The location 2K Games’ Mafia 3 takes place in, New Bordeaux, is a fictional version of New Orleans, and according to the developers there was a lot of research invested into building the setting. It wasn’t just enough to create a new city to rival the former Mafia series setting Empire Bay in scope and detail; the development team wanted to create an experience that could be called true to life.
In this microcosm of New Orleans’ sordid past, the mafia ran the city with surprising efficiency and a heft amount of drama. To this day, you can walk the streets of the dense city and find storefronts that once housed criminals and mobsters. Even down in the bayou there is a sensation in the air that the area was once raucous, and that locals are proud of more than they are willing to hide its past.
Here is everything you need to know about New Bordeaux before you get your hands on the game.
The game opens with a statement about its portrayal of racism and prejudice. As you start up Mafia 3, the first thing you see is a note from the development team. The note says that the game contains foul language and terrible behaviour connected to the societal tensions of the 1960s, the era in which Mafia 3 is set. In this statement, the developers say that they do not condone or support this kind of behaviour, but it was necessary to include things like racist slang and gross misdeeds to accurately paint a picture of the time period.
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 labour 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.
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).
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.
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.’
You can feed people to alligators in the game. This is because director Hayden 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.
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’ colours 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 3.