|System: Xbox 360*, PC|
|Dev: Haemimont Games|
|Pub: Kalypso Media Digital|
|Release: February 12, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Alcohol Reference, Blood, Language, Violence|
by Angelo M. D’Argenio
Any simulation gamer worth their salt knows the Tropico name, as Haemimont has worked wonders with the brand. Somehow, they’ve not only made Tropico one of the most compelling sim games on the market, but they’ve also made the gameplay actually feel like the player is a small island dictator. It stands as a triumph in matching gameplay with tone.
Their newest game, Omerta: City of Gangsters, on the other hand, seems to understand its tone but not much else. While the game has an amazing atmosphere, skillfully getting across a prohibition-era mafia feel, its gameplay isn’t very compelling.
Omerta has a lot of good ideas that just never seem to come to fruition. For example, the character generation system is an interesting way to tie mechanics and plot together. Your character is built out of six stats, and you decide their starting values by fleshing out your character’s backstory. You’ll decide things like what jobs your character worked in as a teen, what his first fight was like, and what his childhood nickname was. It makes your character feel more real, like a product of his upbringing. Each option’s effect on your stats is also spelled out in plain English if you care more about min-maxing your character than you do telling an interesting story.
The game is essentially split up into two parts. The simulation section plays out a lot like Tropico and its ilk; it’s a lot of resource management, handling random events and catastrophes, and building up your power and influence. The other half of the game is combat, which plays out in a turn-based style slightly similar to XCOM. Unfortunately, your character’s stats only come into play during the combat portions of the game, and they don’t actually affect combat that much. This makes an otherwise interesting spin on character creation somewhat moot in the long run, squandering the innovative potential the system had.
The simulation portions of the game have a distinct gangster tone to them, but they get repetitive quickly. Little touches, like counting dirty and clean money as two different resources, really do hammer home that mafia feel, but the speed of the game ruins any atmosphere that it creates. You’ll end up doing things like producing illegal alcohol out of the back rooms of business, setting up safe-houses for planned heists, constructing legitimate businesses for the purpose of money laundering, and more, but there’s little compelling you to do any of this other than the basic simulation gamer impulse to keep all of your numbers as high as possible.
The game isn’t easy, per se, but it sure feels safe. There are times when you’ll find yourself at a crippling deficit during the simulation parts of the game, but you don’t feel the same sense of doom that you feel when, say, your funds run out in SimCity. You know you’ll bounce back eventually, but it will take a while. In fact, Omerta doesn’t have levels of difficulty as much as it has levels of tedium. There’s no real threat, even in some of the more challenging scenarios.
Combat, when it’s required, is somewhat more interesting but just as safe. Characters have a certain amount of movement points and a certain amount of action points, and you can surmise the rest of the gameplay from there. Move your character into position, attack an enemy, lather, rinse, repeat.
Your characters have stats for health and courage. When your health falls, your character becomes incapacitated. Your characters don’t really die; they just get brought back when the combat is over. This kind of cheapens the mob feel, especially since you’re doing battle with knives and shotguns. When your character’s courage falls, which happens when he sees his buddies take hits and get injured, he becomes less effective in battle. The courage mechanic is actually a nice touch, accurately getting across the feel of a chaotic gunfight between gangs, but it actually doesn’t come into play all that often.
There’s a cover system, but it doesn’t make much sense. For example, you’ll often find that you can shoot someone through a wall, but will totally miss them if they are standing behind a thin pillar or barrel. You get to see your hit chance before you attack, so it’s not like the game is hiding information from you; it’s just that some of the hit percentage are kind of wacky. Some cover objects only provide cover from one side, which is hilarious but frustrating. You can also deal damage to environmental objects, but once again, this doesn’t come into play all that often. It only takes about a turn to move around any obstacle, so you’ll find yourself in epic cover-based shootouts far less often than you find yourself running straight at your opponent and firing.