrix good. House of the Rising Sun good. Mafia 3’s soundtrack is going to be a banger, and will permeate its entire world – via car radios, bars, and nightclubs – with the vibrant spirit of hope and unrest that typified the period.
You can absolutely feed people to alligators
Important point, this one. It is definitely, categorically, 100% confirmed that you can feed people to ‘gators in Mafia 3. We know because we have done this. Sneaking around in an early mission set in the bayou, we stealth-killed a couple of enemy gang members on the way to assassinate their boss. We did this on a small pier on the edge of the swamp. The second hapless goon, we downed right on the edge of the boardwalk, and upon slumping he fell straight into the Louisiana waters.
As we turned to walk away, though? A huge splash, a furious crashing of water, a clamping of jaws, and lo the body, it was gone. And the best part? None of this was scripted. All of Mafia 3’s ‘gators run on their own, reactive AI, meaning that at any point you might find empty swamps, a moderate munching, or an entire swarm of the fiends charging forth to clean up your handywork.
Pretty sure “swarm” is the right term for a collective of ‘gators. Yeah, sounds right. Let's go with that.
New Bordeaux is a sumptuously rich and varied open-world
Mafia 3’s not-New Orleans map is a huge environment of vast cultural and tonal diversity. From the cosy, run-down district of the Hollow in the south, to the pristine, affluent borough of Frisco Fields in the north, to the massive, rambling, secret-packed bayou swampland - not to mention the desperately iconic and vividly realised French Ward - a drive through Mafia 3 will take in a striking amount of variety, as town and cityscapes blend into that unique southern countryside, and ominous but beautiful stormclouds dynamically roll in.
And it's not just about visuals, either. The region you play in at any given moment will have a drastic effect on the way you play. Commit a crime in the impoverished (and largely black) area of the Hollow, and you'll likely find barely a cop around to trouble you. But just run along the street in the wrong neighbourhood of the (almost exclusively white) Frisco Fields, and you could be hounded and gunned down before you're even aware of what's happening. Social commentary related as an immersive, worked example through gameplay. It's very clever indeed.
The driving feels fantastic
And speaking of driving, Mafia 3’s road-based action is excellent. Calibrated as ‘Hollywood action driving’, it neatly blends satisfying control with anarchic, Blues Brothers-style kinetics. Throughout, Mafia's hefty muscle cars and the map's increased verticality over the (resolutely flat) real-life New Orleans lead to a huge number of gratifying bumps, smashes, leaps and crashes as you race to pursue, evade, and generally make a glorious nuisance of yourself.
The Mafia 3 story is as thoughtful and human as they come
But for all of the spectacle, the affecting emotional drama of the Mafia series is still absolutely at the core of the game. The slow-burn prologue - which takes in Mafia 3’s first two hours or so - is an immensely dense, layered treatment of late ‘60s life in New Orleans, covering (and crucially, discussing and explaining) not only the complex ecosystem of multicultural crime families in play, but also the endemic racial and political problems fueling the turmoil of the time. The civil rights movement, the Vietnam war, and historical socio-political troubles abroad combine to drive and contextualise Lincoln's story of revenge, ensuring that everything is wrapped in a thick layer of pathos and meaning.
Even when it's linear, it's still all about player-choice
In-mission, Mafia 3 might be one of the most freeform and open-ended crime sims around. Even in its more linear, guided, A-to-B sections, choice is everything. With open gunplay, pure stealth, misdirection and bigger-picture tactical planning all equally viable, executing objectives is as evocative of Splinter Cell and Hitman as it is of GTA. With multiple routes, branching paths, and secret areas to navigate above and below, Mafia 3’s level design is excellent, delivering an entirely player-driven playground feel even when it's pushing you forward.
And it's not averse to going ridiculous with the stand-out set-pieces either. One particular early one, involving a speed boat, a sewer, and a Little Richard soundtrack, is big favourite so far.
It’s getting a mobile RPG companion game
Yup it seems that (mercifully) we’re past the point where mobile companions are mere busywork annoyances designed to lock off in-game content and otherwise distract with meaningless faff. Mafia 3’s app, Mafia 3: Rivals is billed as an online, multiplayer battle RPG where you 'Recruit and train 40 crime bosses from the Mafia 3 universe as they join your crew, and destroy any foes getting in the way'. Pokemon with murderous crime lords, anyone?
It also sounds like there’s going to be a heavy co-op and vs. element, with 2K pledging the ability to team up with other players and wage war on yet more in a bid to dominate New Bordeaux. No word yet on whether there will be in-app purchases for knuckledusters and concrete boots, but it’s far from impossible.
Mafia 3 season pass
Mafia 3 has a season pass on the way ($30, with its three paid-for expansions clocking in at $40 if bought separately), alongside a bunch of free additions and updates. The latter sound pretty great on their own, to be honest, offering new weapons, outfits, and the all-important car modding additions that Mafia 2 fans will be craving en masse, alongside a selection of performance boosters to mix up the core gameplay. Also, road races.
In terms of big, narrative expansions, they sound a meaty and eclectic bunch. Faster, Baby! Is a driving-focused add-on, pitting Lincoln against a corrupt sheriff terrorising the civil rights movement, with a heavy emphasis on car chases and stunt driving. This should be the one to show off Mafia 3’s splendid driving model in all its glory. Then, taking a severe - and very interesting - shift in tone, Sign of the Times sees Lincoln tracking down the cult responsible for a series of ritualistic killings, travelling from the dark, misty mysteries of the bayou to the drug-fuelled counter-culture of the inner city.
Finally, Stones Unturned has Lincoln working with CIA agent John Donovan to deal with a returning rival, in a story that has links right back to Lincoln’s time in Vietnam. Looking at the concept art, it seems like we might actually be playing in the jungle too, by way of flashback, making a nice parallel with Mafia 2's World War 2 intro.