When Mafia II released seven years ago, it was met with mixed reception and the most negative of reviews thought it was a “Grand Theft Auto” clone, it’s open world was empty and pretty much flat but they were missing the point: If you go into Mafia thinking it will be Grand Theft Auto in a period setting, you’ll be so disappointed. You must play it as it was intended: A story-driven game set in the middle of the 20th century, in a post World War II America and the game becomes fascinating.
The city of Mafia II is there and serves as a backdrop and it’s a detailed and beautiful world, Empire Bay is no San Andreas from Grand Theft Auto V but it’s one of the most beautiful worlds ever in any crime game. Empire Bay is a mix between real life locations like New York City and Chicago, and the former artists at the now defunct 2K Czech built this city a world and a life of it’s own.
Workers walk back and forth on the docks of Empire City, carrying heavy boxes and you can see how the world comes alive at Christmas time in 1945 once you return from serving in World War II. It’s a world that’s filled with details and it’s great to soak in the atmosphere and the feeling of Empire Bay.
Fun fact, it didn’t take me long to fall in love with Mafia II. It was around when Vito returns home from World War II and finds himself at home with his mama and his mama’s cooking. He’s walking home in his Airborne uniform as Dean Martin slowly croon’s “Let it Snow” in our ears and as he’s walking home, we see couple kids arguing and throwing snowballs and a man getting a haircut. It’s beautiful and it’s rare because it brings to life a different world and a different time. A time where it doesn’t exist anymore, it almost feels like you’re being transported into a different time.
Mafia II is a game where we see the city from two different eras: That scene I’m describing is winter of 1945 and it’s here where Vito begins to climb the ranks of the Mafia and he’s put in jail at the end after something goes horribly wrong. Four years pass, and Vito gets out of prison in 1951. It’s a different world, the world is green and has a spring feeling, girls wear revealing dresses that show their legs, coming of age teenagers listen to Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry while driving those iconic 1950’s cars.
The music and the commercials change from being crooners to the early beginnings of rock and roll, and R&B. From the Andrew Sisters and Dean Martin to Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Bill Haley’s comets and Ritchie Valens, there’s a big change in the world and you feel it. The reason why I love Mafia II so much is because there’s this wide range of music that’s available to you and it’s so good and catchy, that you find yourself singing and humming to the songs. Once you hit that section of the game, you’re treated to racism and other issues that was up and center in people’s lives during that time.
The game takes on a life of it’s own once the early 1950’s comes around, it becomes fascinating and turns into a Mafia movie that was directed by Martin Scorsese, it has that feeling and it’s so good because you feel like you’re in a Martin Scorsese film. It has that “Goodfellas” vibe and it’s unique because it isn’t about starting out as low level and becoming the don, it’s about you and your friends and the relationships you make until the very last chapter.
Mafia II at it’s core may seem as a generic third person shooter in a Mafia getup, but if you play it as it was supposed to be played and open it up from it’s core, you’ll find something there that’s unique. Even though, Mafia II wasn’t as good as the original Mafia but it’s a step up and it’s a game that will forever be seared into my memory.