This Thing of Theirs

Mafia IIIAfter spending two games climbing the ranks of the Italian mob, Mafia III now asks you to burn it downFive years removed from Mafia II’s 2010 release, fans were left wondering if 2K would ever revisit the story-driven organized-crime series. After all, the second installment met generally favorable reviews and sold in six million copies to retail. Was the series just on the lam, or was it swimming with the fishes?

As it turns out, 2K had more renegade designs than simply pushing out another sequel that mimicked the mob stories we’ve all seen in movies and on television. Helmed by a new studio built from the ground up to create open-world games, Mafia III charts a bold new course by introducing a new setting and protagonist, infusing social unrest into the narrative, and asking players to attack the Italian Mafia they spent the last two games faithfully serving. Get ready for the new face of organized crime.
One year into his job at Kabam, Haden Blackman knew he was ready for change. The triple-A veteran best known for his work on Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and Star Wars Galaxies joined the digital publisher after it acquired his consulting firm, and initially he enjoyed the challenge of learning the nuances of user acquisition and metric-driven development. The title he helped develop, The Hobbit: Armies of the Third Age, was performing well, but as he delved deeper into the hot new free-to-play sector nearly every analyst and prognosticator was deeming the future of the gaming industry, he had an epiphany.“At the end of the day, life is so short and you only ship so many games,” he says. “Finally, I got to the point where I can’t work on games that I don’t want to play. I’m not going to do my best work; I’m not going to be passionate.”To rekindle his passion for games, Blackman knew he had to get back into the triple-A development space he had called home for 13 years. When 2K president Christoph Hartmann called to explore the possibility of Blackman spearheading the creation of a new studio at 2K, he jumped at the opportunity.
After several conversations with Hartmann, Blackman officially joined 2K in late 2012 with the goal of creating a studio founded on three governing principles: a desire to make every player experience unique, a dedication to open-world settings, and a commitment to developing proprietary technology. After a few weeks of kicking around concepts for the studio’s fledgling project, Hartmann raised the idea of the studio leading the development of the next Mafia game, a strong-selling franchise that had been dormant for a couple years as 2K debated new directions for the series.“I didn’t have Mafia on my radar as a possibility when I started, but when Hartmann presented that to me, it was a total no-brainer for a bunch of reasons,” Blackman says. “One, if I put on my business hat, it’s a huge opportunity to launch a new studio with an existing franchise that already has a fan base. Two, when I looked at it from a creative standpoint, it really resonated with me. Mafia II in particular is really well known for that immersive sense of time and place and the very strong narrative. When it became clear we could take the franchise in almost any direction – we wanted to reclaim that term mafia to mean more than just the Italian mob – then it was like yeah, this is a total no-brainer.”Blackman then met with 2K Czech technical director Laurent Gorga, the steward of the Mafia II engine, to discuss his vision for the new technology. Some elements of the engine, like the physics-based driving, were already in good shape. When Gorga and the team of lead engineers agreed to move to the 2K headquarters in Novato, Calif., the studio started to take shape. Hangar 13 was born.
With the first project in place, Blackman started the recruiting process, putting together a “who’s who” wishlist of potential candidates to assume critical leadership positions. “It was almost kind of like being able to recruit the dream football team,” Blackman says. “We knew we needed a star quarterback, so where do we draw that person from?”The prospects of working on Mafia III proved appealing, as Blackman ultimately assembled a veteran team with impressive resumes that included prominent roles in high-profile titles like Infamous, Dead Space 2, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, the canceled LucasArts title 1313, and the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot.“From a recruitment point of view, having a big franchise like [Mafia] when you want to hire top talent is big,” says executive producer Andy Wilson. “When you’re asking them to trust you with their careers, they’re going to be a lot more comfortable when they are working on something that has got ambition and the backing that we get from 2K. If you look at Mafia II, it’s a game that a lot of people hold in high regard. It has a huge fan base and sold a lot of copies, so you know you’ve got that added thing to attract people with. It opened a lot of doors that may have been closed to certain talent.”With the leadership team in place, now Hangar 13 charted the future course of Mafia.Mafia IIIBefore Blackman agreed to take the Mafia mantle, 2K had already done some creative legwork. The publisher knew it wanted to keep the series advancing eras, and had developed a short list of intriguing cities that could serve as settings. Blackman’s team entertained the idea of returning to New York facsimile Empire Bay, but ultimately kept coming back to an off-the-beaten-path setting with surprisingly deep ties to La Cosa Nostra: New Orleans. Rather than tell another rags-to-riches story about a petty criminal becoming a made man, the team saw this location as a perfect place to expand the scope of the series.“To us the word ‘mafia’ doesn’t just mean the Italian mafia,” says lead writer William Harms. “There’s also the black mob, the Irish gangs – a lot of different groups. We decided to expand the definition of mafia to include things outside of the traditional Italian mafia.” The diverse cultural base New Orleans provides opened the doors for the studio to explore these other organized crime elements while still having the Italian mob play a key role.
With a fictionalized version of New Orleans (yet to be publicly named) set as the location, the discussion moved to which specific era would work best. What better year to choose as a backdrop than 1968, often cited as the most turbulent year in the country’s history? The list of watershed moments in American culture cuts deep – the Vietnam War, civil rights protests, the women’s liberation movement, the rise of hippy culture, the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., and more. The late ‘60s also proved an interesting era for organized crime, as the romanticized notion of the mob was all but stripped away with its bloody foray into drugs, and the RICO laws instrumental in dismantling the national syndicate were still a few years from being put into place. “We wanted to show the fall from grace of the Italian mob and them being exposed for what they actually were, which was brutal criminals, and the rise of the new breed of criminals at the same time,” Blackman says.
The deep-south setting and historical era ultimately led Hangar 13 to its bold choice of antihero. Rather than play another Italian mafioso, the player assumes the role of Lincoln Clay, a Vietnam vet with a serious vendetta against local crime boss Sal Marcano. After the mob wipes out his adopted family – a small-time black-mob outfit that was behind on its payments to the big boss – Lincoln vows to show Marcano what it feels like to lose everything.
Throughout his quest for revenge, Lincoln is aided and abetted by the only two people he still feels a sense of kinship with. Father James ran the orphanage Lincoln grew up in, and reconnects with his pupil after the war. “He’s an Old Testament guy,” Harms says. “He understands ‘an eye for an eye.’ He doesn’t disagree that Marcano should die, and he will help, but he worries about how much collateral damage Lincoln could accrue, which could damage himself, the city, and race relations.”On the other side of the equation is John Donovan, who doesn’t seem like a natural companion to Lincoln considering his wealthy East Coast upbringing. War has a way of forging lasting friendships regardless of background, and Donovan is a cavalier CIA operative who ran black operations with Lincoln in Vietnam. After seeing the failures of the precision warfare tactics being employed in Southeast Asia, his preferred strategy aligns more with the “kill them all and let God sort it out later” approach used in the Pacific Theater during World War II. This informs his worldview in how Lincoln should go after the mob. “He’s a patriot, and everything he does and everything he sees is through that prism,” Harms says. “He’s going to stay on his path no matter what.”Donovan and James lend support to Lincoln, but their efforts alone aren’t enough to end Marcano’s regime. That’s why Lincoln sets out to recruit other like-minded allies with a stake in systematically dismantling the hierarchy that keeps the old mob boss in power.
Keeping with the series traditions, Hangar 13 knew it wanted to preserve the heavy narrative focus and crafted set-piece missions for Mafia III, but it also saw an opportunity to grow the series in meaningful ways. The open world was rarely used in the previous games for more than window dressing for scripted  sequences, failing to entice players with incentives for exploration or compelling secondary objectives. Given the intense proliferation of amazing open-world experiences in the last five years, the team identified this area as a prime target for remodeling.
Preserving the narrative emphasis while expanding the open-world possibilities is easier said than done; many popular games don’t bother entwining story-based missions with side content. You can get absorbed in random activities to the point where you forget what pressing narrative obligation you are ignoring in favor of picking flowers or searching for treasure. For Mafia III, Hangar 13 tries to avoid this pitfall via a unique structure that gives players a sense of narrative progression as they operate freely in the studio’s version of New Orleans.“The act of playing the open world still means advancing the story,” says design director Matthias Worch. “It’s not divorced, where you’re either doing something in the open world or doing something for the story. They’re going hand in hand. It makes it feel like what you are doing in the world matters, but you’re still getting this traditional open-world compulsion loop where you get to choose what you get to do.”Hangar 13 shows off this new technology in a live demo of the game that takes place shortly after the first act. Lincoln has already assembled his patchwork team of lieutenants and is itching to inflict any damage he can on the Italian mob. Much of his focus is put on targeting the key figures in Marcano’s outfit, each of whom runs different rackets in the various city districts.
Lincoln drives to meet Donovan on a downtown city bench across from the Royal Hotel. This lap of luxury is the home of Marcano money man Tony DeRazio, who keeps the books, greases the palms of government officials, and launders dirty money for the mob. He almost never leaves his penthouse domain, so Lincoln must give him reason to exit his high-end loft.
Donovan gives Lincoln intel on two contacts who may have more insight on the operations DeRazio runs in the district. One has knowledge of the bribe racket, and another has information about a perpetually delayed construction job the mob is using to siphon funds from the city.“By talking to Donovan, you get these dossiers on various operations throughout the city, including contacts that you can then go talk to to learn more information,” Blackman says.
With the informants now appearing on the city map, the player can pursue these leads. For the purposes of this demo, only one district is available for targeting, but Blackman says players typically have a few districts available for dismantling at once.
The first contact we visit explains his current circumstances – he’s being blackmailed by DeRazio’s associate, Jimmy Cavar, who operates a construction outfit in the area. He gives Lincoln the location of some of Cavar’s foremen, who should be able to provide some harmful information about the operations if coerced correctly.
Lincoln finds one of these thugs selling cityowned construction materials in the back alley, and after clearing out his muscle, begins the interrogation process. The foreman reveals the vulnerable construction site being used to bilk the city coffers. You can kill or spare the informants after you finish interrogations. If you kill them, you may get an immediate money payout. If you keep them alive, they could provide you with information about the criminal racket and help you earn more money from it after you take over. Lincoln decides to take out the foreman in this instance, which subtracts from a meter showing how much money Cavar’s racket makes in the district.Mafia III“The real hook to this, and why it all works in a systemic open world, is it’s the only way to bring the hideout bosses out,” Blackman says. “They only come to check their rackets when you cause enough damage. We contextualize that through money – how much money you are making them lose. Each hideout has a threshold, and once you hit that by doing a variety of things in the open world, then the boss is forced to show up and you can wipe them out.”Players could reach this threshold by slowly taking out every thug in the area, but this piece of information yields a rare opportunity to do some major damage to the operation. The intel you receive from informants essentially works like slot machines, randomizing the value. Sometimes you may only receive a small tipoff, but other times you may hear about a big stash of cash or a high-value target that can deal a crippling blow.
Before hitting the vulnerable construction target, Lincoln visits the other contact, who is holed up in a storefront. Lincoln frees up the intel with a few well-placed punches, and he reveals the locations of the area enforcers. These enforcers protect racket leaders once they emerge from hiding, so taking them out before attacking the hideout can weaken the defenses.
Lincoln drives across the district to take out one of the enforcers, which gives us a glimpse of the third-person combat. Each group of thugs in the game is constructed of different A.
I. archetypes. Some move in with blades and shotguns for close-quarters attacks, while others stay in cover and return fire. One archetype hanging with the foreman is a squealer; as soon as the group is under attack, he makes a bee-line for a pay phone to call in reinforcements. Hangar 13 plans to mix and match the several different A.
I. archetypes to keep the players on their toes.“Players get bored when they don’t have a lot of interesting things to do or interesting decisions to make, so having groups of enemies that have different archetypes and present you with different challenges keeps you interested,” says lead systems designer Adam Bormann.
Combat looks relatively straightforward, and Lincoln moves with the decisiveness you would expect from a seasoned combat veteran. He goes into cover at the push of a button, and seamlessly transitions from ranged attacks to melee combat as the situation dictates. Hangar 13 says the game has snap-to targeting and aim assist measures in place, and the degree to which the game holds your hand in combat depends on which difficulty setting you choose.
After taking down the enforcer, Lincoln turns his focus back to the construction area – the site of the future city hall. Our initial contact told Lincoln he should make the attack look like an accident, so a stealth approach is appropriate. While casing the site, Lincoln spots a large crane sitting conveniently next to an explosive tank. Before moving in, he calls up the services menu from a walkie-talkie.
From the services menu, several tactical tools open up as Lincoln earns favors with his three lieutenants. Options include calling in a drive-by, causing a diversion, hiring muscles, killing the lights, positioning snipers to fire at a specific location, bribing cops to stay away from the area, and restocking supplies with a mobile weapons shop (a necessity for the times, since racial minorities weren’t allowed to purchase guns during this era thanks to state laws endorsed by the NRA). The better relationship you have with your lieutenants, the cheaper these services become. Freeze one of them out of your criminal empire, however, and you pay more for the services they provide.
Savvy players can use these tools in concert to dictate the pace of battle. For instance, in more combat-centric missions, you could set up C4 traps or whistle to draw the attention of nearby enemies, walking them into the sightlines of a well-positioned sniper. Since Lincoln is taking a stealth approach for this mission, he simply stocks up on C4.
Snaking around the various construction site guards, Lincoln successfully plants the explosive and escapes the area before detonating the C4. The damage creates significant losses for Cavar, cutting his racket take in half.
Talking to the informant isn’t the only way the player could have discovered the location of the crane. Discerning minds may notice suspicious activities in the streets and tail the suspects to uncover rackets as well. “Our living world and our crime ecology interact,” says lead narrative designer Aaron Contreras. “If you see somebody walking down the street and they are a junkie, you might see them walk in and grab heroin at a spot. If you haven’t talked to an informant there, that’s how you discover there’s a drug dealer down in that alley.” In this instance, the player could have located the construction site by following a Cavar Construction truck to the location.
Once you do enough damage to a racket, the mission for taking out the hideout boss becomes available. You could do this immediately, or continue to pound away at the operation to weaken them further. Lincoln heads back to the informant to tell him that he’s going to “talk” to Jimmy Cavar and sort out the blackmail problem.
With his construction site damaged, Cavar has arrived on the scene. Each boss location gives the player three to four ways to infiltrate. We already know the general layout because of the crane mission, but had we spent more time working the streets, we may have found other avenues of approach. The site now has many more hired guns in position, and a big shootout ensues. Lincoln eventually works his way to Cavar, which presents the player with an option. If you know what makes a man like Cavar tick and have something he wants, he’ll turn on his boss and join you. This offers a better long-term gain that helps you make more money from the district. Or you can just pull the trigger and collect an immediate payout. Lincoln chooses the quick and dirty route.
Once the player takes down an enemy hideout, Lincoln must assign it to one of his three lieutenants. Then the real work starts.“There’s the tearing down, then there’s the building up,” Blackman says. “Once you take over a hideout, you can assign it to somebody for a reward. You don’t have to give the two hideouts in the district to the same lieutenant, you can split them up. But ultimately you do have to assign the district. That might create some tension. If I give the construction site to Burke, the other hideout to Cassandra, and the whole district to Vito, that’s going to ruffle some feathers.”Managing these relationships is about more than just keeping your soldiers in line; the long-term decisions you make directly impact the narrative direction. “There will be multiple endings, and those are interesting,” Blackman says. “I’m excited about them and I think they all work and make sense. If that’s how the movie ended, if it was a movie, you’d go ‘That totally makes sense given what Lincoln decided to do.’”Once you tap a lieutenant to control a hideout, another series of missions opens up that help you squeeze the most revenue out of the racket. In turn, this creates more kick-back money for Lincoln.
To wrap up this district, the player would need to take down the other bribe-related racket before getting a shot at DeRazio. Expect these finales to be much more in line with the traditional Mafia experience.“We’re trying to stay true to the brand, to what people expect from the Mafia franchise, and that includes these big narrative set-piece missions,” Blackman says. “The best way to view them is as the big payoff for taking over a district.”As you dismantle portions of Marcano’s criminal syndicate, you will see how it affects his bottom line. “We do something that is very uncommon in games, something I actually like and I think is empowering – you see Sal Marcano react,” Blackman says. “We have context for why you can see and know this information, but you’ll see him react, he’s forced to make some hard decisions, and a lot of it goes back to the tactics that Donovan and Lincoln decide to use.”Mafia IIIThough Hangar 13 is taking Mafia III in several new directions, from expanding the open-world activities to having player choice influence the narrative, the studio is confident that longtime fans will still feel like the game is faithful to the core tenets of the series.“At the end of the day, you’re going to feel like this is a true Mafia experience and a true Mafia story,” Blackman says. “The people are worried that we are just ignoring Mafia II, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth. From a narrative standpoint we are absolutely committed to making sure a lot of your questions about Mafia II are answered in Mafia III.”Should Mafia III succeed, it potentially opens the doors to several other exciting organized- crime possibilities for the series – the Columbian drug trade, Yazuka, Golden Triad, the Russian Mafia, among others. Wherever the future takes Hangar 13 – Mafia-related or not – Blackman is simply happy to be doing what he loves to do most. Every day he wakes up, heads into a studio he built from the ground up, and sits down to play the type of game he loves the most.
To bleed mob boss Sal Marcano dry and end his reign, Lincoln Clay needs allies. The loose alliance of like-minded gangsters he assembles have their own motivations, but Lincoln has no choice but to empower them if he wants retribution. Meet each of the key players in Lincoln’s makeshift mob.
The hot-headed leader of the Irish gang, Burke is a racist, degenerate drunk who has his own troubles with Marcano. He thinks the only way to help his cause is to join forces with Lincoln, despite the racial barrier. “He’s quick to fly off the handle, but it’s all very calculated,” says lead writer William Harms. “He sees it as testing limits, figuring out the parameters of that relationship with that person, and then getting what he wants.”“He would love to run the city,” says creative director Haden Blackman. “But if the city burns in the process of taking down Marcano he would be okay with that too.” Burdened with a busted knee, Burke doesn’t get around very well, but his mechanical prowess comes in handy. He rewards Lincoln with vehicle upgrades the more they work together.
The antihero of Mafia III, Lincoln Clay is a mixed-race orphan who grew up with no family and eventually shipped off to fight for his country in Vietnam. Returning as a highly decorated war hero, he finds a sense of place within a small black-mob outfit run by Sammy Washington, who is behind on his payments to city crime boss Sal Marcano. When Marcano wipes out Sammy’s crew and leaves Lincoln for dead, Lincoln vows to exact revenge.
Cassandra is the leader of a Haitian gang competing for the same spoils as Sammy’s outfit. As a black woman, she would never be afforded the opportunity to work tangentially for Sal Marcano like Sammy or Burke do. Not that she would want to anyway – she’s after Marcano and all his lackeys because she feels they are bad for race relations and the city overall. “She sees Sammy as bad for the community, too, because he’s willing to victimize his own community in order to make a buck,” Blackman says. “Cassandra likes to claim that she wouldn’t do that.”The protagonist of Mafia II, Vito was exiled to the Big Easy after the fallout in Empire Bay. The Commission did it for his own good, but he doesn’t see it that way. Marcano begrudgingly takes Vito in, giving him one of the less-desirable territories in the city. He eventually meets Lincoln via some mob dealings, and realizes the two have a lot in common despite their vastly different upbringings. “Vito is one of our favorite characters, and we want to make sure his story is continued,” Blackman says. “While it won’t be the very first thing you learn in the game, we are going to address the one loose end that everyone wants to know. That is part of the story depending on some of the choices you make.”The Deep South was the most contentious region in the 1960s for race relations. Amidst national pushes for desegregation, the Voting Rights Act, and the Civil Rights Act, conservative politicians used negrophobic tactics to rally their white bases, further exacerbating the cultural tension prevalent throughout the former Confederacy. This serves as the backdrop for the tale of Lincoln Clay, who experiences the institutional prejudice firsthand.“Our end goal is to tell an authentic story and put you in a role that maybe you haven’t been before,” says creative director Haden Blackman. “That’s the beauty of games, right? Games can immerse you in these roles and identities that you would never be able to experience in real life in ways that movies and novels can’t because you are making decisions and you are that character…Being someone who is viewed as black in 1968 in the South is unique.”Expect Lincoln to come face to face with many of the unfortunate realities of the time period, from overt racial slurs to institutional targeting. One of the primary ways players feel this oppression is through the police. “The police definitely reflect the times,” says lead writer William Harms.
The police aren’t the minor nuisance you see in a lot of openworld games – they hit hard, so being aware of where they are at all times is critical. This is especially true in socioeconomic areas where the cops think Lincoln doesn’t belong. The hollow he calls home may have a minimal police presence, which makes it easier to get away with petty crimes. When Lincoln ventures into the rich white neighborhood, you can expect the size of the force and their response to minor crimes to increase dramatically.
If you commit a crime and a pedestrian reports it, the immediate area around you will become a blue zone, where cops actively try to find you. If you hole up somewhere and keep an eye on the region you may witness the police harassing every person of color in the area.
If the police see you commit a crime or they identify you as the suspect for a reported crime it becomes a red zone, meaning the cops are in full pursuit. “This is 1968 in the Deep South; the cops are going to come down on you like a hammer,” says design director Matthias Worch. You need to break line of sight and get out of the region as fast as you can to avoid their swift and forceful response. Get in a car chase and they will target your tires to neutralize your vehicle. If they view you a gravely serious threat, the cops may even try to run you over while you’re on foot. Whether you are in handcuffs or in a pine box, it’s all the same to some of them.
Regions stay blue for some time after the crime is committed, which may cause you to take different routes on your way to other areas in the city.“We’re not trying to be sensational, but thought-provoking is something that art is,” Blackman says. “All good art makes you think and stays with you. If we can be thought-provoking in some way without being overly provocative, then I think we’ve done our job.”With such attention being paid to the black experience in the Deep South, we asked why Hangar 13 chose to make Lincoln mixed race. Blackman says they have a strong narrative reason. “The big thing for us is we wanted to continue to develop the sense that Lincoln really wrestles with any sense of belonging and doesn’t necessarily fit in anywhere,” he says. “He’s an orphan. We do have a line in the game where he looks black, so for all intents and purposes he’s treated black by the majority of the city, but even when he’s working with the black mob there’s still a little bit of this, ‘Do I belong here?’ Lincoln is this guy who’s a complete outsider.”Before you wildly speculate that Lincoln may be related to someone from the series’ past, take heed. Though no one knows for sure who his mother and father are, Father James thinks one of his parents was Dominican, not Italian.Mafia IIIHangar 13 knew the Mafia III open world needed remodeling to improve on the deficiencies of its predecessors, and the team targeted several ways to flesh out the experience. One major point of emphasis is on taking the physics-based driving mechanics of Mafia II and evolving them to capture the feeling of late ‘60s action movies like Bullitt.“I think the biggest thing we wanted to do moving from Mafia II to III is cars go faster, they’re cooler, we want to see these really awesome drifts and e-brake turns, and all of the things we see when muscle cars and sports cars start getting faster and more interesting,” says lead systems designer Adam Bormann. “One of the other things we’ve been trying to do is pushing driving as the core mechanic in car combat, because in other games a lot of times you have to spin plates to try and fight from the car and there’s a lot of things that pull you out of the experience of driving.”Mafia III’s mechanics allow you to focus on the driving experience, manifesting through aiding the targeting of tires, gas tanks, or drivers. The system isn’t fully auto-targeting, but it’s much more accommodating than free-aiming. A ramming system allows the player to use the vehicle as a weapon as well. The ingenious rearview mirror in the top center of the screen allows the player to track cars in pursuit and even acts as a highlight reel, zooming in on the action to showcase an impressive takedown.
Lincoln accrues a fleet of at least one car from each class (think muscle car, sports car, off-road vehicle) over the course of the game, and each can become the ultimate version of that class via upgrades. You earn cosmetic alterations by winning the various races throughout the city. Performance upgrades become available by completing passion activities for Burke, your lieutenant who operates out of a junkyard.
Each of the three lieutenants offers passion activities that allow you to delve deeper into their story and earn unique rewards.
Players can earn skill points by completing challenges that allow them to improve Lincoln’s various abilities, from lethal takedowns and faster reload speeds to an expanding inventory and increasing health and stamina.
A variety of collectibles are also available to pursue.

7Review earns Amazon affiliate commissions from qualifying purchases. You can support the site directly via Paypal donations ☕. Thank you!
We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.