Period piece games are relatively few, but when AAA games go all out in them, they go all out. Grand Theft Auto explored the 80's and 90's in a joking manner, but also nailed it in terms of style and music. Assassin's Creed had numerous buggy issues, but how they recreated entire area and cities with what buildings looked like back then and even buildings that no longer exist being up is astounding. For the Mafia series, they've kept it as a sort of a 'GTA: History Channel style'. And while some mechanics are off, it turned out to be a really good experience.
The Story is pretty good. You're Lincoln Clay, a black soldier home from war. He is welcomed back into the black mob for a final mission, but things go sideways (As the trailers have pretty much shown). Surviving and full of anger, he uses Vietnam style tactics as revenge, teaming up with former enemies and setting up a new empire in New Bordeaux – New Orleans is all but name. The revenge plot is often used, and at time motivations become a bit strained, but in the end the story evolves in new and interesting ways, some of which you had no idea were coming. Parts of a documentary are also shown throughout, giving some good backstory, and also ups the drama. Overall, again, pretty good.
Controls were pretty good too. I have the PS4 version, and they are simple enough. The one I had a problem with was the different run button from GTA V and numerous other games. I kept hitting down on the thumbsticks and kept forgetting that wasn't how you sprint. Aiming is also a little hard (t first) to lock on , but any of those issues can be fixed in the options menu. A few buttons take a little getting used to, but otherwise, it's fine.
The atmosphere was my favorite part of the game. They truly made it feel like the sixties. New Bordeaux is a great city, and the buildings, cars and clothes all fit in. Especially the music. The score is that typically Southern twang, but the music stations capture it perfectly with pre-Kennedy pop hits, Motown, Rock, Swamp Rock, Beach Rock, Soul, R&B and even some New Orleans local sounds. It was hard to choose which radio station to play - the music was so well chosen, like three different Guardians of the Galaxy soundtracks. All together it really feels like the sixties – it's different enough to be different but still modern enough to look familiar. You can spend hours just driving and walking through. Racism hits hard for authenticity too, as there are some Whites only stores still there, the Klan being active and other terrible relics of the past. It adds to the atmosphere too – if they didn't have them, it would have felt fake or white-washed. But no punches are pulled, and 1968 Southern Louisiana is here, warts and all.
Sound works great too. Cars sound right for the period, as do effects like the radio station getting garbled in tunnels and in parking garages. Actors also convincingly say lines, and it really feels like a story thanks to that. A down note is enemy dialogue because it's heavily recycled and needlessly taunting. I counted a taunt every three seconds. What kind of enemy does it that much, if at all? Again, mostly good marks, but it did get loopy at points.
When it comes to graphics, it's hit or miss. NPCs are still rather generic and seem to still have a limited wardrobe, but they are a little expressive. For the cutscenes, it's impressive. Facial rendering is impressive and it all looks very real. But once in the game, while more realistic to other similar sandbox games, it also looks wrong at times. Colors on things like cars look a little too solid at times. Shooting cars sometimes shows bullet holes, sometimes not. NPCs hit by your car will go flying up at times, or just stay on the ground and don't move (not even rolling since they are stuck in an animation) – neither of which happen in those scenarios. Rain graphics are also messed up – when it rains it just looks like there are huge streaks of something that isn't water coming down. It's like giant scratches. When I drove in rain it was actually distracting.
The mechanics of most of the game are similar to those who played Far Cry 3. You enter an area with baddies, you figure out the way in, hope not to piss off the sentries, and execute. After the 5th time it seemed repetitive. Still entertaining, but samey. Chase missions were also samey after awhile. Cars are really bad at taking turns in Mafia III, and I can't tell you how many times I failed driving missions. They're supposed to handle like cars from the time, and if they do, I have to wonder how they didn't crash every time someone went above 15 in a turn.
Finally there are bugs/glitches. And there are some. Some missions revolve around collecting cars, and these would randomly get destroyed because of where they were automatically placed on the map, so more had to spawn. Fighting can be a bit off too, as punches that seem on target sail wildly if you aren't 'locked' into combat. My favorite is actually a good glitch. All the trees outlines are supposed to be during the day, so if you're out at night in the bayou they all seem to shimmer in light. But this has such a cool and magical effect – they look like they're ringed around by lightning bugs, and it looks hauntingly beautiful. There are many other small ones, but these are the ones I noticed.
It's hard to hate a game that nails a time and place so accurately. The atmosphere and plot (especially the more poignant parts) are sound, the music is amazing, characters are a bit muddled but good and it's extremely fun to punch racists. There are many hiccups though – car mechanics, some of the graphics, the repetitiveness of many parts among them. But the atmosphere is what gets you here and can forgive anything wrong. It was like seeing mistakes in Vice City – you're having so much fun with the experience that little things that go wrong don't bother you that much. Mafia III is definitely worth getting, even if it's just for a glimpse into a time and place that is so familiar yet so alien too. Be prepared to have Steppenwolf's “Desperation” stuck in your head for several days though.