Publisher: Kalypso Media
Developer: Haemimont Games
Omerta: City of Gangsters is the latest title from acclaimed simulation and tycoon developer Kalypso Media (of Tropico fame), which blends addictive city-building gameplay with exciting turn-based tactical action in a world of crime and corruption. Set in a historically accurate representation of Atlantic City, New Jersey in the 1920s, Omerta puts you in control of a crew of hardboiled thugs and racketeers, as you lie, cheat, and steal your way to the top of the food chain. I had a chance to spend some time with the game in the weeks leading up to its commercial release, back when Squigs and Doc and all the other gangsters were running the streets in the beta version. So how does the finished product hold up to the promise I saw back when I previewed the game last month? Well, “Omerta” may mean a code of silence among members of a criminal organization regarding their misconduct, but that’s not going to stop me from telling you about this impressive bout with the 1920s mob life that is Omerta: City of Gangsters.
I’ll stand by my initial reaction that Omerta gets off to a slow start, and it moves at a crawl while you gather your bearings and learn the ins and outs of the underground mob life. The story only gets better the more you go along, as you meet more and more gangsters (for a grand total of fifteen), and reinforce your standing as “The Boss.” Every gangster is brought to life with really authentic and believable voiceover work, and there’s never any over-the-top overacting or stereotypical Italian mobster dialect. Some of the basic mission objectives do tend to get a bit trite after a while (raid a liquor store, bribe a city official, rinse and repeat), but they do set the stage for some pretty awesome story-based skirmishes a little later on. The Klu Klux Klan-inspired mission that I discussed in my preview is still one of the best that Omerta has to offer, but there are quite a few other memorable missions in the rest of the game that I won’t give away. The overarching story is split across 20 separate missions, which move you to different sections of Atlantic City as your empire grows, and make you start from scratch in expanding your influence in each new location; luckily, your money carries over from mission to mission, so it keeps the wheels greased and turning in your gangster machine. The 1920s world of prohibition and speakeasies is accentuated by a lively jazz soundtrack, which really captures the tone of the era, but it does get a little annoying after a while, as it never goes away, and the slim selection of tracks (especially the main title theme) will repeat before long to an almost maddening degree.
Omerta is neatly split down the middle into two separate styles of gameplay, which actually complement each other very well: city-building simulation and management, akin to Kalypso’s Tropico series; and gripping, turn-based tactical battles. The city-building sections revolve around conducting shady business deals and back alley deeds, like paying off informants to open up new areas on the map, or buying and establishing store properties called “joints,” where you can deal with other lowlifes in beer or firearms. All your options feel appropriate for the times, but they can also seem a bit limited as well, when you get into the later parts of the game and start to see the same scenarios popping up again and again. This is also where you’ll initiate the direct firefights that constitute the other half of Omerta, which I’ll address in just a minute. You can also earn “clean” money ($$) by setting up reputable businesses like pharmacies and laundering your cash; or “dirty” money ($) by extracting bribes or intimidating store owners to give up the goods. The city-building portions of the game can get a little stale at times, but they go by fast, and reaching certain goals and milestones are usually never too time consuming.
But it’s the action-packed confrontations with rival gangs and street thugs that really drive home the heart and soul of Omerta: City of Gangsters. Because really, what good is a mobster game without being able to get your hands a little dirty? Before every mission, you’ll get to assign a number of gangsters to fight by your side, and each one has their own unique ability to bring to the table. You’ll start out with only two gangster slots, but can eventually work your way up to a maximum of six. Most of these sections will involve you clearing out a warehouse of goons who are up to no good, but you’ll also find the occasional rescue or retrieval mission thrown in for good measure. The beginning of each gunfight will usually take a few turns to build up momentum, especially in larger areas, where you’ll need to spend at least five or six turns moving all of your gangsters into position, or within a close enough shooting range to reach your opponent. When you’re in control of six different gangsters, all moving in incremental baby steps, one after the other, the flow of the game does tend to feel a bit choppy, and your movements come across as somewhat interrupted. But once you have a thug in your crosshair and the bullets start to fly, the action picks up to exhilarating levels, and every decision becomes crucial towards your ultimate success or demise.
Make sure you save your game often, too, as the lack of a helpful checkpoint system will send you back to your last auto or manual save every time you fail a mission. For a turn-based strategy game, you’ll never feel like your movements are restricted to a grid-based playing field, and using environmental objects for cover has a surprising amount of flexibility to it. Granted, the system still has its tiny imperfections, like the infuriating way your shots always seem to miss much more often than your opponent’s attacks, and when ducking behind cover only tends to protect you about half of the time; but as a whole, it proves to be the perfect complement to the simulation aspects, and a great take on the turn-based tactical genre in full. The biggest weak point in Omerta: City of Gangsters is the game’s visuals, which are still as lifeless and dull as I found them to be in the beta. There seems to be a lot more people wandering the streets of Atlantic City now in the full release, but they still all move in identical patterns, one right after the other, in straight mechanical lines. The different sections of the city all blend together in muddy green and brown textures, and a lack of very many interesting landmarks make it difficult to tell one block apart from another. Zooming in doesn’t help matters either, as it only highlights the poor attention to detail. The close-knit quarters of the action segments are a bit more elaborate, especially the interior settings, but there’s still only so many dimly-lit warehouses you can sneak through before things start to really overlap.
When you’ve had your fill of the story, you can also get your gangster fix in the open Sandbox Mode, or the competitive and cooperative Multiplayer Modes. Sandbox Mode favors the city-building aspects of the game, and lets you build up your empire without the looming threat of being ripped away to a new location once you really start raking in the dough; while the Multiplayer is all about the turn-based action. Challenge a random opponent to a brawl, or team up with a friend and take on a gang of AI-controlled Mafioso-types. In either case, there’s a 60-second timer put in place for every turn, to keep things moving at a brisk and lively pace. You are in the middle of a gang war, after all! You can also import the friendly faces of gangsters you’ve acquired in the main story, complete with their perks and other character upgrades, to really showcase your chops on Omerta’s global servers.
These additional modes are a great extension of the single player game, and while it wouldn’t have hurt to include a bit more than the four available multiplayer scenarios, the online component still offers a ton of replay value for fans of Omerta. And with so many different gangsters to choose from, and other strategic variables that get put into play, it’s likely that you’ll never encounter the same crew twice in this dirty and conniving city of gangsters!
Story – 8/10
Graphics – 7/10