America, 1940. The Italian Mafia is at the height of its hugely celebrated and romanticized power. It is a time of change, war, and unquestioning loyalty. It is said that if you are made a “made man” by the Dons you will not need to want nor worry for the rest of your days. For the downtrodden and hopeless of this era, the opportunity is an attractive one.
Mafia II takes place during this era, and follows the story of two petty crooks on their way to becoming made men.
You are Vito Scaletta. Born in Italy during the reign of Mussolini, your father joins the emigrants flocking to America to seek a new life. But like most immigrants of that era, the dreams of freedom and a fresh start were quickly crushed and replaced with grueling work and life in squalor.
Vito desperately seeks a way to escape his life of misery and poverty as his father turns to hard drinking. But an immigrant like Vito has nobody to turn to, and nowhere to start making an honest living.
Desperate, he and childhood friend Joe embark on a string of petty crimes that land Vito squarely in the arms of law enforcement and facing a choice – jail time or Army service.
He chooses the Army, and they ship him right back to Italy to help liberate the country from Mussolini. While there he sees a revered and loved local Italian Don calling for the surrender of a garrison of Mussolini’s troops – and the men lay down arms and walk out, given only the Don’s word that they will be allowed to return home.
Vito, filled with respect and awe, decides he wants that power for himself. When he is injured in the line of duty and sent home, he looks up his childhood partner in crime. Together they run errands for the Mafia, hoping that one day they too will be accepted into the family and become made men.
Vito and Joe run their errands through a city called Empire Bay, a fictional GTA-style map based loosely off New York. The story takes place from 1943-1951. During this time the city, though small compared to the traditional GTA map, goes through multiple distinct and visually stunning changes. As the story advances in time so does the city, giving events a unique depth and perspective that also lend a more realistic feel.
The game is very well written – so much so that you could fool yourself into thinking that the cutscenes are straight out of an old-fashioned mafioso movie. The characters are well-written and convincingly voiced, and while everyone certainly comes off as a mobster nothing is overly stereotypical.
The gameplay is good as well. Saying that it borrows from GTA elements would be something of an understatement, but it does do things better than GTA in some aspects.
The police and wanted system, for example, is more complex and works better. Police will learn your plates and appearance if you’re suspected of a crime, so even losing the heat won’t make you safe until you change clothes and cars.
The police even bust you for speeding too much, which can be frustrating. The streets are small, however, so even if you are speeding you won’t often find yourself with much room to dodge around traffic. You will likely play with the speed limiter on the majority of the time, which restricts your maximum speed to the speed limit of whatever road you are on.
If you’re willing to forgive the occasional gameplay issue, Mafia II is a beautifully-presented story of two men who work their way through the ranks of the Italian mob for money and power – they trade in their former lives, family, and friends, all to become made men.