David Murphy Jun 11, 2013

Omerta: City of Gangsters

At A Glance

Nicely-Nicely Johnson

Great graphics; decently enjoyable simulation experience; trait-based RPG elements.

Big Julie

Ho-hum tactical shooting; not much of a challenge in general; boring multiplayer.

Fails to execute as a simulation or strategic shooter

When we see a gangster game come out—especially one that blends our love of building a true, bootleggy, 1930s-style criminal empire with our zest for shooting thugs with poorly executed Italian accents—we get a little anxious. It’s true. Give us a game that looks like a cross between Theme Park and Mafia and we’ll be set for quite a long while, cackling with glee as we outrun the cops in old-timey cars while trying to deliver our bootlegged booze to our various speakeasies.

Omerta’s black-market system is fairly easy to exploit, given the seemingly ludicrous offers you receive.

Omerta: City of Gangsters tries to recreate our lovely gangster fantasies and succeeds admirably to a small extent. However, it’s a bit tough to call this game a “game” in the traditional sense, as its main storyline feels more like a giant sandbox that you can exploit to maximum advantage before actually doing anything that requires effort in this half-simulation, half-Fallout hybrid.

The gist of Omerta is simple. You, a fledgling crime lord, are tasked with running through various individual missions within the larger world of Atlantic City. The game follows all the standard archetypes of the genre: Each mission, you’re given a set area to play within (which all look generally similar), and said area is filled with various buildings that you can rent, shoot up, bribe, or perform assorted other actions on depending on what the particular building actually is. You (rather quickly) unlock a ton of different buildings and actions that basically allow you to generate and spend resources.

For example, if you’re big into beer, you can build yourself an (illegal) brewery or two. While your sim-gangster-wannabes get to bootleggin’, you can take the booze they’re storing up and either sell it to a speakeasy yourself, sell it on the game’s version of an ever-present worldwide black market, or sit back and watch it automatically funnel on over to any speakeasies (or other beer-selling buildings) that you happen to own. Get rich, get paid; wash, rinse, repeat.

The game’s buildings can get a bit more complicated. For example, you can throw down Boxing Arenas or Pawn Shops that automatically generate cash depending on the positivity (fame) or negativity (fear) your in-game actions generate. Running charity events and building soup kitchens is going to make your boxers shine, whereas being a jerk to all of your local businesses (and fellow Mafiosos) is going to make you the next Pawn Star/Don Corleone mashup.

While it’s definitely fun to build your little mob city and level up your (creatively named) gangsters, one of the core issues surrounding Omerta is that it’s just too easy, simulation-wise. You can literally take all the time in the world to craft a super-cash-generating, top-of-the-line criminal empire without having much to fear from, well, anything.

The game’s only real motivator is a little element it calls “heat,” which is analogous to the star ratings you receive in your favorite Grand Theft Auto title whenever you perform naughty actions. Stir up too much negativity and the cops will come a-running, and you’ll have to bribe them or use another clever trick (like giving up one of your own hirable henchmen) to avoid losing the game. But, again, given just how easy it is to construct a fairly lucrative criminal empire without interference, it’s not that hard to get the cops off your trail—especially when you can frequently use the aforementioned, ever-present “black market” jobs board to reduce these heat levels before they become a problem.

The game’s characters do have some RPG elements, and period-appropriate names.

Would we pay half of the game’s asking price ($40) for the sim parts? Eh. They’re certainly fun—a good way to spend a solid afternoon. But, devoid of real urgency, the simulation element of the game devolves as a real attention-getter faster than we expected it to at first.

As for the game’s other half, the Fallout bits, we’re referring to the turn-based tactical shooter that the game turns into whenever your business-friendly gangsters need to go, uh, take care of a little business (if you catch our drift). The comparisons to the recently released XCOM Enemy Unknown are easy to make, with a few caveats: The game can be a bit frustrating early on, until you start unlocking “Mobsters with Medkits,” as we call them, because your small gang of fighters is going to go up against a decent number of other criminals without much of a reprieve.

Zoom in and you’ll actually be able to watch your mobsters carry out your assigned missions, including drive-bys.

On the plus side, you can’t die in the game. Your knocked-out gangsters suffer quasi-permanent injuries when they get riddled full of holes, which will impair their ability to be awesome for a bit of time in the future. You’ll likely suffer some injuries yourself, as the gamer, when you’re pounding your fist against the desk at the AI’s idiotic, charge-on-in strategy that seems to leave your gangsters hurtin’ no matter how much cover you think you’ve stuck them behind.

While we do like the variety of abilities—and weapon modes—your gangsters bring to the table, it’s safe to say that XCOM, this game ain’t. The tactical battles aren’t so much frustrating as they are uninteresting; we’d rather make our in-game cash and achieve our objectives by sitting back and letting our breweries churn than bothering with a more shoot-’em-up bank heist. Same reward, fewer annoyances (and less time spent).

It’s puzzling that developer Haemimont Games didn’t decide to add in AI for the game’s high-level business strategy. Going toe-to-toe against an AI that’s also renting buildings, setting up rackets, and doing other sorts of nefarious activity would have made this one a lot more interesting. Instead of bribing the police to keep yourself alive, you could have sent the cops against your hapless fellow mob bosses—sounds like fun to us!

Since the only thing keeping gamers interested in the criminal underworld of Atlantic City is the storyline—which reads more like an extended tutorial than Goodfellas—there’s just not that much compelling about Omerta to keep fledgling gangsters addicted to their screens. Shoot, even the game’s multiplayer is just its tactical shooter bit. Insert one Don Corleone–size yawn here. Omerta, like any upstart mob boss, arrived on the scene with so much potential, but this title feels like someone took a bat to its knees.

$40, www.cityofgangsters.com , ESRB: T


Omerta: City of Gangsters

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