The Writers' Room

The Writers' Room
Mafia II is Not a Game

Russ Pitts | 1 Sep 2010 21:30
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There is a product being sold right now called Mafia II. You will need a gaming machine and familiarity with playing games in order to enjoy it. While it is on your television or computer monitor, passersby may believe you are playing a game - and so might you - but you will not be, because Mafia II is not a game. Mafia II is interactive theater.

Mafia II has just enough "game" for you to grab a hold of and feel secure about. The game-like parts of the experience are enjoyable and exhilarating, and you will have fun playing them, but there is far more to Mafia II that the parts where you get to control a car driving around town, or a guy who shoots things.

While playing Mafia II, you will experience many of the same thrills induced by other games, but by the time the credits roll, you will feel less that you have played Mafia II than that it has been played in front of you. Some players may feel as if their time has been wasted by this experience. Others will feel as if they have had their minds blown wide open. What you take out of the experience will depend, in large part, (to paraphrase Yoda) on what you take with you.

Mafia II is rich with the kinds of attributes that we rarely see in entertainment anymore, and which may be unfamiliar to modern audiences. It has a meaningful story, well-paced plot, mood, a living setting and carefully crafted performances from artists, actors, writers and directors. It is, in other words, the evolution of the art of storytelling. It is to videogames what Hamlet was to theater, an introspective tale of the burden of human existence wrapped in a layer of easily-digestible entertainment. And just as Shakespeare's play transcended the medium of theater to now be considered art, so too, I would argue, has the work of Daniel Vavra and the rest of the team at 2K Czech.

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The story begins with Vito's adventures in the armed forces, serving as part of the US Army during the invasion of Sicily. This serves as both your introduction to Vito and the time period, but also to the notoriously brutal combat of the Mafia series. In Mafia II you cannot get shot ten times and survive. You cannot storm the enemy alone and live. You cannot count on the game to aim for you. You will need to make use of cover. You will need to move carefully, and you will need to learn how to shoot. Expect to die a lot, if you do not learn quickly.

The army level ends, not by the actions of the American forces, but when the local Sicilian Mafia don encourages the Italian forces to surrender to the Americans. You, defeated and disarmed by the Italian Army, lie on the floor waiting to be executed when your would-be executioner lays down his arms. You are then shipped home on leave, where your childhood friend, Joey, arranges (again thanks to the Mafia) for your de-enlistment.

These scenes, in addition to setting the stage for Vito's belief that organized crime is where real power lies, show Mafia II is not your ordinary shooter. "Forget that you are a soldier," it is saying. "You will not single-handedly take on an entire army. You will not win the war. You are not a hero."

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