Mafia 3 is hot and sticky, sleazy and gross. It's a neon-lit world of Louisiana sunsets and dirty cops, fat ol' racists and narrow-eyed strippers.
Watching this extended gameplay, narrative and environmental video (above), it's obvious why this game is attracting attention. The team at Hangar 13 may not have the resources to create an open world like Grand Theft Auto 5's 2013 grotesque Los Santos, but they're making a pretty good fist of New Orleans, 1968.
Mafia 3 comes down to a bunch of kill missions that involve stealth, takedowns and cover shooting. There's a progression path and there are special abilities, such as calling in pals to help out. You can throw projectiles and watch your enemies burn.
So, at its core, this looks like a game you've probably played many times before.
There're also a few narrative forks to choose from. If you piss off untrustworthy Ally A, then he might become an enemy. But I wonder how different a world this decision will create than, say, pissing off Untrustworthy Ally B.
So, mechanics-wise, Mafia 3 looks like a fun tour through the standard open worlds we've come to love and conquer, whether they be populated by orcs, stone age savages, LA-types or zombies.
But here's the thing. The setting of New Orleans (strictly speaking "New Bordeaux") is helping to create something that feels different.
It's not just the teeming streets, the throbbing '60s music, the seedy bars, the swampy bayou, the heaving riverboats, the braying Treme trumpets, the vile tourists, the shuffling pickpockets and deadbeats. It's the characters.
I really, really like them.
Take lead protagonist Lincoln Clay. He's a black guy who's back from Vietnam, a petty criminal who finds himself entirely at odds with the Italian mafia, who killed all his friends.
He has a vengeance motivation, but it seems to me that there's a lot more to hate about this world than the dudes who offed his mates. We also see cops harassing black people and racist mobs with their burning crosses. This is a place of real evil.
Clay looks and talks like the man he is. He's both ordinary and extraordinary. He is guilty of terrible crimes, but somehow innocent of wrongdoing. He is vulnerable and commanding. I mean, I'm basing all this on 15-minutes in his company, but I've really, really loathed a lot of game characters based on a lot less.
Another person I love is Uncle Lou. He's a haw-hawin' sonofabitch with plump fingers, all stained with corruption. But this is a man who knows how to wear a pink-sports-jacket-with-white-pants combo, and that goes a long way in my book. This is a villain we can all admire, before dragging him into a swamp and slitting his fucking throat.
The underbosses are also endearing. Cassandra, the Haitian, is especially menacing in a way that makes me feel gooey inside. I really wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of Thomas Burke or our old chum Vito Scaletta either.
So, here's the verdict coming out of E3. This looks like a rich world populated with exceptional characters. You're going to be taking on a lot of missions, so you might as well spend your time in a place that feels great, with people who feel right. I'm excited about Mafia 3.
There's a lot that can go wrong between now and its launch on October 7th, but if you're as excited about this game as the thousands of people lining up to see it at E3 today, you've good reason.