Platforms: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4

The year 1968 was a tumultuous time in American history. The Vietnam War was raging on. The Civil Rights Movement was in full effect. Dr. Martin Luther King and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated. Protests and riots in response to these events were a constant. This is the world that Mafia III is set.

You play as Vietnam vet Lincoln Clay, a black man who recently arrived home to New Bordeaux, a fictional version of New Orleans. He reconnects with his Black Mob family and is ready to get back in the action of making illegal money. The first gig is a heist in collaboration with the local Italian mob that’s successful. Yet when Clay returns to celebrate with his crew, things turn sour when Sal Marcano, the New Bordeaux Italian mob boss shows up, kills Clay’s people, and sets the Black Mob-owned bar on fire. Clay miraculously survives the event and vows to get revenge on Marcano and all his affiliates, thus begins the intriguing and in-depth story of Mafia III.

The south in the 1960s

When I started Mafia III, at the outset, there’s a warning from developer Hangar 13 that the game I was about to play is authentic to the climate of the South in the 1960s and that some of the language used might offend some folks. Along with the curse words, it’s the 1960s, so racism is upfront and out in the open. N-bombs are thrown left and right like a Tarantino movie along with ethnic slurs directed toward Vietnamese, Italians, and Latinos.

When walking the streets of New Bordeaux you’ll overhear conversations about the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., interracial dating, and police killing black men over minor offenses. Playing as Lincoln Clay, even the non-playable characters that you interact with will drop a slur here and there, in what seemed as a reminder that although Clay is needed at the moment, he needs to know what people think of him in that world. It's a pretty intense gut check of what people of color went through in that era, and in some aspects still go through today, although not as openly.

The design and look of the city is gorgeous. I played the PC version of the game switching back and forth between our office’s Jackhammer editorial PC and my personal MSI GS60 Ghost Pro laptop. With Jackhammer on the highest setting and the MSI on medium settings, I was able to get a consistent framerate of 45 to 55 frames per second, thanks to the post-launch patch 2K Games deployed, unlocking the framerate from 30 to 60. While I didn’t experience any glitches or bugs while playing on Jackhammer, I did get some weird instances on my laptop like a fence I crashed into continue twirling in the air or walking into a building that made my whole screen white.

But when everything was working right, the animations were smooth, the environment was immersive, and I felt like I was plunked down right in the middle of an active bustling city. Even the sunsets had me virtually squinting my eyes so I can see the road better when driving.

An eye for an eye

Now that Clay has his sights set on taking down Sal Marcano, the plan to accomplish this goal can be a bit tedious. It works like his: take of a couple of rackets in a district, get the attention of a racket’s boss, take out or recruit the boss, which gets the attention of one of Marcano’s lieutenants or capos, take him out, then take over the district, and hand it over to one of your underbosses.

While the game began with some fun action in the heist, followed by recruiting underbosses Cassandra, Vito, and Burke by rescuing them or helping them out with a task, the majority of the game consists of taking down rackets. These rackets range from drugs and car theft to a prostitution ring or construction business. There was even an underground slave trade.

While the first few rackets I busted up were fun, it did get monotonous after a while. Taking down a single racket basically requires you to visit a location, interrogate a target, kill a target, or destroy a target. Every location is guarded by goons, and while you have the option of accomplishing the missions by going stealth, I sometimes get impatient and just go in guns blazing. So it’s basically a gunfight every time I visit. I had an easy time with the controls. Aiming and shooting was a breeze, and using items or switching weapons and explosives was quick and simple using an Xbox One controller. Some players have complained about the cover system, but I didn’t have any issues with it and the driving in the game is solid too.

The underbosses provided me a number of tools, abilities and perks to spice up the missions. Vito, for example, will send over some of his homies to help you out in a gunfight for an easy $3,000 to $5,000 a pop. While Cassandra hooked up a mobile armory that you can call at any time to restock on ammo, health, bulletproof vests, and buy new weapons.

To change things up, I’d call Vito’s fam to bust up a racket and when the guy I’m supposed to interrogate comes running out of the building, I’m right there waiting. Other times, I would plant a C4 explosive on a truck or vehicle, toss one of Cassandra’s noise and smoke-making voodoo dolls under it and when the goons came to investigate the sound and smoke, I’d blow it up. I also used the voodoo doll to lure henchmen to areas and blow them up with grenades. While this was fun to change up the pace every now and then, breaking up the rackets felt like a chore and I wish there was more variety like when it was time to take down the Capos. The Capo missions varied from exercising your melee skills in a boxing ring to chasing down a guy on a sinking river boat. Again, you have to take down the rackets before the Capo missions open up. By the way, there isn’t fast travel in the game so don’t be surprised when you have to drive from one end of the map to the other to start a mission. This definitely adds to the tediousness of taking down the rackets.

Sound and story

Despite the monotony of the missions, what really kept me going in Mafia III was the writing, acting, and the music. I enjoyed the overall revenge story and Lincoln Clay’s tactics on bringing down Sal Marcano’s hold on New Bordeaux. But even the smaller missions have interesting mini-stories of their own. One mission tasked you with rescuing a boxer who was being held captive until he agreed to throw a fight. Another mission had you take out a corrupt judge who was in the headlines for presiding over a trial where a white man killed two black men when they showed up to his house asking for help. The man was claiming self-defense. Another has you going after a wanna-be Ku Klux Klan group called the Southern Union Brotherhood. Once you complete a mission, or take out a prominent figure, you’d hear about it on the radio soon after.

The major highlight of the game, however, is most definitely the soundtrack. The music from the 1960s plays throughout the entire game along with a score that fits right in with the era. Songs from The Rolling Stones, Sam Cooke, The Animals, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Sam & Dave, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash, The Temptations, and tons more play nonstop when driving, or when walking by a bar or warehouse. Early in the game, I would sit in the car before starting a mission to finish listening to a song. The soundtrack also made those cross county treks from one side of the map to the other just a bit easier to sit through (still though, I wanted some fast travel!).

Along with the music, the acting is top notch as well. The story is told in part in a present day documentary, mixed with real life images and clips from the 1960s, and a congressional hearing where congressmen are trying to find out what really happened between Sal Marcano and Lincoln Clay, along with the cut scenes before and after missions. I felt like the story flowed naturally, without interruption to gameplay and with plenty of backstory for major characters, things happening in the city, and the results from these events.