With the next installment of the Mafia franchise hitting stores in less then three months, and having been impressed with Mafia III and having been impressed with the portrayal of New Orleans in 1968 that has been shown in the trailers, I was motivated to return to 2010’s Mafia II, the sequel to Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven. The game dropped to mediocre reviews but I gave it a solid 8, despite the narrow experience.
What I found when I returned to one of the levels and played it from there is that Mafia II’s strength lies in the story structure and the portrayal of the Mob and the undertones of “Goodfellas” , it was a vehicle of sorts to progress the story forward and brought it home. Unlike Mafia III where the Mob has been romanticized from the numerous trailers and the interviews I’ve seen, Mafia II doesn’t romanticize the Mob. Instead, it pains a cruel look and a mundane look at the Mafia in 1945 and later on when the story moves to the middle of the 20th century, the 1950s.
The distinction is important, this is why I hold Mafia II has one of the best games of last generation and possibly of all time, at least one of the best games of all time. American Society and maybe the world has a stereotypical view of the Mafia, where a person climbs up the rank and either ends up not finding power or becomes the Don of the Family, but in Mafia II, it throws all of that away and becomes something truly unique.
Mafia II ends up being something unique due to the fact that you’re following other people’s orders like selling cigarettes from the back of the truck and giving the money to another fella or like the undertones of “Goodfellas” in the game, Vito and Joe grew up together and have a bond and they just fall into the Mafia and meet colleagues that they also have a bond with and they do transactions with them as they move up the ranks and do different jobs for different folks.
Vito and Joe meets new folks who seem important but they get whacked or replaced by someone else, it spans decades from when Vito returns to Empire City after World War II in Christmas of 1945 and spans to the 1950s where you see the change in American lifestyle and you see the change in Vito’s character, there’s a distinction there that you can only get from a few games. By the middle of the game, which is the 1950s part, you see that he doesn’t get power like we have seen in The Godfather or Scarface, you don’t see him get anything unlike Joe where he gets girls and money, he simply doesn’t want it, he just wants steady employment.
That’s how impressive Mafia II is and it subverts all the tropes in the playbook and the best part of it is that you can’t do whatever you want like in GTA or Saints Row, daily life and a routine is important here. You go home, you go to sleep, you wake up and get dressed in whatever outfit you want and get in a fast 1950’s car and go to your place of employment. Once the job is done, you go home and do it again.
Mafia II consistently says to you in your head, that the world is not yours and it says that you’re part of society and society doesn’t change to you and it is indifferent to your being like the real world is. We, are part of society and Society is indifferent to us. We have a say in some matters but society keeps on rolling. Everything that Mafia II does makes you sympathize for Vito.
Most of us, majority of Americans can’t really relate to someone in the Mafia or we don’t know what it’s like to actually be in the Mafia itself, we can only read and watch movies that are sometimes sterotypical but to relate to a man who is like us? We go to work and we go home and do it again the next day, that’s the catch. I think that’s why I hold Mafia II in such high regard, because it’s a relatable game that most of us can relate to.
Mafia II isn’t the 10/10 game or it isn’t a “Perfect” game but it somehow is perfect in the way it tells it’s story and is perfect in the way that it doesn’t romanticize or stereotypes anything to do with the Mob, it’s a “Perfect” ( give or take a few things.) fictional look at the Mafia.