At Top Shelf Gaming, one of our major criteria for Game of the Month is the splash a title makes in both the community and larger society, as well as its lasting impact. October ushered in the Fall gaming harvest with dozens of long-awaited games ripe for the picking. The bountiful crops included acclaimed sequels such as Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration Edition, Gears of War 4, Paper Mario Color Splash, Titan Fall 2, Battlefield 1, and more. The PlayStation patch yielded, for the first time, PlayStation VR and a farm’s worth of virtual reality games like 100ft Robot Golf, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, Eagle Flight, and SuperHyperCube. Indeed, there were more great games than those who survived the Summer drought knew what to do with. Gamers picked up a game or two of their choosing and for the most part walked away very satisfied. In the far reaches of this metaphorical farm, one patch of games appeared like cotton stained with the blood of division. We’re talking, of course, about Mafia III.
Mafia III takes place in a fictionalized version of New Orleans in 1968 where players take control of Lincoln Clay, a black Vietnam war veteran. Praised for its engrossing story and powerful acting, Mafia III unabashedly leans into the racism of The South during that time, pulling no punches when it comes to racial slurs and undue violence against the protagonist and like-skinned characters. One notable touch is how the developers chose to handle 911 calls. If the cops are called in a white neighborhood, a legion of squad cars swarms to apprehend Clay, but if the cops are called in a black neighborhood, the popo may not even be dispatched at all.
Where Mafia III shines in its world-building and storytelling, it lacks in gameplay polish. Critics universally wanted to like the game more than they actually did. Repetitive gameplay and a handful of inexcusable glitches proved that the game still needed a few more months in the sun.
The masterfully crafted story juxtaposed with a shoddy gameplay experience made Mafia III a major topic of discussion throughout October. Developer Hangar 13’s commitment to an accurate portrayal of racism in the 60s is a bold effort that ultimately pays off. During a time of increased racial tension, brought to a boiling point after Donald Trump was elected president last week, it is more important than ever to have a game that explores the harsh realities of oppression in America. Playing as a black protagonist who must deal with these issues head on provides the opportunity for many gamers to step into someone else’s shoes while offering a way for those who share some of Lincoln Clay’s identities to process their own experiences through his. For these reasons, Mafia III earn’s our Game of the Month for October.