There’s a disorienting moment early in Mafia III, the latest installment of 2K’s richly plotted drive-and-shoot series: Somewhere in the fictional town of New Bordeaux, which strongly resembles New Orleans circa 1968, you stumble into the basement of a seedy jazz joint and find yourself in an opium den. Seconds ago you were on your way to a bloody showdown with a mafia henchman, but now you’re watching a shaggy Jim Morrison type intone apocalyptic laments backed by a sitar player.
Andy Wilson, one of the game’s executive producers, explains that his team chose the era for its volatility, citing Martin Luther King’s and Bobby Kennedy’s assassinations in particular. “And within the South, there’s no more of a pressure-cooker place to be than New Orleans,” says Wilson. “Players can connect the dots between then and now.”
With pundits constantly comparing the current election year to the “summer of hate” 48 years ago, the game couldn’t have arrived at a better time.
You play Lincoln Clay, a Vietnam vet of mixed race seeking revenge on the Italian mob that slaughtered his surrogate family. In this land of sultry sleaze and barking gators, you’re a calculating avenger, a unifier and an annihilator—“a one-man army,” says Wilson. You get medieval on the KKK. You get assailed with N-bombs. You get hassled by cops. And all the while, hundreds of classic songs blaring from your various rides set the mood. “Fortunate Son,” Creedence Clearwater Revival’s counterculture anthem, could be Clay’s theme song. An angry orphan from the poor side of town, Clay “ain’t no millionaire’s son.”
In the bayou, you track down a crime boss who resembles Donald Trump in a pink 10-gallon hat.
Occasionally the allegory comes unsettlingly close. In the bayou, you track down Uncle Lou, a crime boss who resembles Donald Trump in a pink 10-gallon hat. Everywhere you turn, neo-noir horror and paranoia lurk—not to mention voodoo, prostitution and drugs. “We treated New Bordeaux as a many-layered character,” says Denby Grace, another executive producer. “The sexiness. The heat. The underbelly. The mystery.”
The dialogue hums with the tensions of the game’s moment. “I was definitely affected by books and speeches of the time,” explains senior writer Ed Fowler. “Malcolm X said, ‘Anytime you live in the 20th century and you’re walking around here singing “We Shall Overcome,” the government has failed us.’ ” Adding to the authenticity, 30 vintage issues of this magazine are scattered within the game, allowing you the surreal pleasure of reading up on the era as you fight your way through it. Enter a nondescript trailer and you might find yourself paging through the December 1968 Playboy Interview with prominent Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver.
From graveyard to whorehouse, power-ups depend on which lieutenant you allow to control a ward. As you jack cars and toss exploding voodoo dolls, the essence of New Bordeaux crawls inside you, biting and clinging hard, like an ancient bayou parasite.