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Mafia III review: Open-world crime and all that jazz

Mafia III seems to have all the right pieces, but ultimately fails to put them together and deliver on its potential.

Jeff Bakalar Editor at Large
Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.
Jeff Bakalar
2 min read

It's been six years since we last saw a Mafia game. Mafia III, pitched as a gritty revenge tale by California-based developer Hangar 13, follows the story of Lincoln Clay, a Vietnam veteran who returns from the war to find his hometown of New Bordeaux being run by mobsters.

The Good

Mafia III is incredibly stylish, with great acting, soundtrack and setting. Its brand of action and gun play is as entertaining as it is brutal. The first 90 minutes of the game are great.

The Bad

It suffers from a serious lack of diversity in mission types. It's occasionally glitchy and it becomes tired and repetitive.

The Bottom Line

The action and chaos of New Bordeaux kicks off with a bang, but in the end Mafia III reverts back to a very familiar open-world game that never picks up enough momentum.

In what's truly a powerful opening 90 minutes, Mafia III sets the stage for a terrific story filled with violence and vindication, but what plays out is far more pedestrian, a real anticlimax. The game absolutely nails it in the soundtrack and atmosphere -- New Bordeaux is a solid doppleganger of New Orleans -- but it fails to explore much beyond the all-too-familiar trappings of tired open-world action and driving games.

Hangar 13

Mafia III's brand of action includes brutal gun play, stealth and of course, city driving. But just four hours into it, I knew exactly what I was getting. The game's biggest problem is that things just aren't as varied as other open-world crime games out there. Very quickly, it turns into a snake eating its own tail, failing to provide enough variety to build significant momentum.

It's easy to draw comparisons to Grand Theft Auto V -- and I'd even argue the shooting action is better in Mafia III -- but GTA's wealth of diverse missions is sadly missing here.

Mafia III does accomplish some impressive feats, aside from the stellar soundtrack and engaging setting. Its story is exceptionally well delivered, thanks to heavy-hitting acting and writing, and a unique mix of documentary-style cutscenes and flashbacks.

Hangar 13

Unfortunately, that's where my admiration ends. In my time playing the game on a Maingear PC running two Nvidia GTX 980 GPUs, I experienced significant graphical wonkiness, including a pair of flatout crashes. I also tried out the PS4 version -- it too had its share of glitchy visuals.

Both versions suffered from the kind of weirdness that tends to pop up in open-world games: strange clipping issues, pop-ins and more.

Structurally, it's laid out in familiar fashion. In order to enact his revenge, Lincoln must systematically neutralize the city's mob, taking down criminal rackets and assigning his own disciples to take them over.

There's enough to do outside of story missions, but they're tough to recommend spending too much time completing. Thankfully, Mafia III doesn't penalize you for abandoning some of that monotony, so you can concentrate on seeing the main campaign all the way through.

There seemed to be a great amount of potential in Mafia III leading up to its release. A lot of the right pieces to the puzzle were there, but in the end the whole thing fails to come together. It shows shades of innovation, especially at its start, but never really builds beyond a core set of gameplay redundancies. Give credit to the game for dealing with some ugly racial and social issues in a way that doesn't seem forced or out of place, but unfortunately there's just not much to love in Mafia III.

Hangar 13