1500 Words Gushing Over Mafia 3

I recently finished Mafia 3 after a good few months playing it. It was one of the first games I got when I upgraded to the newest console generation and I was pretty much playing it non-stop, leaving other newer games by the wayside just to come back to this one again and again.

And after finishing the game I’m certain this will be among my favourite games I will play on this system.

Not since Remember Me has a whole game caught with me rather than just one or two good parts of it. So I thought a little breakdown about the points that hooked me into staying in New Bordeaux for much longer than I would ever imagine…

“We Are A Cruel And Wicked People”– Why I love Mafia 3

  1. The Story And Characters.

The story is the high point of the game. Telling the story of bi-racial orphan and Vietnam veteran Lincoln Clay, the narrative is told in a documentary flashback format. Characters tell their story in interview format, evoking recent films like Precinct Seven Five.

This feeds into the linear game structure, as we are being told a story (much like the previous Mafia games) which helps keep the pace up which can sometimes suffer in a game where you can go anywhere, anytime.

Despite having this linear structure the multiple endings all fit the character depending on the player’s reading of Lincoln.

I was surprised we didn’t start in Vietnam, similar to Mafia 2 starting in WW2 Italy, but that added to the characters, leaving us open to interpret Lincoln actions in Vietnam from his and comrade Donavan’s stories.

The story is beautifully realised with several standout characters. We have the three main bosses, Burke, Cassandra, and Vito, each with their own unique quirks. Vito is especially interesting, it’s fun to see a once playable character from the other side (again), where his simple layers in Mafia 2 (due to being a playable character) become a lot greyer with age and antagonism.

The second-in-commands too are well defined and have some interesting layers to them, making them more than cardboard cut outs that sometimes arrive with games as big as this. Emmanuel, the once refugee-saver reduced to dope peddling, Alma, the businesswoman not afraid to use female charms for her own gain, and Nicki, a woman struggling with her sexuality in a time and place that does not care for it, they all add something to the game, all through optional dialogue (which I am a big fan of ever since I first encountered it in PoP 2008).

But highest praise must go to Alex Hernandez for his portrayal of Lincoln Clay. Convincingly switching from cocky and confident to anger, sadness, joviality and eventually blood-driven when the time comes, he is truly an asset to the game.

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(From L to R) Father James, Sal Marcano, “Cassandra”, Lincoln Clay, Vito Scaletta, Thomas Burke and John Donavan, some of the most layered characters I’ve played alongside. (Source: mafiagame.fandom.com)
  1. The Missions

One of the main criticisms of Mafia is its mission structure. Very much like the first Assassin’s Creed, the game centers itself around taking down members of the Marcano crime family one district at a time.

Once you talk to a contact in the district you have several tasks dealt out to you, but these always follow the same path; kill some people, interrogate a member of the crime family or destroy their shipments. Once done then you can take over the rackets in that area before going after the main controller of the area.

This is just going to be one of those cases where I find enjoyment that others don’t. I think it might be because I really enjoyed the driving and combat (more on the latter next) so I had fun being given new scenarios lasting a few minutes to make my way through.

Hangar 13 said their approach to the missions, at least side missions, was “Lincoln doesn’t go fishing”. Essentially, this means the mission must make sense for the character to do (why does psychopathic murderer Michael De Santa do yoga in GTAV?). This feeds back into the story, again, keeping the pace and flow up rather than bogging the game down.

The Marcano capo missions are fun due to their added story and setting with each one being a completely unique situation; a shootout on a sinking steamboat, sneaking into a swanky whites-only party, breaking up a KKK-inspired cross burning, the list goes on and on (all involving excellent and period-fitting musical accompaniment such as the Rolling Stones, Del Shannon, and Janis Joplin).

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With missions in mob-enforced saunas, partially built casinos, supremacist rallies, burlesque houses and drug dens, Mafia 3 can at least boast of having some memorable places for action sequences. (Source: geforce.com)

While most devolve into shootouts the combat is so fun I never got bored. Speaking of which…

  1. The Combat

I can’t actually remember how long it’s been to have a combat system this satisfying, but it was probably at least back on the PS2 (I’m going to have a wild guess and say 007: Everything Or Nothing).

It’s your standard shooting, melee, and stealth tri-factor, but each one is done so well.

The gunplay feels responsive and sounds meaty, with a vast array of weapons to choose from.

At the start I was on-the-fly, picking up weapons due to limited ammo. Then I specialized in a sawn-off shotgun and sniper for both range advantages, before coming round to silenced pistol and assault weapons for an action/stealth combination. This is a perfect distillation of Hangar 13’s motto, “Every player’s story is unique”, and can be seen in the multiple approaches to combat as well as hidden pathways through the missions.

The animations in combat as well are a nice detail. With lovely smooth transitions from running (where Lincoln holds the gun one handed), to ADS, to the short sidestep after coming out of sights, the little points make the game feel rich and loved by the creators.

While the melee can become stale after the fiftieth whistle-come-stab, it does have moments of intense fun especially with the running takedowns. Only in a handful of games have I audibly “oohhhed” at the brutality I’ve dished out on NPCs (Sleeping Dogs is probably the main one), and Mafia 3’s American Football-style takedowns are poetry in motion.

You can choose between lethal and non-lethal attack as well. Even if the change is hidden in the pause menu rather than switching in gameplay it’s nice that you at least have the option. Especially since most games just give you “kill” as a catch-all for their combat.

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The feeling of combat is one of the better from an open world game, and has several variables and the opportunity to customise. (Source: geforce.com)
  1. The Open World and Travel

The world of New Bordeaux is a lovely city to drive around in. The cars seem more arcade-y than the previous Mafia games (there is an option of a Simulation mode for purists in the option menu). Lincoln’s signature vehicle is a classic, wheel spinning, fire spitting, drifting muscle car, and sliding across three lanes of traffic or 180 hand brake turns are easy to pull off and create that sense of spectacle and wonder we want from games.

As usual in Mafia games the setting is an approximation of a real city (this one being New Orleans), but has enough of its own style to stand out rather than feel like a copy/paste of Google Maps. The South has been the setting before in games, with indie hits like Virginia being in, well…Virginia, Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 1 in Georgia, GTA: Vice City in Vice City (a version of Miami) and Left 4 Dead 2 in a swathe of southern states.

I would say only the latter two come close to creating a sense of place as good as New Bordeaux with Vice City also having Haitian and Cuban influences (but better at creating a sense of time rather than place) and L4D2 having a wide range of locales like Mafia 3 (but most feeling more like shells rather than a fleshed-out world). Mafia 3 is the first one that actually feels like a living place with countless indoor locations, pedestrians, and drivers.

Talking of the variety of locations, Mafia 3 has a selection to rival most other open world games. With settings such as the bayou, junkyards, quarries, downtown areas, and its own version to the French Quarter, the city has a tremendous scope of backgrounds for Lincoln to dish out punishment on the Italian mob.

And despite having these completely distinct sections the map, New Bordeaux doesn’t feel disjointed when moving from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, which has happened within other open world titles focusing on rising criminal empires.

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With customisable cars and easy inputs to pull of a variety of stunt-worthy moves, the driving is a wholly enjoyable experience. (Source: microsoft.com)

End

The interesting part about my time with Mafia 3 is I was completely sick of open world games when I started. I was sick of the endless stream of side missions, the “revealing” of the world through climbing towers, the largely meandering story that can sometimes come with having a sandbox as big as it can be.

I had been wanting a more refined experience and Mafia 3 delivered. That’s what sets it apart from its contemporaries; GTA has the bustling modern metropolis filled to the brim, AC has the historical fiction,  Fallout has the nuclear dys/utopia, and The Witcher/Skyrim have the magical fantasy. The Mafia series works because it has a focused central story that fires straight as an arrow carving out its niche in the market.

And that niche made me adore Mafia 3. Add in a cracking sense of time and history, as well as vivid locations and brutal, satisfying combat sections, Mafia 3 is a gem in my game library.

 

Photo Banner Source: wccftech.com

Thoughts On The Tomb Raider Trailer

Back in June 2016 I wrote a piece on the then announcement of Alicia Vikander being cast in the role of Lara Croft for the new Tomb Raider film. There have been quite a few updates from when I last spoke about the film, the major point being the release of the poster and the first teaser trailer for the film. For those who haven’t seen the latter, let’s have a look right now, then I’ll go through parts I like along with some other general stuff

Okay, so let’s get into this.

First things first, the film has a reported release date of March 16 2018. At the time of writing that is still half a year away. Teaser trailers are usually sent out before the film has been signed off, so a lot of people complaining about poor CGI quality, it’s not fully representative of the final film. Yes, it’s odd to show it in a trailer if it’s not representative of a final film, but hey-ho, look at Suicide Squad. But while the CGI doesn’t look particularly good, the stunts are done for real. Looking at this behind-the-scenes featurette (warning: may contain spoilers), you can see for yourself that the sets are largely built and that the Stunt Co-ordinator is none other than Franklin Henson (whose list of credits is extensive). He has worked on similar themed films such as Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom and National Treasure: Book Of Secrets, which if they are anything are fun, pulpy adventure films that Tomb Raider should fit comfortably alongside.

One point I also want to make is that I love how many references to the 2013 game are in the trailer. The majority of the film is based on the 2013 reboot, along with dashes of the sequel to said reboot, which was released in mid-2015. These are more than just a wink-and-a-nod to the audience who are in the know, these are the scenes ripped direct from the screen to the…erm, slightly bigger screen. The slow-motion jump from the ship, falling through the broken glass of an airplane cockpit, climbing the broken wing of another airplane; these are all shots players of the reboot will recognise. This is probably to appeal to us fans since the film won’t be truly following the game, but that’s adaptations for you, what works for one medium won’t work for another. One scene from the game that hasn’t been shown in the trailer is Lara’s first kill. Lara is using her bow and axe in the trailer, so it’s guaranteed they’ll be some bloodshed, so I hope that this dramatic and memorable scene from the game, where Lara is covered in blood and in shock after killing someone for the first time is in there.

Sadly, there is no Sam or Sam-approximate featured (Lara’s possible beau in the reboot series), just a few lines from Kirsten Scott Thomas being the only female interaction in the trailer. Vikander stated that the film will pass the Bechdel Test, so there has to be some more female characters in there. In the same interview, Vikander also stated the film “…actually has relationships and stories…” so maybe it could be a subtle approach to the perceived “not-straightness” at play in Tomb Raider, which I’ve written about here.

The trailer and the behind-the-scenes featurette do sadly give away a bit too much of the plot for my liking. Maybe that’s my fault for watching too much, but to be honest, apart from the trailer and poster, I’ve stayed away from news about this film. I’m not going to go through the trailer and start dissecting all the scenes and speculate about what might happen in the story (despite previously doing it for Red Dead, Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed and many more on this exact site) because the trailer is pretty clear on the narrative beats, evil scheming and all. Thinking about it, it’s better than Assassin’s Creed, which hid half of its bogus story away from the trailer, making us all believe more than half of it was going to be in the Animus.

Talking of Assassin’s Creed, yeah I know. We’ve all been burned before. Assassin’s Creed was a personal one for me. I’m going to keep harping on about Macbeth forever, because it was the perfect precursor to what an Assassin’s Creed film could look like. That film was excellent, and yet despite having the exact same cast and crew, Assassin’s Creed was a confusing mess, despite showing us the exact opposite in it’s promotional material. Maybe I’m too forgiving of Hollywood, maybe I’m clutching at straws in the hopes of a game I love being adapted for a wider audience. All it has to do is not be terrible. That really shouldn’t be a big ask.

Finally, I just want to address the wave of backlash against Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft. Check out the comments for the trailer up above, or the comments in IGN’s thread on the trailer. I called this back in May, that Vikander was going to have a hard time because she wasn’t “real Lara” i.e. Lara from the 1990s. Despite Vikander herself, the trailer, the behind-the-scenes clips and the poster all saying or inferring that this is an origin story, some people are just not getting it. However, the lovely Easter Egg at the end of the trailer with the dual pistols is a neat nod to the series roots, especially since they look like the same pistols from Angelina Jolie’s TR films…

And hey, Nick Frost is in there, it’s always nice to see him.

Those are my thoughts (or looking back on it, ramble) on the Tomb Raider  trailer. Time will tell if the film is going to be any good, but I’m already excited.

 

Banner photo source: nerdist.com.

Thoughts On The Assassins Creed Film/Trailer

The first teaser trailer for the Assassins Creed film came out last night morning and as both a connoisseur of film and a fan of the games (up until Assassins Creed III, because that’s when it went too far into stupid territory) I thought I would give my thoughts on the trailer and then general ideas about the film and casting.

First, roll call of the men and women involved in bringing Assassins Creed to the cinema. Kurzel, Fassbender, Cotiallard, Kurzel (again?), Arkapaw and finally Kyd. To most people, they are just a load of names, so let’s break it down.

  1. Justin Kurzel. The director of Assassins Creed. Director of 2015’s Macbeth (prepare to see that film pop up a lot in the following paragraph) my number one film of 2015.
  2. Michael Fassbender. The main star. To see his best work, I recommend Hunger, Shame (if you’re feeling up for it) and 12 Years A Slave (all by Steve McQueen). Also Macbeth.
  3. Marion Cotillard. The first female role in the trailer. To see more of her work, look for the Edith Piaf musical biopic La Vie En Rose or if that ain’t your thing watch her work in Public Enemies. Also Macbeth.
  4. Jed Kurzel. The composer. Brother to director Justin. His best work includes Kodi Smit-Pchee and Fassbender’s Slow West last year. Also Macbeth.
  5. Adam Arkapaw. The cinematographer (aka the guy who makes the film look like it does). Responsible for the camera work in season one of True Detective and THAT six-minute long take (WARNING: Contains strong language and violence). Also Macbeth.
  6. Jesper Kyd. The other composer (although for Assassins Creed he’s in the “music department”). Composer of the AC games from the first through to Revelations and the superb Hitman game scores. Sadly no ties to Macbeth.

I could stop writing there. Six names. Damn good pedigree and an exciting intellectual property. Let’s look at the trailer.

 

Done? Okay. Let’s talk.

The Assassins Creed trailer is how you do a trailer. Oh yeah, there are problems with it, but what a trailer should do is tell you the story, not the plot. To see of a film that does the reverse, look at the trailer for The Double. It gave away its twist long before it was ever in theatres. What does Assassins Creed do? We learn about the Animus, Michael Fassbender’s double lead role, his abilities as an Assassin and our setting, but what have we learnt about the plot? Nothing.

The trailer is giving us the nice blend of the things that made Assassins Creed the series it now is. Hack-and-slash combat, free-running across exotic rooftops, a brooding misery-guts under the hood and some bonkers modern day stuff involving sinister corporations. It’s got the iconography down; the eagle, the colourful rooftop base-jumping (Spain here is represented by Malta), the mantras of the Assassins and the signature Leap of Faith at the end. According to Fassbender, that move is a real guy and a real stunt, “We’ve got [stuntman] Damien Walters doing a 120-foot leap of faith, without any rope, into a bag.” If the rest of the parkour-infused set pieces are practical as well then this will definitely be one to watch just for the stunts alone. Malta is also a good choice of location/filming. While big films like Captain Phillips and World War Z were filmed there, no film has shown off the architecture of the small island or it’s capital Valetta.

From the clips, the film looks great. Arkapaw is earning his name as one of the greatest cinematographers alive today with the compositions. The fights look to be wide-angle shots with good choreography, so hopefully the rest of the film doesn’t mirror something akin to the fights in Quantum of Solace. There will obviously be handheld camerawork for some fights (ever since Paul Greengrass popularised it in The Bourne Supremacy it will feature in every film with a fight scene) but hopefully most will keep their distance from the actors.

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Still from the trailer showing Fassbender in combat. Source: Games Radar.

The Animus was a sticking point for me. To any who don’t know, the Animus is a machine that when you are plugged in, you can jump back into the memories of your ancestors (Michael Fassbender will be playing two roles, one as Callum Lynch in the present and Aguilar the Assassin during the 1500s.) I thought this might throw a film audience. Gamers can suspend their disbelief while I think films need a bit more coercing. To anyone a bit confused, think of the Animus as similar to The Matrix. It’s a fake world that you can play around in to your hearts content. It might have been better to drop all present day stuff though. The games tried a similar double narrative and it only served to highlight how bland the present day character was in comparison to his ancestors. Eventually they did drop all pretence about a future-based war and got on with the free-running across European cities, but if the film handles it, again, like The Matrix did in the first film, it might just work.

The film moves away from the storylines of the game, which I think is for the best. The ability of the Animus is that we can have several unconnected films but they are all under the banner of Assassins Creed. I’m curious however on the choice of the Spanish Inquisition as a setting. Sure, it’s a great setting, mirroring the settings of the American War Of Independence in AC3 and the French Revolution in AC: Unity. But the choice of the Inquisition, the 1500s, mirrors the timeline of the “Ezio Auditore trilogy” three games following Italian Assassin Ezio Auditore during the Italian Renaissance. There is also a rumour of a Caribbean Assassin featuring in the film, which ties in with the Kenway Saga (which follows a grandfather to grandson storyline of the Golden Age of Piracy to the American War of Independence). If they do want to include these references to the games, I hope they keep them to a cameo at best. As a fan I want Assassins Creed to draw in more people than the games ever could and I think these titbits might detract from the story at play here.

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Will the other Assassins appear in the film? From L to R, Altair Ibn-La’ahad, Ezio Auditore, Connor Kenway, Edward Kenway, Aveline De Grandpre and Nikolai Orelov. Source: Google Images.

Lastly, that trailer music. Ugh. The AC series is known for it’s rather excellent musical choices for it’s trailers (Justice for AC2, Imagine Dragons for AC3 and Nils Frahm for Unity) but here we have Kanye West. Remember this is a teaser to start with and it’s more a marketing decision rather than a reflection of the film. Let’s wait until the next one, it can only get better.

And to end, I’ll rank my list of Assassins Creed games. Note: I have only played up until AC3, so everyone shouting “B-but Black Flag…”, I haven’t had a game system for a while, so calm down.

  1. Assassins Creed 2
  2. Assassins Creed Revelations (mainly for the city and multiplayer)
  3. Assassins Creed (best combat of the entire series and the Arabian setting was interesting. Also you actually assassinated people)
  4. Assassins Creed Brotherhood (felt like a step back after AC2 and a terrible story. This is where is became less about the assassinating and more about faffing about)
  5. Assassins Creed III (the only redeeming thing about it was the tomahawk combat)

 

Cover photo source: Google Images.