I’m pretty certain that everyone has a certain time and place that they want to return to or they find interesting. For some, it’s probably France in the 1880’s or Paris in the 1920’s or the American Frontier at the height of the West. Me? I would rather go back to 1945 /Post World War II America, my favorite era in history probably has to be 1945 / Post World War II America- it’s an era that I’ve researched countless times, watching footage, listening to the era’s music, pouring over photos is from that era: 1945-1959 America.
For some odd reason, I find that particular era in American culture and history fascinating. America after World War II was booming, both in economics and solidified itself as a superpower for what it did during the war and after with the Cold War. The music was somewhat fascinating, the cars were iconic and the fashion for both of the sexes was fascinating. Yes, it could be called simple fashion since the men wore suits and fedoras and the women wore skirts and dresses and coats, but it’s fascinating to just see what the people wore at the turn of the century, it’s fascinating to see what car they drove or what music they listened to. 1950’s America is like stepping into a time machine, it’s like you have stepped into a utopia of sorts where you are a complete stranger to the customs and the way of life these people lived.
Yes, there were racism, segregation, and sexism which was the ugly parts of America during that time but I find the overall era fascinating despite the ugliness that reared it’s head during the era. I would like to drive one of those cars that you see sometimes in the streets in the modern day, I would like to see what life was like in those times. America rode high on the post-war economic booms while dealing with the Cold War, music was a continuation of the crooner years until the middle of the decade when the early beginnings of Rock and Roll, and R&B took off. Crooners such as Frank Sinatra, Patti Page, Perry Como, Les Brown & Mary Ford who had dominated the charts in the early years of the 1950’s now found their access to the charts being curtailed by the likes of Elvis Presley, The Platters, Fats Domino, and Bill Haley to name a few.
From the outside, you might say everything was perfect but it wasn’t. The Civil Rights Movement began in earnest with Brown v Board of Education in 1954 and the result of this case opened the doors for all Americans to an equal and just education at any school of their choosing. Segregation was still a thing during the era, and by the end of the decade, the Civil Rights movement began. In 1957, the Little Rock Nine integrated in the Central High School which was a key event in American History and the fight to end segregation in schools and other public places. These events and many others would push the fight to end segregation here and many other nations across the world. I find Post World War II America fascinating, because you have all this history and knowledge at your disposal.
Given the history that was written during the decade, I’m surprised that no-one has managed to make a videogame based on the era. Sure, there’s Fallout and BioShock but let’s be real, those are alternate history games based on a city at the bottom of the sea that takes place in 1960 and the other one takes place in the far future where music, fashion, and cars managed to stay the same in the wake of nuclear annihilation. The 1950’s doesn’t offer much for videogames just outside of music and fashion. That’s why I hold Mafia II and perhaps, L.A Noire in such regard.
Mafia II gives us a small glimpse of America during the post-war years looked like, despite being about the Mafia. It’s about rising the ladders and scrapping by just to get some money, while going through a story that’s reminiscent of Goodfellas. Here, we see both the lifestyles that those at the top enjoyed and the less successful folk work, they work at the docks at the edge of Empire Bay while we as Vito just wants a job to scrap by, he’s willing to do any favor for the Mafia just as long as he earns money. It may not represent how true to life the era was, but it’s fascinating but small glimpse into the era.
Mafia II is the prequel to Mafia III and the sequel to the original Mafia which took place in the twenties and early parts of the thirties, Mafia II takes place at the end of World War II and 1951, it features Vito an Italian Immigrant who came here when he was a child and he served in World War II with the 82nd Airborne on the Italian Front in 1943 and comes home after being wounded, here we see Vito as a young man who needs to find a job and his longtime friend, Joe joins the Italian Mafia and while Joe is enjoying the life of a Mafioso, Vito just wants a job and get paid for his services. He’s starting his path to being a made man in the Commission’s ranks.
Through the story, you’ll take control of Vito as he climbs the ranks and eventually goes to prison and eventually is released four years later in 1951 where he continues to climb the ranks with the help of Leo Galante and his friends. You’ll explore Empire Bay in 1945 and 1951, respectively. The story plays with heavy drama, filled with action as Vito and Joe goes through it and it’s interesting: It plays with family, betrayals, and eventually comes out to being a crime drama set in two different periods. It’s a dark, brutal, Goodfellas-esque look at the Mafia but also meanwhile throwing some jokes in there.
The writing in Mafia II may not be the best but it’s pretty good, and it’s shows what the era was like: You encounter segregation, you encounter racism in regards to Vito and other factions within the game. You see Vito change from 1945 to 1951 when he’s in prison, he must survive and do what must be done until Leo Galante pulls him to the side and he must run errands for Leo while in prison, once Vito is out, Joe hooks him up with one of the last mafia bosses that he works for: Carlo Falcone and he must do odd jobs for him.
It’s 1951 when Vito is released from prison, and this is where the game tends to open up and the memories begin, although the entire game is memorable. The real kicker in this portion of the game is how everything changed from 1945 to 1951, the music is more lively and reflects the era although it is anachronistic in terms of music history, it’s hard to not crack a smile when you hear Little Richard sing “Long Tall Sally” or Dean Martin singing “Return to Me.” , you just want to hymn or sing to the songs. There’s this moment within the game that makes me smile is when Vito, Joe, and Eddie returns from a night on the town and “Return to Me.” starts on the radio, everyone is drunk and singing to the lyrics but once the Italian words crop up in the song, everyone manages to botch it up because they’ve either grew up learning Italian but not speaking it or never learned it, it’s a moment that has been seared into my head whenever I think of Mafia II.
It’s the little details like the one above that sells the atmosphere and the overall feeling of Mafia II. Cars have the fins on the back, the music is catchy, and it’s a full return to 1951 even though it’s a fictional look. While Mafia II isn’t a recreation of 1945 and 1950’s America, it’s the overall feeling of the time period that makes you want to go back to experience it. This is why I hold Mafia II as one of the best games I’ve ever played, 2K sold the feeling and the ambiance of the era.