If there's one thing the Mafia series has always been good at, it's creating a believable sense of time and place in a specific era of American culture. For Mafia 3, it's the South in the late 1960s, a tumultuous period in American history filled with racial tension and gangland violence. While Lincoln Clay may be its main character - a young Vietnam vet betrayed by the Italian mob - it's really the city, New Bordeaux, which feels like the star.
During a hands-off presentation (which you can watch below in its entirety), I got to see how Mafia 3's city is trying to breathe new life into the open-world genre. Like New Orleans from an alternate universe, New Bordeaux features a lot of the hallmarks of the iconic Louisiana metropolis. Its architecture ranges from modern, neon-covered buildings, to creole cottages, ornate mansions, and the stacked balconies of the French Quarter. Jazz, classic rock, blues, and more pipe out of all corners of the city, whether it's one of the dozens of licensed songs ranging from Creedence Clearwater Revival to Jimi Hendrix, or the original score which accompanies you on missions. The music I heard in the presentation was incredible, adding a real cinematic flair that most games can't even touch. If anything, Mafia 3's sense of time and place looks to be up there with any of Rockstar's output.
The city isn't just a backdrop, though. As Lincoln Clay, you're trying to take down the mob one job at a time, and the loads of side-missions littered around the world aren't just there for a little bit of monetary reward. Each one you complete inches the story forward, as you cut into the mob family's profits by blowing up boats, attacking drug dealers, or taking out mid-level goons. Once you've brought their income sufficiently down, the next big story mission opens up. And in the presentation I saw, it was a high-octane assault on a sinking steamboat. Clay began stealthily taking out as many guards as he could before going loud, working his way through the cabins, and eventually finding his target out in the swamp (while Creedence's 'Green River' blasts in the background). But the combat here looks like a pretty bog standard cover-shooter - it's in the aftermath of these missions that Mafia 3 tries to do something interesting.
Once you've taken a district, you can give it to one of your underbosses (including Vito Scalletta, the protagonist from Mafia 2), each one providing unique help and bonuses to the cause. In the video, you can see that if you give the district to Vito, your hit squads will come equipped with better guns, but you'll end up losing Cassandra's Switchboard Operator ability, as well as some cash. You have to be careful here even outside of weighing pros and cons - snub one of your underbosses for too long, and they'll quit your gang in a huff. You'll be forced to take them out before they do the same to you.
All of these things combine in Mafia 3 to give you a sense that you're making your mark on New Bordeaux and making it your own, but it's hard to say how it'll all come together to feel like something more than a bunch of icons on a map without getting a deeper look inside. We'll find out pretty soon, though, as Mafia 3 hits PS4, Xbox One, and PC on October 7.