Vito Scaletta: A Character Study

He is one of the most beloved characters of the seventh generation and possibly the face of an entire franchise. Even now, almost a decade on from his role in the spotlight, you can find a myriad of blog posts and forum messages detailing why Vito Scaletta is one of the greatest characters to ever grace a computer screen.

Vito Scaletta is a central character in the Mafia series. An Italian-American immigrant brought into the fold of Cosa Nostra, we play as Vito in Mafia II through the 1940s and 50s as he rises through the ranks of organised crime. Despite only being a playable character in the second game, he has featured in the series from the start.

While not named in the original Mafia, a mission near the end of Mafia II retroactively inserts Vito into the story, being the hitman that kills previous main character Tommy Angelo. After playing through his story in Mafia II, he is brought back in Mafia III as an underboss.

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Vito (left) as he appears in the original Mafia, completing the hit on main character Tommy Angelo. (Source: stemacommunity.com).

It is cool having this unique connecting thread through the series, rather than a more standard sequel with a returning cast. Other series such as Assassin’s Creed and Timesplitters have had similar through-lines, but not as clear as Mafia’s (AC’s are usually just cameo appearances such as Charles Dorian in AC: Rogue, and TS had the Jones family featuring in the years 1853, 1965, and 2243).

So what made Vito such a compelling character? Well, I thought about doing a little character study. Let’s jump in.

“You look like a protagonist…” (Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell)– A Look Back At Vito Scalleta

The first thing we have to address in looking back at a character, any character, is how the story or text is framed. Context is important, how the creator presents it can affect how it is received. The entire Mafia series is presented by flashback format; Tommy tells his story to Det. Norman, Vito looks over his family album, and Lincoln’s story is told through interviews of other characters in a documentary format.

Characters retelling a story can lead to embellishment, skipping over points that may seem inconsequential to them, but would aid a greater understanding of their life. This is nothing new; games ranging from Battlefield to Silent Hill, Dragon Age to Monkey Island have used unreliable narrators for action set-pieces, antagonist reveals, or even just for a laugh.

It seems that the team at 2k Czech were aware of this aspect. Games Radar mentioned that the original Mafia,

“…centered on the most significant events in [Tommy Angelo’s] life while largely ignoring his day-to-day life as a mobster.” (Reparaz, M. 2008)

In response, writer/director of both games, Daniel Vavra said,

“The player is going to experience more of everything…those action sequences will always be in context to the story and the mafia theme…[but aren’t] mutually exclusive to the ‘nitty-gritty life of a mobster’”. (Reparaz, M. 2008).

We also have to keep in mind the aspect of the nature of the avatar. Depending on who is playing Vito, he could be a bloodthirsty psychopath or a pacifist, a road rageaholic or someone who never passes 30mph. It is both one of the great foibles and assets when trying to dissect a videogame, as there is never a “concrete” personality to a character when in gameplay.

Personally, I will be working off the idea of the only characters that the player is under obligation to kill die during the narrative, as it is a good medium.

So with those addendums given, let us start on the game proper.

Vito Mafia 3 First meeting
Vito’s first appearance in Mafia III. Soon after, he joins with Lincoln Clay to take down the Cosa Nostra. (Source: pinterest.com)

The first aspect ties in with the nature of the avatar, but from a designer point of view rather than a player. Jack Scalici, Director of Creative Production on Mafia 2 listed Vito’s character traits,

Scalici: “…he’s a nice guy. He has strong morals. He doesn’t kill people because he wants to, he kills because he has to.” (FAIR/PLAY, 2017).

I’ll add a few more; he is quiet, unassuming, and rational. He is the complete opposite of “shoot-first-ask-questions-later” Joe, that’s why they make a great pair. But all of these terms to describe Vito are rather nebulous. There is nothing standout about him, he is tabula rasa, a blank slate.

The technique of tabula rasa is used a lot in games, as it helps develop quick player identification. If there is no set personality, we can project whatever we want onto a character. Some of the most iconic and beloved characters are like this; Gordon Freeman, Link, Crash Bandicoot, Doom Guy, none of them have any notable character traits besides vague concepts like “brave’ or “wacky”, but they are often found at the top of ‘Favourite Game Character Lists.’

Tabula rasa can also lead to great narrative twists. Characters like James Sunderland in Silent Hill 2, Nilin in Remember Me, and Walker in Spec Ops, these characters are kept vague in the beginning, before their personality is revealed later into the narrative, leading to shame, shock, or abhorrence at their true colours.

Vito doesn’t have these quirks. He is kept elusive and quiet, possibly for player connection, but that unfortunately bleeds over into the game. It makes Vito look like someone who only takes orders and has no initiative. He’s constantly the fall guy, from start to finish, always kowtowing to his higher-ups. When Luca Gurino asks whether Vito is willing to “take the next step” by,

Luca: “…taking somebody out, just ‘cause someone points his finger at him and tells you to do it.”

Vito replies,

Vito: “I was in the war, Mr. Gurino. All I did was kill people I was told to kill…”

Luca laughs and responds,

Luca: “We need guys like you. Guys who can follow orders without asking questions.”

Throughout the two games that he prominently features in, Vito has this veneration for authority. When Cassandra and Vito square off, Vito falls back on his seniors,

Cassandra: “You can blame Marcano all you want, but it was your men who ambushed us.”

Vito: “My men were following orders. We got rules.”

When Lincoln breaks up the argument, Cassandra follows up,

Cassandra: “…do you know how many of my men this connard killed ‘cause Marcano ‘told him to’?”

It could be that Vito appeals to authority due to his absent father. Throughout Mafia II, Vito doesn’t look too kindly on his father’s memory. When Joe mentions him near the beginning, Vito quickly shoots in and calls him a “deadbeat”. And when Mama Scalletta says she wished Vito’s father could have seen him return from the war, Vito sarcastically replies, “Yeah, sure.”

This could be a reason why Vito jumps in with the mafia, to have a surrogate family. He obviously looks up to Leo Galante as a father figure (although Leo does not see Vito as a son). This could be why Vito goes along with things that are a detriment to him because he’s wanted a security of family.

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Vito Scaletta and Leo Galante at the end of Mafia II. Vito looks up to Leo, but the older man sees Vito as disposable by Mafia III. (Source: ‘LoudMouthZander’, YouTube.com)

There are only two times that Vito pushes back against other’s actions, both times weakly. When Vito returns from the war, Joe get him out of the service. Vito objects, saying that he will go to prison if caught. After Joe placates him, Vito never brings up the subject again, even after going to prison partly because he went AWOL.

The second is when he and Joe team up with Henry Tomasino after killing Alberto Clemente. Henry proposes the three go into the drugs business. Vito objects, saying,

Vito: “Drugs are bad. They kill people.”

On top of this, when swearing allegiance to the Cosa Nostra, Frank Vinci, one of the other bosses in the city, says,

Vinci: “Whatever you do gentlemen, stay away from the dope! No dope! That’s our policy.”

Yet, Vito goes along, swayed by the money Henry promises. He is greedy. When his house is burnt down by the Irish mob, Joe tries to console him with the fact that,

Joe: “…all that stuff that got burnt up, it’s just things Vito.”

However, Vito does not see it like that. He replies angrily,

Vito: “Just things? Hey, those were my things Joe. Why do you think I do the shit we do anyways? It’s to buy things, ya know, suits, cars, broads, houses.”

This thin motivation of material possessions is brought up again in Mafia III,

Lincoln: “Nobody forced you to get greedy. You could’ve sat back, been content, watched the money roll in. But no, that wasn’t enough.”

Mafia II Vito and Eddie
Once Vito is ‘made’, we get montages featuring him buying cars, a big house, and smart suits. Money seems to be Vito’s main motivating factor. (Source: tiltingatpixels.com).

So, other than a substitute family, it is a drive for the American Dream that pushes Vito forward. When thinking back on his arrival in Empire Bay, Vito remarks,

Vito: “Never in my life had I seen anything as fantastic as Empire Bay. It was beautiful…on the other hand, I’d never seen anything filthier or more disgusting than our new shithole of an apartment.”

He is always trying to better himself, motivated by an almost loathing of his parents for raising him in poverty. Maybe this is why Vito is notoriously work shy, throwing in the manual labour job at the port he gets at the beginning of the game, as it reminds him of his father. This aversion to the lower class is seen in dialogue with Joe near the beginning of the game.

Joe: “The working man is a sucker, that’s for damn sure.”

Vito: “You said it.”

And when talking to Joe after they exact revenge on the Irish mob for torching Vito’s house (therefore losing all of his accumulated wealth), Vito explains,

Vito: “I promised myself I’d never be poor again, end up a fucking wharf rat like my old man.”

Senior producer Denby Grace shed some light on Vito’s motivations during pre-release promotion of the game,

Grace: “He [Vito] just wants to get a bit of money, a bit of respect and a bit of power. Vito doesn’t aspire to be the Don.” (FAIR/PLAY, 2017).

Unlike Tommy who joined up for safety in Mafia 1, or Lincoln who was raised by the Black Mob in Mafia III, Vito just starts off as a delinquent and never wavers, even after a stint in prison.

The only acknowledgement that Vito wanted to be a gangster is an internal monologue during the scene where he becomes a made man.

Vito: “You might wonder why I’d take this risk again after spending almost seven years in the can. You see, where I grew up, the only guys who mattered were the ones who had the balls to take what they wanted…

…and after years of doing everybody else’s dirty work, I was willing to risk anything to finally be somebody.”

There is obviously a feeling that he always wanted to follow this path. In Mafia III, Vito’s death mission is literally called “I Deserved Better.” When he is beaten, Vito says,

Vito: “I gave up everything for this life. Everything! And look where I ended up!”

But Vito is wrong. He did not ‘give up’ everything. He lost everything. He lost his family, with his sister Frankie breaking ties with him. He lost his freedom when he went to jail. He lost his friend Joe and lost his way within the Cosa Nostra when he killed Carlo Falcone. As Tommy says in the epilogue of the original Mafia,

“…the guy who wants too much risks losing absolutely everything. Of course, the guy who wants too little from life might not get anything at all.”

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Vito is at first sceptical of Lincoln’s help, fearing that he would be betrayed once again just like he was back in Empire Bay. (Source: pinterest.com)

Vito’s ‘death’ in Mafia III also sheds light on his character. If Lincoln kills the other two bosses, Cassandra and Burke, he is restrained and gentle in their final moments together. He sits with Burke while he drifts away, and returns Cassandra’s pendant with a picture of her dead daughter to her.

Vito is the only one that is holding a gun in his final cutscene, dropping it to the ground after realising it is empty. However, he pulls a switchblade out and rushes Lincoln, forcing the latter to shoot him dead. This can be seen as a continuation of his traits in Mafia II. As Vito says in his confrontation with Lincoln,

Vito: “There’s always been someone waitin’ to fuck me.”

The switchblade makes sense; he’s been around for too long and will take any chance he gets to bring some semblance of balance to his world. He’s turned grey with age and anger, only having dominion over a scrap of land given to him more out of loyalty than being an earner.

And once he is dead, his underboss Alma sadly refers to him as “a good little solider.” That is seemingly all he was, even after all this time.

Yet if he takes over when Lincoln leaves, Vito seemingly drags New Bordeaux out of dirt. Unlike Burke or Cassandra, Vito revitalises the city and lives into old age. He builds casinos, arenas, convention centres, turning the city into “the Las Vegas of the South” according to Jonathan Macguire. He finally ‘wins’. It is all material, nothing but bricks and mortar, but as mentioned previously, that is all Vito wants for.

Conclusion

As I said in the introduction, it is rare to find a character like Vito that develops with subsequent games. Even the other famous Italian gaming icon, (no, the OTHER one), Ezio Auditore, doesn’t change much over the thirty-five years we spend playing as him, only really changing in the first act of AC2 when his father and brothers are murdered. And that’s the main difference; Ezio starts with tragedy, Vito ends with it.

I think it is this beautifully melancholic arc, which is why Vito is so loved. Tommy in Mafia 1 doesn’t get as much time to grow, and Lincoln is seemingly indifferent by the end of Mafia III. We see Vito through both the major moments and his everyday life, and it endears us to him.

Mafia 2 Vito and Joe
Even now nearly a decade on, Vito and Joe’s story is fondly remembered by fans of the series. (Source: greghorrorshow.wordpress.com)

His nature as a protagonist also makes us look favorably on him. As an avatar, we have a slight bias towards him. I think a character, especially one in a story-driven game like this, digs into a psyche deeper than a general protagonist in an open-world crime sim.

Following on from that, the setting also helps aid our connection to Vito. For all the open-world games we have nowadays, there are very little that have a period setting. And while the original Mafia is a fun game, it is brutally unforgiving. There is an idolisation of the gangster trope, seen in Hollywood since the 30s. This was the intended goal by 2k Czech, as Cinematic Director Tomás Hrebícek said in an interview,

“We want to present the whole game in a Hollywood film like style…” (FAIR/PLAY, 2017).

Sat next to your best friend, both dressed in snazzy suits, wielding a classic Tommy gun, driving a sleek convertible, listening to classic rock-n-roll blaring out of the radio, it is hard not to see the draw. And being the guy we get to experience that with would make him stick in your mind.

And speaking of friends, what of Joe? Even when he kills innocent bystanders and causes havoc for Vito to clear up, it is never questioned, because of that bond. Joe is Vito’s friend, therefore by extension is ‘ours’. The company we keep can be just as enticing as the lead.

In the end I think I like Vito more in Mafia III. There is a history there that is interesting to ruminate on and more to play off. But the simple layers of Mafia II worked their magic, seeing this once promising young lad reach for the dream of something better, but lose everything in the process.

He may not have much to say, but he has a damn good story to tell. And a good story will be remembered and treasured.

Banner Photo Source: goodfon.com

1500 Words Gushing Over Mafia 3

I recently finished Mafia 3 after a good few months playing it. It was one of the first games I got when I upgraded to the newest console generation and I was pretty much playing it non-stop, leaving other newer games by the wayside just to come back to this one again and again.

And after finishing the game I’m certain this will be among my favourite games I will play on this system.

Not since Remember Me has a whole game caught with me rather than just one or two good parts of it. So I thought a little breakdown about the points that hooked me into staying in New Bordeaux for much longer than I would ever imagine…

“We Are A Cruel And Wicked People”– Why I love Mafia 3

  1. The Story And Characters.

The story is the high point of the game. Telling the story of bi-racial orphan and Vietnam veteran Lincoln Clay, the narrative is told in a documentary flashback format. Characters tell their story in interview format, evoking recent films like Precinct Seven Five.

This feeds into the linear game structure, as we are being told a story (much like the previous Mafia games) which helps keep the pace up which can sometimes suffer in a game where you can go anywhere, anytime.

Despite having this linear structure the multiple endings all fit the character depending on the player’s reading of Lincoln.

I was surprised we didn’t start in Vietnam, similar to Mafia 2 starting in WW2 Italy, but that added to the characters, leaving us open to interpret Lincoln actions in Vietnam from his and comrade Donavan’s stories.

The story is beautifully realised with several standout characters. We have the three main bosses, Burke, Cassandra, and Vito, each with their own unique quirks. Vito is especially interesting, it’s fun to see a once playable character from the other side (again), where his simple layers in Mafia 2 (due to being a playable character) become a lot greyer with age and antagonism.

The second-in-commands too are well defined and have some interesting layers to them, making them more than cardboard cut outs that sometimes arrive with games as big as this. Emmanuel, the once refugee-saver reduced to dope peddling, Alma, the businesswoman not afraid to use female charms for her own gain, and Nicki, a woman struggling with her sexuality in a time and place that does not care for it, they all add something to the game, all through optional dialogue (which I am a big fan of ever since I first encountered it in PoP 2008).

But highest praise must go to Alex Hernandez for his portrayal of Lincoln Clay. Convincingly switching from cocky and confident to anger, sadness, joviality and eventually blood-driven when the time comes, he is truly an asset to the game.

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(From L to R) Father James, Sal Marcano, “Cassandra”, Lincoln Clay, Vito Scaletta, Thomas Burke and John Donavan, some of the most layered characters I’ve played alongside. (Source: mafiagame.fandom.com)
  1. The Missions

One of the main criticisms of Mafia is its mission structure. Very much like the first Assassin’s Creed, the game centers itself around taking down members of the Marcano crime family one district at a time.

Once you talk to a contact in the district you have several tasks dealt out to you, but these always follow the same path; kill some people, interrogate a member of the crime family or destroy their shipments. Once done then you can take over the rackets in that area before going after the main controller of the area.

This is just going to be one of those cases where I find enjoyment that others don’t. I think it might be because I really enjoyed the driving and combat (more on the latter next) so I had fun being given new scenarios lasting a few minutes to make my way through.

Hangar 13 said their approach to the missions, at least side missions, was “Lincoln doesn’t go fishing”. Essentially, this means the mission must make sense for the character to do (why does psychopathic murderer Michael De Santa do yoga in GTAV?). This feeds back into the story, again, keeping the pace and flow up rather than bogging the game down.

The Marcano capo missions are fun due to their added story and setting with each one being a completely unique situation; a shootout on a sinking steamboat, sneaking into a swanky whites-only party, breaking up a KKK-inspired cross burning, the list goes on and on (all involving excellent and period-fitting musical accompaniment such as the Rolling Stones, Del Shannon, and Janis Joplin).

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With missions in mob-enforced saunas, partially built casinos, supremacist rallies, burlesque houses and drug dens, Mafia 3 can at least boast of having some memorable places for action sequences. (Source: geforce.com)

While most devolve into shootouts the combat is so fun I never got bored. Speaking of which…

  1. The Combat

I can’t actually remember how long it’s been to have a combat system this satisfying, but it was probably at least back on the PS2 (I’m going to have a wild guess and say 007: Everything Or Nothing).

It’s your standard shooting, melee, and stealth tri-factor, but each one is done so well.

The gunplay feels responsive and sounds meaty, with a vast array of weapons to choose from.

At the start I was on-the-fly, picking up weapons due to limited ammo. Then I specialized in a sawn-off shotgun and sniper for both range advantages, before coming round to silenced pistol and assault weapons for an action/stealth combination. This is a perfect distillation of Hangar 13’s motto, “Every player’s story is unique”, and can be seen in the multiple approaches to combat as well as hidden pathways through the missions.

The animations in combat as well are a nice detail. With lovely smooth transitions from running (where Lincoln holds the gun one handed), to ADS, to the short sidestep after coming out of sights, the little points make the game feel rich and loved by the creators.

While the melee can become stale after the fiftieth whistle-come-stab, it does have moments of intense fun especially with the running takedowns. Only in a handful of games have I audibly “oohhhed” at the brutality I’ve dished out on NPCs (Sleeping Dogs is probably the main one), and Mafia 3’s American Football-style takedowns are poetry in motion.

You can choose between lethal and non-lethal attack as well. Even if the change is hidden in the pause menu rather than switching in gameplay it’s nice that you at least have the option. Especially since most games just give you “kill” as a catch-all for their combat.

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The feeling of combat is one of the better from an open world game, and has several variables and the opportunity to customise. (Source: geforce.com)
  1. The Open World and Travel

The world of New Bordeaux is a lovely city to drive around in. The cars seem more arcade-y than the previous Mafia games (there is an option of a Simulation mode for purists in the option menu). Lincoln’s signature vehicle is a classic, wheel spinning, fire spitting, drifting muscle car, and sliding across three lanes of traffic or 180 hand brake turns are easy to pull off and create that sense of spectacle and wonder we want from games.

As usual in Mafia games the setting is an approximation of a real city (this one being New Orleans), but has enough of its own style to stand out rather than feel like a copy/paste of Google Maps. The South has been the setting before in games, with indie hits like Virginia being in, well…Virginia, Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 1 in Georgia, GTA: Vice City in Vice City (a version of Miami) and Left 4 Dead 2 in a swathe of southern states.

I would say only the latter two come close to creating a sense of place as good as New Bordeaux with Vice City also having Haitian and Cuban influences (but better at creating a sense of time rather than place) and L4D2 having a wide range of locales like Mafia 3 (but most feeling more like shells rather than a fleshed-out world). Mafia 3 is the first one that actually feels like a living place with countless indoor locations, pedestrians, and drivers.

Talking of the variety of locations, Mafia 3 has a selection to rival most other open world games. With settings such as the bayou, junkyards, quarries, downtown areas, and its own version to the French Quarter, the city has a tremendous scope of backgrounds for Lincoln to dish out punishment on the Italian mob.

And despite having these completely distinct sections the map, New Bordeaux doesn’t feel disjointed when moving from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, which has happened within other open world titles focusing on rising criminal empires.

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With customisable cars and easy inputs to pull of a variety of stunt-worthy moves, the driving is a wholly enjoyable experience. (Source: microsoft.com)

End

The interesting part about my time with Mafia 3 is I was completely sick of open world games when I started. I was sick of the endless stream of side missions, the “revealing” of the world through climbing towers, the largely meandering story that can sometimes come with having a sandbox as big as it can be.

I had been wanting a more refined experience and Mafia 3 delivered. That’s what sets it apart from its contemporaries; GTA has the bustling modern metropolis filled to the brim, AC has the historical fiction,  Fallout has the nuclear dys/utopia, and The Witcher/Skyrim have the magical fantasy. The Mafia series works because it has a focused central story that fires straight as an arrow carving out its niche in the market.

And that niche made me adore Mafia 3. Add in a cracking sense of time and history, as well as vivid locations and brutal, satisfying combat sections, Mafia 3 is a gem in my game library.

 

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