If you ask us, there's something intrinsically appealing about 60s America as the setting for a game - especially one of the open world variety. Maybe it's the giant cars, maybe it's the fact there were so many great chase films made around that period, or maybe it's the big hair dos and even bigger trousers - but there's something about this period of time that gives any game an instant air of cool, whether it's the much missed Driver series, or the brand new Mafia 3.
A game set in a fictional take on New Orleans - dubbed in game as New Bordeaux - this is an open world crime adventure, with a plot that revolves around the city's Mafia - as you may have guessed from the title. Putting you into the shoes of Lincoln Clay, a Vietnam war veteran, you're a man on a mission, and looking for revenge, after the closest thing you've ever had to a family - the black mob - are callously betrayed by the Italian Mafia. Putting together a gang of misfits and renegades, he sets out on a quest to avenge his fallen friends, and bring the Mafia heads to justice.
If a picture says a thousand words, but a trailer says about a gajillion, it's probably worth checking out the brand new gamescom trailer before we head any further to have an idea of what we're dealing with here.
Seemingly, if there's one thing 2K know how to do, it's make a damn good trailer.
So, at the recent gamescom show over in Germany, we got the chance to sit down with the developers of Mafia 3 for a gameplay preview, as the team peeled back the curtain, and revealed a little bit about how the game's going to play out. As an open-world game, you'll be free to take any one of a number of 60s cabriolets and Cadillac(-style cars - refreshingly, there's no official licenses here), and go jumping over bridges, screeching round corners, and generally causing trouble, as you burn rubber across nine separate, and varied districts. In fact, one of the main objectives for the game is to make a living, breathing game world, where the city itself is as much of a character as any of the crooks and proles you'll meet, with around a dozen districts to explore, each as distinct and original as the last, as Executive Producer at Hangar 13, Andy Wilson explained:
"In the south end of the city, there's the mysterious Bayou, an area ripe for exploration. This is also where the Italians run guns and produce moonshine. To the west, we have vibrant Delray Hollow, which was home to Lincoln and his family before they were betrayed. This area's now controlled by the Dixie mob, who suck up to the Italians. To the North is the majestic Fresco Fields, with its manicured lawns, stately mansions. In this district, the Marcano family in league with the southern union (the game's take on the ku klux klan).
And then, in the very centre of the city is downtown, a bustling area where you'll see historic plazas sat next to towering skyscrapers. It's here where Tony Derazio, the mob's book-keeper blackmails local politicians, and scams the city through sham construction sites."
As it turns out, the aforementioned Tony Derazio was key to our demo. An all round bad egg, Tony is a callous Mafia crook (and a rather well written one at that), running a protection racket to keep the money coming in. As our presentation gets going, a cutscene showed the ruthless Derazio, complete with fantastic southern accent, shoot dead a shop keeper for daring to be late with the money, before handing the keys to the shopkeep's friend, Dominic, and demanding he deliver the money to Derazio at the hotel, giving him a code he can use to access the hotel's lift. As Clay's had a friend place countless bugs around the city, you know all this is going on - and now you know the code, you have the chance to get at Derazio, and earn your revenge.
It's here the gameplay begins proper, as we find ourselves on the streets of Downtown New Bordeaux, with neon signs glistening, and steam rising from the drain covers. Stocking up before our mission in the back of a van (a "mobile weapons supplier" of sorts), it was time to head to the hotel - but when it came to how we go about doing this, we had several choices. We could try to sneak in, stealing Dominic's car, before heading in through the car park, trying to get up to Derazio's lair without raising too much of an alarm. Or, we could shoot our way in through the lobby, raising hell as we did so, leaving a trail of destruction behind us. Unfortunately for us, this was put to a public vote in a room full of boring games journalists - and so rather than taking the interesting option, we ended up taking the stealthy approach instead. Boo!
So, before too long, we were in our fancy 60s American car, and speeding towards the hotel car park. Or at least, the rear entrance to the hotel car park. Taking the stealthy approach means you can never be too careful - although, from our demo, it seems obvious Mafia 3 isn't meant to be a true stealth game anyway. Creeping into the car park, our demoer snuck up behind a guy, whipped out a knife, and plunged the blade into his neck, before letting the guy slump to the ground, gurgling as he drowned in his own blood. We never have been able to watch things like that without feeling a little bit queasy - it's properly toe curling stuff, and we wish devs would stop doing it. Luckily, after taking one guy out with a blade, our demoer whipped out a silenced pistol, and took out the remaining guards with just a single shot each.
A few more dead baddies later, and it was off up into the lift, where a cutscene showed Mr Derazio preparing for our entrance. Coming up out of the lift, we step into a lobby, where a terrified receptionists runs away in total silence - and luckily for us, without raising the alarm.
The office itself isn't the easiest of things to sneak through - open and expansive, it takes up the entire floor of the hotel, and is crawling with Derazio's thugs, with his lair on the far side (if we remember correctly, up some stairs). An open plan office doesn't exactly give you much in the way of hiding places, but luckily, as mentioned earlier, the stealth doesn't seem too challenging here. Popping up from behind a booth divider, we pop one guy off with a quick shot from our pistol, leaving blood splashed across the carpet. There's a quick "heart missing a beat" moment as his friend turns round from the window he was staring out of, but luckily doesn't notice the blood across the floor, or his now dead friend - and we top him before he can twig what's going on anyway.
The floor cleared of baddies in the most stylish of ways, it was on for the final showdown with Mr Derazio, who, as the earlier cutscene suggested, was indeed prepared for our arrival. Looking straight at the bald Mafia boss, no sooner had the doors opened than a rocket from a rocket launcher flies our way, luckily hitting some shelves at the side of the room, sending exquisitely lacquered wood and polished glass flying. Unfortunately for Derazio, he didn't get the job done - and it doesn't take more than a few shots to topple the now vulnerable Mafioso.
Lying on the floor in agony, the game switches to another cutscene, which showed off the game's tremendous writing. Keeping a stiff lip 'til the end, the wounded Derazio lies on the floor, taunting Clay, "Go ahead. Kill me. I'll be replaced tomorrow. No-one will even notice". With a look of steely determination, Clay moves in close, lifts him up, and replies "You're wrong. Everyone will notice" before chucking him out of the window, and leaving him to plummet the 40 stories onto an unfortunate car below.
And so concluded our gameplay demo - which, in all honesty, has left us eager for more. While most other open world games focus on the present day, or the near future, Mafia 3 does two things differently, first by focusing on a period of time less-explored by games, in the form of 60s America (and one that offers a ready defined, iconic visual styling too), and secondly, by choosing an area very few games are set in, in the form of New Bordeaux/Orleans. While we're hoping the finished game will provide less in the way of toe curling moments (although seeing as one trailer has already shown a torture scene, we might not be that lucky), with what appears to be some top notch writing in place, and an easy to follow story that should provide a setting for some great drama, Mafia 3 is one to keep an eye on. The game launches on the 7th October.