According to the development team at Hangar 13, a lot of research went into building New Bordeaux, the fictional version of New Orleans that serves as the setting for the upcoming Mafia III. It wasn’t just enough to create a new city to rival former Mafia series setting Empire Bay in scope and detail; the team wanted to create an experience that is many ways could be called true to life.
In this microcosm of New Orleans’ sordid past, the mafia ran the city with surprising efficiency and a hefty amount of drama. To this day, as you walk the streets of the densecity, you’ll see storefronts that once housed dangerous criminals and cunning mobsters, and were home to people who sought to use New Orleans’ origins as a city of smugglers and cheats to their advantage. Even down in the bayou, there’s a sensation in the air that this area has a raucous past--one that it’s more proud of than willing to hide.
After a recent lengthy hands-on demo with the opening hours of Mafia III and a tour detailing the city’s criminal past, here is everything you need to know about New Bordeaux before you dive in.
1. The game opens with a statement about its portrayal of racism and prejudice. As you start up Mafia III, the first thing you see is a note from the development team. The note says that the game contains foul language and terrible behavior connected to the societal tensions of the 1960s, the era in which Mafia III is set. In this statement, developer Hangar 13 says they do not condone or support this kind of behavior, but it was necessary to include things like racist slang and gross misdeeds to accurately paint a picture of the time period.
“Hopefully it comes off as a heartfelt note, because I wrote it, and it was a heartfelt note when I wrote it,” says Hangar 13 studio head and Mafia III lead Haden Blackman. “It really was just to acknowledge, ‘Hey look, we are attacking a subject that makes people uncomfortable and we felt like we needed to in order to capture the sense of time and place.’ There's strong language in the game that goes beyond race. There's violence in the game because we're dealing with criminals fighting criminals.”
“In terms of the concept of the game, the kind of line that we need to balance there is, what feels natural in this part of the world and doesn't seem like it’s forced in,” lead writer Bill Harms explains. “Lincoln uses the world in a very specific way because of who he is, and the world has the specific view of him for that very reason, and since it’s 1968 and it's the south, it's a very terrible year. Racism is part of his world and his experience.
“However, the game is not about racism. It's just part of the game, but it's not the primary focus,” Harms says. “Mafia III is really about Lincoln Clay just destroying the entire mafia. Because of who he is, those racial elements do come in and are reflected in the world as you make your way through it.”
2. New Orleans may not be the first city that comes to mind when you think of mafia activity. But according to some locals, the reason no one ever talks about the city’s criminal past is because it was better run under the mafia’s care. The Matranga crime family, established in the 1850s and one of the oldest American crime families in history ran New Orleans through extortion and labor racketeering. They were so influential and so wealthy that after a time, even the police began to turn a blind eye to their activities. Members of the family known to have committed heinous crimes and murders were acquitted without a second word. But even as the mafia moved into selling drugs and running underground gambling and prostitution rings, the city of New Orleans flourished, and for regular citizens there was a kind of peace.
Some characters in Mafia III are also based on real mafia members that lived in New Orleans. Sal Marcano, the biggest baddie for Mafia III, is inspired by Carlos Marcello, “the Godfather” of the New Orleans mafia who rose to power in the 1950s. Under his leadership the mafia flourished, and he had numerous hands running from the city’s illegal gambling network all the way up into the U.S. Senate.
3. There are a lot of systems at work in Mafia III, and when they all work together, it can be total chaos--unless you learn to use it all to your advantage. You can be stealthing your way into a hideout only to suddenly be discovered and have your enemies call in backup. In the time it takes that backup to arrive, you can do one of several things: you can try to shoot as many enemies as you can before a fresh wave arrives, you can flee the scene and hope no one follows you, or you can take a moment to call in reinforcements of your own. (This last option comes with some pretty intelligent AI, so don’t be shy about using it if you think you can’t handle a larger enemy group).
These are just a few examples of what you can do while infiltrating hideouts or hunting a target. You can throw a Screaming Zemi voodoo doll into the middle of a room and watch enemies flock to it, seeking the source of the strange noise, and then bomb them all to bits with a grenade. You can strap bombs to cars and send them into hideouts, blowing your target up without breaking a sweat. And while you’re in the middle of all this, you have to be constantly aware of the police--if even one officer becomes suspicious of your activities, a squad will be on your tail. Then you’ll have to leave your target to find a vehicle and outrun them to lower your threat level.
In one area of a demo I played, I was too aggressive in searching a closed supermarket for my target, and when the police showed up I was unprepared. Winning in these situations requires you to intimately know your arsenal and that you pull the trigger in a second to get something done. Lincoln can call in a weapons dealer to get new gear, order cars to be dropped off at his location, call for backup, or connect with someone who will dispatch the police (for a fee, of course) to prevent them from attacking.
4. Your associates can betray you if they don’t think you’re treating them well. Vito, Burke, and Cassandra--Lincoln’s three lieutenants, if you will--provide you with resources and connections in exchange for you giving them access to the hideouts and territories you conquer. But give too many territories to Vito, for example, and Cassandra may fly off the handle and turn on you.
5. This is not a hero story. Protagonist Lincoln Clay is a criminal, and having this kind of lost, emotional character in the player role was important to the writing team. “It's not always important to have a likable character,” says Harms. “You need to have a character that people can empathize with, and with Lincoln, it breaks along two lines. Part of it is, he grew up as an orphan and then he lived on the streets. He doesn’t know where he belongs in the world, and that's one of the reasons he joined the army. He thinks he can find his place in the world in the military, but he doesn't, so when he comes back he is still searching for that, and I think that's pretty universal.
“People get of collage, get out of high school, and at some point in their life they say, ‘Where do I belong in the world? What must I be doing? What should I do with my life?,’” says Harms. “The other thing is that he suffers a tremendous loss. Basically the only people, the two people that he loved the most, are violently taken away from him, and again, it's something that people can relate to at some point in their life.”
6. You can feed people to alligators in the game. This is because director Haden Blackman insisted on cutting a cinematic trailer with Lincoln feeding a man to an alligator. After this, according to Blackman, there was no way they could move forward with the game without including this.
7. Mafia III is full of small moments that build its world in big ways. NPCs talk about Martin Luther King Jr. and President Kennedy’s assassination. They discuss politics and civil rights, commenting on signs of the times. In one scene, Lincoln and his friends flee a successful heist with “I Fought The Law” blaring from the car’s radio, the boys twisting the lyrics to suit the moment. In another, “Paint It Black” serenades a brutal murder. “Born to Be Wild” colors a boat chase. Characters tell each other that just because you’re home from the war, doesn’t mean you’re completely back. This smaller moments paint a larger picture of 1968’s New Orleans, and set the stage for Mafia III.