Mafia II is a tense, tightly wound, exploration into the life of an American during the middle of the twentieth century. Bleak, tragic, and emotionally resonate it compels you forward on its quest to showcase the complicated and messy life of Vito Scaletta.
Taking place over 15 chapters that span the years 1945 to 1951, Mafia II weaves a story that hits upon many of the most iconic elements of the Mafia legend. Yet, its strength comes in how it twists and distorts our expectations of what that story should be, particularly in games.
Vito and his childhood best friend Joe, don't shoot through the ranks of the local mob family. Instead, they scrap by and struggle to earn a living. They eventually soar and earn a nice nest egg, only to quickly lose the whole thing within a matter of months. Vito himself wonderfully reflects on this towards the games conclusion, when he states that he agreed to this way of life "I dreamed of money, cars, women, respect, and freedom... i got all that, but along with it came prison, living in constant fear, and the blood of my friends."
Thats perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Mafia II to me, the fact that the reasons that Vito and Joe did what they did and continue to do so, are not because they wanted to make a better life for their family, Vito in fact sees most of his slowly pass away and his sister turn away from him and what he becomes. Instead they want things and this is the only way they know how to get them. Their are so many warnings and statements from other characters you come across about what lays at the end of this road, yet Vito and particularly Joe's headfirst plunge to continue seems as if they are unaware of this fact or simply hope they are the exception.
Neither the game nor its story are perfect. Some of the missions and level designs are lackluster or just outright dull and bad, the world of Empire Bay as beautiful and nice to look at 6 years later, is still on the empty side and the story seems to get a little lost at what its saying at times. Yet, these are all largely small grips. I am shocked at how much I enjoy Mafia II. It is a game that is far far better then it has any right to be. While hardly The Godfather saga or Goodfellas, Mafia II did represent and continues to serve as a beacon of how to successfully tell the story of the mob in gaming.
Mafia II manages to weave a sorrid tale of how a young man and his friend slowly get corrupted. Subtly and slowly Vito Scalleta loses everything and everyone around him, until he is left off with even less then when he began. Taking a penetrating look into why someone would chose this way of life and the immense joy they get from it at times, Mafia II is a fascinating look into the life of a regular, average criminal. Vito and Joe never really rise the ranks, they never become the head of a family or heck even a Capo within their families, instead theirs is the tale of the average guy on the inside of the Mob and the tense, highs and lows that come with the job. Gritty, brutal, and never shy of the darker and less savory aspects of the subject matter, Mafia II is a worthy installment in the chapter of the story of the Mafia and a dang fine game as well.