Mafia III dropped to divisive reviews (but strong sales) nearly a year ago. Our own Andrew Reiner found the grinding, buggy gameplay to mar a fantastic story, saying “Mafia III is a missed opportunity to explore an important time in American history, and ends up being one of the most lifeless and one-note open-world experiences I’ve come across. You can see the potential for a great game here, but it sticks to safe and simple gameplay and storytelling conventions, and ends up being a bloody bore.”
Reiner and my critical perspectives on Mafia III ended in pretty much the same place. It’s hard to come away from the game thinking it’s anywhere near living up to its potential. However, Mafia III has also been stuck in my brain ever since I finished it back in November. Certain key scenes resonated with me in how well executed they were or just how great of a character Lincoln Clay is.
Developer Hanger 13 has released two story-based expansions for its debut title and I decided to give both Faster, Baby and Stones Unturned a whirl to see if they helped make Mafia III a more enjoyable experience.
The short answer? Yes and no. DLC often goes one or two ways, offering a different thematic experience to the original game (like Grand Theft Auto IV’s comedic The Ballad of Gay Tony expansion) or it offers more of the same (Borderlands 2’ various DLC). Mafia 3’s DLC tries to do both at the same time, with mixed results.
Let’s talk about how it both succeeds and fails.
Lincoln Clay Is Given More Characterization
One of the high points of Mafia III is undoubtedly its protagonist, a strong black man fighting back against racism in the South with violent tactics in a compelling, revenge-driven story. Clay’s motivations for revenge are understandable, and his interactions with everyone he comes across feel authentic in a way that most video games don’t accomplish. When he looks down at his wounded but cruel foe, ready to set him on fire, saying “You are what you are. Ain’t no use arguing with yourself about it,” there’s a sense that Clay has accepted his damnation and is going to make the road there worth the cost.
However, there were still points that felt odd in the original game. For such a human character, he never showed need for romantic companionship and his friendship with fellow hell-raiser Donavan felt unearned in spite of how enjoyable it was due to a lack of background context.
In Faster, Baby, a DLC that’s about fighting against a corrupt and racist sheriff killing off black revolutionaries, Lincoln finds himself aligned with Foxy Laveau, a rabble-rouser reminiscent of Pam Grier’s characters in Blaxploitation films. Clay and Laveau naturally hit it off. To talk too much about how the duo’s relationship develops would be spoiler territory but it’s a natural relationship with tension that helps develop both characters as human beings.
The other DLC, Stones Unturned, is centered on Donavan’s attempts to stop a government turncoat from getting his hands on a nuclear missile. The DLC marks a wild shift in tone to the main story, but also gives us greater insight into why Clay and Donavan are as close they are and what they’ve been through together. This DLC doesn’t fill in all the backstory gaps but it does help sell the notion that these two have a rich history, something that was hinted at in the original game but never expounded upon.
There’s Variety Abound
One of Mafia III’s biggest issues is that it’s a huge open-world where you pretty much do only one thing over and over again: kill bad guys. For hours on end. This makes Mafia III one of the grindiest sandbox games around and is a huge reason for why many players don’t see the game to its (fantastic) conclusion.
The two DLCs add a variety of activities for you to do. Besides new branches, there’s also drug-growing and transporting, bounty hunting, racing, and a number of other activities for you to do. These additions don’t fix the fact that you have clear out a ridiculous number of houses filled with mobsters to complete the main game but it does add more spice to Mafia III, making that obstacle less of a deal-breaker given there’s actually things you can do now besides kill people.
The Stories For Each DLC Work
Both Stones Unturned and Faster, Baby are self-contained stories with interesting plots. They’re both a little on the short side (2-3 hours) but each of them feels perfectly paced, with almost no clutter, and are vastly more interesting than the majority of missions in the main game. These two stories also branch out from the main storyline tone-wise, being more light-hearted and adventurous while also still somehow retaining the brutal, unflinching focus on the racism of the time period. It’s an interesting mix of tone that shouldn’t work but ultimately does.
Enhancements Make Things Easier
Some gameplay tweaks the two DLCs have added also makes Mafia III’s wobbly, clumsy gameplay easier to manage. In the main game, you could shoot while you were driving but it was an awkward free-aim that made things nearly impossible to hit. Faster, Baby, however, adds a selective targeting system while driving that lets you target:
- Enemies who are driving vehicles
- Tires of enemy vehicles
- Fuel tanks
- Obstacles around environments you can use to slow down enemies, like trucks with logs on the back of them
Not only does this system make vehicle combat less of a hassle—it makes it downright fun. You can also drop explosive devices like grenades and mines while driving Grand Theft Auto style.
Stones Unturned adds a mechanic that lets you slow down time while you’re driving as well, helping you turn sharp corners in alley way chases. It’s never explained why Clay suddenly has this ability but it’s so welcome.
What Doesn’t Work
The Gameplay Is Still Clumsy And Frustrating
Though both DLCs have added content and notable gameplay enhancements, there’s no getting around it: moving around as Clay still feels like you’re walking through quicksand. Driving is also tedious. These are fundamental problems with the moment-to-moment gameplay of Mafia III, and if they bug you to the point that you put down the base game because of them, there’s nothing in the DLC that’s going to fix those issues.
The DLCs Don’t Feel Necessary
Both Stones Unturned and Faster, Baby are fun and noteworthy experiences, but they don’t justify themselves as something you need to play to get the most of an experience. Yes, both expansions add characterization or interesting backstory to Lincoln’s journeys, but there’s nothing here that feels amazing or essential in the same way that Lair of the Shadow Broker was for Mass Effect 2. Though they certainly add great content on top of the main game, none of it is a drastic improvement.
Basic Tweaks and Functions Are Still Missing
Maybe there’s a mission you really liked in Mafia III, like the showdown at the end of the main game, or one of the boss encounters. Well, if you want to go back and play it, you’re going to have to play through the main game again since there’s no mission select. Mobility tweaks for Lincoln would also go a long way toward making the game enjoyable in combat.
However, the most vexing tweak that’s still missing is that Mafia III has no form of fast travel. At all. And while New Bordeaux feels smaller than the vast majority of open world landmasses, it’s still frustrating and tedious having to drive from one side of the map to the other to activate a mission that tells you to drive to another corner of the map.
Is The DLC Worth Playing?
Maybe. If you’re invested in Mafia III’s world and its main character (like I was) and are willing to go back to the tedious gameplay, which admittedly has been made less tedious through enhancements and updates, then yes. It’s worthwhile to return to New Bordeaux and hang out with Donavan and Roxy. But if you bounced off Mafia III hard, then nothing here is going to bring you back into the fold.
For more on Mafia III, be sure to check out our review here as well as my column on the game’s cultural importance.