Not the biggest gamer in the world, but a couple of nights ago I finished Mafia III on the PS4. I used to love games as a kid, being a NES devotee, until the N64 and Playstation came along in my teens, but then I unconsciously stepped away. Games just didn’t grab me anymore – the throwaway nature of games as a kid were great at the time, but now, with kids and responsibilities, there were always more stimulating ways to spend my free time.
That has changed in recent years as the storytelling and characters in games have improved, and I found that I could enjoy games again in the way that you watch a film, only that now you can participate. And my renaissance in this regard reached what I feel was a peak with Mafia III.
As I said, I’m no gamer – but I am a consumer. The money I spend on games is as good as anybody’s and while I recognise that Mafia III is flawed in many ways, I found it superlative in others – particularly story and character, and the sheer effort and bravery that has gone into telling a story like this. The developers know it too, and know what players are to face as soon as they get started – sso much so that they include the following statement right after you select NEW GAME:
Set in the fictionalised New Bordeaux (read New Orleans) in the late 1960′s, it tackles racial tension and oppression head on. It’s brave. It’s not for everyone. It’s ugly. But it’s accurate. And playing as a black protagonist, you feel it. It lends a real weight to the developing plot strands and choices you must make.
The attention to detail in creating the world is striking. You expect games now to be beautiful, with great colours and textures, but now the devil is in the details, which is another area in which the game succeeds.
The characters are excellent, and are an area where the developers really hit their marks. The voice acting and motion capture performances are excellent. I cared about everyone, I rolled the punches with them, the dialogue crackled and I wanted to finish it because of them. To see what happened, and where I’d end up. To beat the people that were putting me down. It was challenging at times, and asked things of me I hadn’t thought of before. It was pretty eye-opening.
I believe every dog has it’s day. Every movie it’s moment. Every book it’s reader. And in the context of what Mafia III tries to achieve, there is plenty to take from it. It’s brave and bold, not without it’s flaws, but as an exercise in storytelling, in gaming, I have yet to come across anything better.