In August 2010, 2K Games released Mafia II, a crime drama set in 1940s United States. While the game was met with mixed reviews compared to its predecessor, one aspect where the title clearly shined was its soundtrack. Featuring a mixture of licensed and original music, composers Matus Siroky and Adam Kuruc hired the talented musicians of the FILMharmonic Orchestra Prague (Monster Hunter 3, Halo Wars) to perform the orchestral compositions of the soundtrack. They were so proud of the results that they included the full orchestral soundtrack with the Collector's Edition of the game.
The "Main Theme" instantly reveals the dramatic weight that the FILMharmonic Orchestra Prague brought to Mafia II. The composition beautifully sets the scene for the game with its nostalgic piano passages at the introduction. It thereafter takes a suitably sinister twist with a series of urgent string motifs inspired by Hollywood tradition before exposing the bittersweet and scenic central melody for the game. While the individual elements of the composition are somewhat minimalistic and functional, this is by no means detrimental, since the performers make the very most of them; they bring out every nuance in the introduction, provide plenty of edge and drama with the string passages, and offer a rich and uplifting tutti at the conclusion.
Much of the soundtrack has an understated sense of mystery. Compositions such as "Prologue" are almost comforting and intimate with their slow piano melodies and gentle supporting soundscapes, but something unsettling is provided by certain chord choices and gradually overpowering strings. Other tracks such as "Misery Lane", "Hide and Seek", "The End", and the closing piano arrangement create a great sense of melancholy through similar approaches. The orchestrations and performances somehow manages to evoke a very strong sense of time and place despite its outward sparseness. In this sense, it is highly reminiscent of the recently released Alan Wake score, except with a greater pastiche feel.
Make no mistake, however, that this is primarily an action score and there are plenty of dynamic moments here. Much like the second section of the "Main Theme", many of these tracks rely on tense string motifs and brutal brass interjections. Wonderfully punctuated by the FILMharmonic, such elements really throw listeners right into the drama on tracks such as "Whisky Heat", "Balls and Beans", "Beats from the East", and "Last Orders". However, it does feel very derivative of Hollywood tradition at times and lacks the distinction of the more unique action themes. What's more, such tracks tend to be so numerous, short, and intentionally ugly that they can clutter this 48 track release, interrupting the numerous other highlights.
"Enemy of the State" is probably the most creative of the action themes, offering a unique blend of jazz and avant-garde elements. The acoustic bass creates an amazing rhythm for the theme, while the various orchestral discords add a good deal of drama and uncertainty. This combination of rhythmical thrust and timbral variety is ideal for a dangerous encounter. The sleazy jazz influence makes appearances in a number of more atmospheric additions to the score too, for example "Trials and Tribulations", "The Slaughterhouse Shuffle", and "Cosa Nostra". This transforms what could have been very dull and conventional ambient themes into something quite fascinating. Though a little stereotyped, this jazz influence definitely adds a great sense of urban USA in the 1940s.
After recording the score for Mafia II, music producer announced that "Mafia II music just got a thousand times better, and instantly came alive in a classically powerful storytelling". The collector's edition soundtrack reveals he is entirely correct and the orchestra bring much colour and drama to the already accomplished compositions throughout. Given its predecessor received no soundtrack release, it's pleasing that the music for Mafia II became a major selling point of the Collector's Edition. Despite a few too many short action themes, with 48 tracks and numerous highlights, the soundtrack received the exuberant treatment it deserved here.