‘Omerta: City of Gangsters’ Review

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The Bulgarian developer Haemimont Games  is mostly known for their flagship franchise in the dictatorial Tropico series. Over the past two installments, they’ve proven that they are good at city-building games, and one would typically expect them to stick to their bread and butter. However, they’ve just released their first foray into the turn-based strategy realm with Omerta: City of Gangsters. 

The roaring 20s was an interesting time period; the American dream: fortune, glory, and fame. Fresh off of the boat from Italy, you’ll take the stage and attempt to make yourself into one of the biggest bosses in Atlantic City. You start off small, doing jobs for a local mob boss, and from there, you’ll start your path to building a criminal empire. After all, no law enforcement, KKK, or any rival gangs are going to get in your way.

Beginning with your hideout, you’ll began expanding your operations to include speakeasies to boxing clubs, to distilleries and money launderers. You see, when it comes down to it, money is the only thing that matters. Producing product, buying low and selling high, or simply taking what you want is what the game is all about. Most of this comes in the form of dirty money which is earned from illegal activity and serves as your main form of currency. You’ll also be dealing with clean money, but that isn’t relevant until mid-game when you begin dealing with actual properties such as night clubs and casinos.

All of this of course, doesn’t go unnoticed by the local police department. Each and every illegal action you make raises your heat ever so slightly. When this reaches the maximum five stars the police will start an investigation, forcing you to make a decision: you can raid the police headquarters and destroy the evidence, bribe the cops, or maybe even frame a fellow gangster. It’s all up to you, but inevitably people are going to lean towards avoiding combat. You would think this would be because Haemimont implemented a system which turned out to be very risky, but unfortunately that’s not the case. The motive behind this utter determination to avoid combat at all costs is due to the often terrible mechanics of their turn-based tactical combat, if you can even call it tactical.

Before combat even starts, you select the members of your crew that you wish to send into the fight. Each of these members has a class which gives them unique abilities and weapons. And once things start, it goes downhill from there. Turn order, as well as how often a character moves, is decided by how “smart” the character is, causing you to evaluate if you value smarts or brawn more. The game presents combat and leveling up as a deep system with lots of stats, numbers, and abilities, but that appearance is only skin deep. Most likely, you’ll end up like I did, simply leveling up when the time came (and that time didn’t come very often) and then ignoring everything else.

The movement is clunky at best as cover is emphasized as a strategic advantage, but not all objects are designated as cover. One side of a pillar might be while those on the other side are simply out of luck. Even shoddier is the line of sight system which oftentimes downright refuses to let you shoot at someone you know you can see. Other times, it allows you to take potshots–ineffective potshots, but potshots nonetheless–at enemies all the way across the map. It’s a thoroughly hit-or-miss system that’s both frustrating and incredibly rudimentary.

If any of this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s basically XCOM: Enemy Unknown at its core. Half of the game is real-time base building while the other is tactical turn-based combat. Omerta is a little rough around the edges, lacking in some places, and sometimes just downright clunky, but what kills the game the most was the release of XCOM. The games are simply too similar in mechanics and in almost every, if not every area, XCOM is a better game, which is unfortunate because Omerta isn’t horribly bad; it’s simply not good enough.

Omerta: City of Gangsters was developed by Haemimont Games and published by Kalypso Media. An Xbox 360 copy was provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Dillon has been writing for almost half a decade now and has slowly worked himself up the ladder. At one point he single-handedly covered PAX East and E3. (Yeah, he's kind of awesome.) The staff might still consider him a baby, but you can find him and his witty sarcasm on Twitter @Kamikaze8.