When I joined these forums on this day 15 years ago, I was on my first play through of Mafia. It was a cinematic masterpiece with a well told story, hard-as-nails missions, and a world with an atmosphere that pulled me in like a dream. They really had something of novelty, something that had never been done before in video games, and it was all executed with class.
Jump forward to 2010 and the sequel drops. Solid game, but just not the masterpiece like that of the first one. The novelty was never going to reach that of the first game.
And then comes the dreaded third entry. There is something very telling about third entries in series; either they were well thought out from a long ways off or they were hastily thrown together in a vain attempt to remain relevant in the eye of trendy pop culture. Mafia III definitely feels like the latter. What's so laughable about the story of Mafia III is that the cinematic cutscenes and voice acting are actually very well done while the story is pure pulp that would be worthy of posterior cleanup duties on a camping trip. Really, the story feels like its source of inspiration was nothing more than Denzel Washington movies. Then there's the CIA background that they gave Lincoln which is just a bunch of lazy hackneyed Hollywood horsesh*t upon which the plot is built. Without that, they'd have no way to move the story forward. This makes Lincoln feel like little more than a CIA-trained psychopath with little to no emotion who trudges around in the deep south occasionally putting up with attacks from Ray's sis. By contrast, Tommy Angelo was nothing more than an innocent cabbie who would've just kept to himself had the Mafia not interfered with his life, which made his entry into the story much more dramatic and meaningful.
The next problem with this entry is the paper-thin RPG elements that were tacked on to an already shallow story. Taking over New Bordeaux never feels thoughtful, strategic, rewarding or meaningful. It's just one shootout after another often feeling more repetitive than fun. What's really obnoxious though is how Lincoln's skill tree progresses. Help advance this underboss to get these skills and upgrades, but oh wait a tick, you didn't help them out enough so now we take those skills and upgrades away. Lame. Any RPG worth its salt gives the player great freedom in how they advance and how much they advance with plenty of worthwhile attributes to advance. Leaving these few facile attributes dependent upon whether some sassy underboss is satisfied or not makes for an unrewarding grind towards nonsense.
And then there are the technical shortcomings of this entry. The car handling is a step backwards from Mafia II e.g. simulation mode is broken crap and is nowhere near as good as it was in II. Like many titles, it suffers the fate of being watered down for the casual masses. Next is the generic copycat cover system that has spread through titles like the plague for the last decade. It's a clumsy mess either with a controller or k/m. Fortunately most of the launch-day glitches had been patched up by the time I played this a couple months back.
On a positive note, I felt that New Bordeaux was a decent map to explore. If nothing else I had fun driving around tapping junction boxes and collecting collectibles. The alligators were a nice touch as well.
While I hate to be so pessimistic, I can't help but feel this genre has nowhere left to go. Developers have tried so hard for so long to rival cinema and it often comes at the cost of the gameplay itself. It leads to limited resources which leads to slapdash attempts at an RPG infrastructure that ends up feeling empty and pointless. What's sad is how they put so much into creating these open worlds that are ripe with potential only to have that potential squandered by an uninspired story and a total lack of vision.
Maybe one day some competent developers like Obsidian will create a proper mafia-based RPG game. Until that day, I think this was the nail in the coffin for the Mafia series.
But hey, don't take my word for it. If you're on the fence with this one, play the game and decide for yourself.