Open Thread is where Waypoint staff talk about games and other things we find interesting. This is where you'll see us chat about games, music, movies, TV, and even sports, and welcome you to participate in the discussion.
Content warning for discussion of racism and racial slurs. Disclosure: a personal friend of mine worked on the game.
I always like when there’s an excuse (we use the term “news peg” around here, thank you very much) to talk about a great game from the last couple of years. Mafia III, Hangar 13’s ambitious, laudable open-world crime game from 2016 has been free on PS+ this month, and will be for the next few days. If you haven’t played it, I encourage you to do so—it’s a good game, and maybe more pressingly, an important one, a rare example of a big budget game that says something, in a clear, powerful voice, about race in America.
This is an open-world crime game that takes place in 1968, in the (basically New Orleans) fictional city of New Bordeax. The protagonist is a black Vietnam vet named Lincoln Clay, and racism is a part of the daily fabric of his reality. There are racial slurs hurled left and right, and in certain neighborhoods in the game—majority white ones—the police will notice, follow, and harass you faster than in majority black areas. And the game lets you—no, requires you—to rain beautiful justice upon some of the most egregious racists in its fiction, including one scene where you get to destroy a KKK group.
We’ve written about this game pretty extensively, for good reason. Austin wrote about the game from early impressions and hoped the game would go hard on these elements:
I want Hangar 13 to lean in harder, to tackle the racial and political tensions of the 60s directly. When it releases in October, I want to adore Mafia III. The hours I spent with it showed me a game that is taking risks while simultaneously delivering on the fundamentals. I want Hangar 13 to bring to bear the skill they've used to make New Bordeaux feel vibrant and alive to this new challenge. If they can bring the harsh noise into tune, they might find the harmony between historical drama and pulpy crime thriller.
And he spoke with the game’s Senior Writer, Charles Webb, about how, precisely, the team came to the decision to make players confront racism in a head-on way.
Yusef Cole wrote a brilliant piece for Waypoint during our week on guns and games where he recounted the historic and political significance of the imagery the game brings to bear.
“Crashing Klan rallies and shooting up cop cars feels liberating and transgressive even as it is safely enclosed within the narrow escapist limits of a videogame. It remains transgressive, however, for the same reasons the Black Panthers regally posing for photos with rifles and African spears was: it challenges the unspoken understanding that the Second Amendment is only for white people, that a “well-regulated militia” could also define a band of black brothers and sisters from the ‘hood, including veterans, students and ex-convicts.
The modern gun-control debate fails to consider the experience of poor black men and women in dealing with the police, even today. With cops in many American cities willing to open fire at the slightest provocation, and who view black people as displaying naturally “violent tendencies,” is it so outlandish to worry about giving up your own guns to an enforcing body that is more than happy enough to use them on you?
Part of Mafia 3’s appeal is its ability to represent the daily indignities and frustrations that might lead someone to feel this way. Pass by an officer on the street and he will snap his head in your direction, warn you to watch your step, and end with a diminutive put-down like “boy” even as Clay towers feet above him. Wander into the wrong store and have the cops quickly called on you for daring to trespass as a black man in a whites-only establishment. And when the cops do arrive, it is with guns drawn and blazing.”
Cameron Kunzelman offered up a fantastic examination of how the game's violence serves it's storytelling so well.
Every fight is the same. The handgun, the submachine gun, and the finish. That part shifts from time to time. Sometimes Lincoln Clay, bleeding and out of ammunition, charges out of cover. He has a rifle, but he has no bullets, and he can't stop here. There's no possibility of retreat. The enemies are in front of him, and he charges. I'm hitting the melee button, and between that character and myself there's some yearning desperation. We've gotta make it out of here. This desperate repetition, not its exposition, is how Mafia III makes its story.
And yes, the game does suffer from some staid copy-paste mission design, particularly in its side-quests. But, two years on, I can’t help but feel like Mafia III is one of the most important pieces of work in the AAA space this generation. If you do have PS Plus and haven’t played it yet, well, I encourage you to try it.