Past Mafia video games explored what life (and a whole lot of gangster-induced death) looked like in the 1930s, '40s and 50s from within the ranks of the Mafia.
Now, Mafia III takes third-person aim at that milieu from outside that fabled Italian mob.
Livin' and Lootin' in Louisiana
It's 1968 this go 'round, and one Lincoln Clay is returning to New Bordeaux, La., after his recent stint as a special forces soldier in Vietnam. But it's not all slap-on-the-back celebrations and happy homecomings for this battle-weary vet.
You see, Lincoln is a biracial orphan who was raised by Sammy Robinson, the head of the local black mob. And before Lincoln can even hit the couch and put up his feet for a moment of well-deserved rest, Sammy wants him to start using some of his war-honed skills to take care of a few little family "problems."
Of course, those "little" issues with local Haitian and Italian mobsters aren't quite as insignificant as dear-old adopted Dad made Lincoln think. And before you can spit out a racial epitaph or three (and believe me there are plenty of those to go around), Lincoln is neck-deep in robbery, murder and a vengeful vendetta.
That's pretty much all you need to know, story-wise.
Suffice it to say this is not a game of subtle nuances and thoughtful dialogue. (There is a pastor named Father James who briefly ponders the violent nature of man and the dark things that men take away from war. But even he turns to murder eventually, too. So, really, never mind.)
No, this is an action/adventure shooter with an accent on dark and depressing.
Gameplay involves pursuing scores of assassinations and bloody interrogations on a huge, open-world map that's bigger than the previous two Mafia games combined. Gory bloodletting takes place in Grand Theft Auto-like car chases, brain-splattering, run-and-gun takedowns, stealthily gruesome flesh rends and explosive, burn-'em-all gang battles.
Lincoln break necks with baseball bats, drive knives into eye sockets, brutally blow off faces, toss partially nude women off balconies and sever backbones with shotgun blasts. Police, pushers, prostitutes, no matter: Everybody dies. And in a couple of particularly wince-inducing murders, Lincoln slowly jams his huge hunting knife blade into someone's jawline and deep into the guts of foes and former friends.
Now, that all may sound like pretty typical stuff for bloody shooter games of this stripe. But Mafia III takes things to a new level of disturbing discomfort. Vile racial slurs, abundant f-bomb-laden tirades, rancid sex talk and digitalized nudity all get poured out over the top of the game's unchecked murder and mayhem like a hundred gallon cistern of gaming goo. Mafia III takes its explicit moral anarchy to such messy new lows it makes you wish they made brain showers.
Oh, and if you're looking for a hero, well you're out of luck. While Lincoln may start out with only a moderate bit o' tarnish and the desire to do right by the wronged, he eventually devolves into someone who's just as corroded, sordid and morally putrid as all the Cosa Nostra thugs he's brutally offing.
Maybe that's the point—if you want to go so far as to assign meaning to this bayou belt-down mess, that is. But quite frankly, this game and its murderous characters are definitely birds of a feather: There's nothing redemptive or redeeming in the whole lot. And certainly nothing you'd want to see wander into your family room.