In an age where RTS's form the de facto free-to-play model, are ten-a-penny on mobiles and flash sites, and most cost, well, about ten pennies, games like Omerta - a retail release offering the sort of resource-juggling hub management the App Store's swimming in - will inevitably find it hard.
Like Tropico with a trilby (the comparison's apt: this is from the same tag-team of Kalypso and Haemimont), Omerta trades on its sense of place; a real-time strategy where players work within a criminal hierarchy to take over Atlantic City in the roaring twenties, Boardwalk Empire-style. You're a mob boss whose expertise are in boosted liquor and broken legs, and - similarly to enjoyable cult hit, Tropico 4 - all starts with a name: you'll choose a face to act as your avatar and call yourself whatever you want (Mr. Bojangles does it for us).
After that, in an effort to flesh him out, you'll answer a quick quiz. What was your nickname as a kid? A) Berries B) Earful C) Hood. What was the most daring feat you pulled off? Wrestling a bull with your bare hands? Breaking into a Mafioso's wine cellar and getting smashed? Sweet-talking a loan shark to not only hold off on beating you up, but actually lending you an extra 100 bucks? The quiz forms the extent of your personality, is a nice injection of life, but a poor substitute for a physical screen presence.
More than a frivolity, this quiz determines your strengths and weaknesses. Bull-wresters will have earned +1 muscle and +1 toughness but -1 finesse. Loan-shark-sweet-talkers, on the other hand, are privy to +1 cunning and +1 smarts but -1 muscle. This ties into your street method, whether intimidating, violent, tough, cunning, or led by finesse.
Choose to strong-arm politicians and they won't call in favours; burgle residences and you'll earn a lot of dirty dough but raise heat levels, eventually leading to cops watching your every move and preventing you partaking in certain activities. The easy way is always to muscle in with a muttered threat or full-blown raid, earning you increased money, beer, liquor or firearms - but the downside is increased heat. Balance is key.
Of course, you won't be alone. Before you do anything you'll need to hire lackeys - up to six of them - all with salaries, perks and weirdly recognizable faces. We swear they've used the mugs of actors Alan Cumming, Peter Cushing and Paul Newman as templates, and even football manger Owen Coyle turns up as an Irish brewery man.
Your workers gather resources necessary for expansion, and are available to be sent on errands across town in efforts to acquire resources. Different resources buy different things. Five firearms unlocks a drive-by, for instance, while ten beers bribes an informant, who'll rat out hidden locations, further broadening your view of the city. (On the subject of the city, by the way, the completely useless camera should be noted, fully rotatable but unable to angle vertically, nor zoom out far enough. This leaves you with a view that feels packed, but forces an over-reliance on the mini-map in the top left corner.)
Where Tropico felt open-ended, Omerta feels too claustrophobic
As well as scavenging resources, establishing property helps generate them. Speakeasies, pawn shops, pizzerias, bookmakers, pharmacies, weapon stores, loan sharks and boxing rings generate their own particular asset. One may dish up liquor, another money, and another firearms. Feeding back into itself, you'll spend resources on running jobs and rackets, and in turn building up your gang. It feels repetitive and without consequence, though: send gangster to location, wait for cool-down meter, rinse and repeat. Where Tropico felt open-ended, Omerta feels like a claustrophobic series of geometric circles, your territory a few city blocks, your work force a handful of thugs, and your interactions hinged on dry menu choices repeating into oblivion.
Online multiplayer seeks to alleviate drudgery, and includes co-op bank heists, jailbreaks and free-for-alls, but it sadly centres entirely on insipid turn-based combat. Why no crime family vs. crime family face-offs using free market economics and strong pimp hands? These XCOM Lite combat scenarios see your squad invade enemy turf for some turn-based wet work, but awful execution hinders more than helps. Patiently waiting your turn while a KKK member paces up and kicks you in the balls is so anti-gangster it would have Ray Liotta doing dry heaves - and recycled "Guh! Oof!" sound effects don't help.
To boot, there's none of XCOM's squadmate relationship-building. You can't customise anyone, and the lack of death means tension only comes from potentially having to restart from the checkpoint. These sections demonstrate Omerta: City of Gangsters' all-round lack of quality. Sure, it's a ten-hour time-sink no worse than you'll find on your phone or Facebook, and there's nothing inherently broken about it. But there is one key difference: it costs thirty pounds.
A botched blend of XCOM and Tropico, which ultimately boils down to shallow strategy in a Goodfellas skin.
- Boardwalk Empire - the game!
- Improves some of the ideas that made Tropico 4 work so well...
- ... but ruins more in the process
- XCOM Lite, but without that game's classy execution or personality
- Awkward, impractical camera
- Hundreds of lower-priced contenders available on the App Store