When it works, in fact, it feels nearly comparable to Metal Gear Solid V, although it never quite achieves the same dizzying heights as Konami's stealth-'em-up. Sneaking through the industrial buildings dragging people into the shadows is a lot of fun, and there's a fairly robust system in place for erasing your mistakes, whether you brutally murder a sentry before he can get to a phone and call in reinforcements or you take out a guy with a flurry of blows before he can get a shot off.
While stealth is often the optimal way to approach an objective, the game is good at letting you go commando whichever way suits you best. You can often force a back door or clamber over a low wall before working your way to your objective with your knife, but if you fancy it, you can drive a car up in front of the building, pull out a Thompson and get to work.
Mafia III's combat system is great. Generally a single shot to the chest is enough to down someone, whether that's from a submachine gun, a rifle, or just a handgun. Every bullet you fire feels impactful, and it feels like a gritty crime film, with enemies falling under a hail of gunfire after you pop out of cover. It's not all guns though; one of Mafia III's nicer flourishes is that the melee system feels useful enough that you'll keep using it throughout the game. Up close, smacking a guy in the face is easier than shooting people, and the takedown animations are satisfying.
If this feels like a ringing endorsement across the board, there's a horde of caveats: the cars handle like boats (which arguably seems appropriate for 1960s automobiles), and occasionally you'll be trying to stealth takedown someone and instead punch him in the face a few times. I feel like a few of the activities just aren't a lot of fun - interrogating someone generally involves a shootout before you corner a guy to interrogate him, killing an enforcer generally involves a shootout but without the interrogation. I also hate that if you want to recruit a racket leader, you need to wiretap the area nearby. In fact, I hate the wiretapping in general; it feels like 2K's own version of Ubisoft's open-world towers.
Mafia III's real problem is that it feels 'janky', like a game from the last generation: in the 20-30 hours I've spent with the game, I've encountered a host of weird bugs: lighting bugs, graphical pop-ins and pop-outs or getting stuck in water because I can't find a climbable surface to get out of the river, for example.
I don't think the bugs actually hurt my enjoyment of Mafia III, but the lack of polish is a shame, because there's a generally good game here. It could have been one of the better games of the year, but it's marred in some cases by the studio aiming perhaps too high, as it fails to create the sense of a full city and compelling open world activities, and in others by this lack of polish, meaning the bits done well aren't allowed to shine as brightly as they could have.
As it is, it stands as one of the most ambitious games I've seen this year, and it deserves the Recommended logo I've put at the bottom - I don't think Mafia III is an exceptional game, but I think there are so many interesting ideas wrapped up here that it deserves to be played in spite of its flaws. Of course, you could probably wait for a sale, or wait for three years until the ideas here work their way into the next generation of AAA games.
There's an unfortunate sense that this game is a near miss, that it could be not just very good, but great. That's a shame, but Mafia III is a good time anyway, and it's hard to feel too aggrieved at that.