Kalypso Media had a rough 2012. Port Royale 3, Jagged Alliance Back in Action, and Legends of Pegasus were all poorly received, leaving the venerable publisher with a somewhat tainted resume for the year. Starting 2013 however, Kalypso return to their economy/combat roots with an adaption of the popular casual browser MMORPG, Omerta, in a turn based strategy game that reinstates the publisher as a front-runner in PC strategy gaming. Omerta City of Gangsters isn’t a particularly innovative or lavish title, but it’s just what Kalypso needed to instill a sense of competence in fans of titles such as Tropico. City of Gangsters succeeds more than it fumbles, but the entertainment is short lived for those of you looking for a sandbox experience.
Omerta City of Gangsters is just the right amount of economy, just the right amount of combat – in a mobster simulator that takes you through a brightly written narrative from a lowly scrub to a budding Don, acquiring businesses and balancing your political popularity with social fears.
You play as your own boss, stylized through a series of player-cards and statistical changes based on your life before crime, such as nicknames and your apprenticeship, which alters your Muscle, Finesse, Toughness, Smarts, Guts, and Cunning – each stat owing a certain dependence on your characters role in combat. For instance, if you chose a history where you ‘Stole the key for the village mayor’s wine cellar and drink most of it before you were discovered,’ you’d gain +1 Cunning, -1 Guts, and +1 Finesse. Whilst there isn’t a huge amount of characterisation here, the few menus and splash screens help to add a little bit of history to the fully voiced narrative.
City of Gangsters is a campaign oriented game. It’s tempting to jump in, like Anno or Tropico, into the sandbox mode – but this isn’t a city builder. It might be a Kalypso game, but Omerta‘s campaign isn’t merely a tutorial for the “full game”. You start as a scrub as you recruit your first henchman, following dynamic and well voiced exposition, giving you missions in the game world. Each ‘level’ consists of a slice of Omerta, the games city, and you start in your own safe-house. From there, you’ve to establish a criminal network of both dirty and clean enterprises. For example, the games main currencies (or assets) are dirty-money, clean-money, beer, and liquor. Beer and liquor can be bought and sold, or used to run various establishments such as the pharmacy – which is a front for selling liquor. Likewise, beer and liquor can be used in philanthropic missions, such as offering charity to residents, or throwing a fund-raiser for celebrity or politician.
Although the campaign aims to teach you the basics of the game, the dynamic is similar to the dynamic of Theme Hospital. Starting up is certainly something you repeat every mission, but the idea of expanding on what you did in the mission prior is exciting and addictive. The aim of each mission, although story oriented, is to achieve something new. For instance, the first mission has you busting out your henchmen from jail, setting up speak-easy’s, orchestrating liquor heists, burglarizing, and fraternizing. Every mission is explained through interesting and stylized character dialogue, which helps to expand and elucidate the game-world. Each of the character tiles are great looking, and whilst there are a lot of cliche’s here and there, the game is successful at immersing you into a world of mobs and gangsters.
Visually, City of Gangsters is quite stunning albeit limiting. The city is smooth, detailed, and functional – but not in a bare-bones sort of way. The aesthetic of the combat missions is unfortunately limited by the visuals of the city, and with combat similar to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, it’s easy to feel a little underwhelmed. However, the economy management side of things is visually exciting since all you really need for numbers is a basic UI – the welcoming dynamic of rain, sun, dawn, dusk, and the hustle and bustle of city life is a welcome back-drop to intricate and greatly thematic mobster management.
You get to pick your henchmen from a substantial choice of 16 pre-designed characters. Each character comes with their own specialty and stats, which affect how they work in combat. For instance, some characters such as “Daredevil” hone in on hand-to-hand combat, whilst others such as Doc wield dual pistols. Pick your henchmen wisely, because they come at a cost. Your wages are paid through dirty money (and if you don’t have any dirty money, things are bought or paid for with clean money), and each character has a different wage based on the strength of their stats. Second to that, characters can be upgraded once they level up, adding attributes and moves to their list.
Combat in Omerta initially obfuscates its own simplicity. There’s AP and MP – attack points, and move points. Characters may move until their MP runs down, and then attack (if an enemy is in sight and range) with their AP. They may not attack then move, but they may move and attack. Ending turn, in this case, ends the turn for the current character. Characters can equip various weapons with different specialties, such as: shotguns, knives, tommy guns, pistols, dual-pistols, rifles, and base-ball bats, including more. Starting off, my main character had only his knuckles (ostensibly from my choice starting the game). This left me handicapped because I had to break out Squigs – my first henchman – from jail with only my bare hands. Melee is not useless though, since armed only with a knife, players can inflict 30 damage an attack (out of about 4 attacks per turn), as opposed to about 13 or 15 damage with the pistol. Also, once attacked melee, characters can counter-attack.
You can also bandage yourself and your team, and use crippling or disabling shots. The combat is alarmingly similar to XCOM, but in a welcome way. The problem is, the layout of the combat missions seems invariably poor. For instance, you spend a good 3 or 4 turns on each character even finding your first enemy – a problem that extends into multiplayer. What’s more, all your characters are often funneled into the same areas, and whilst characters can hide behind boxes and crates to avoid damage, it always seems as though your characters are standing next to each-other, out in the open, with enemies in front. There are buildings and often enemies in the periphery of the map, but as soon as you alarm an enemy, they all seem to come running into whatever room your crew is in.
Thankfully, when you or your men are ‘killed’ they are merely incapacitated, with a damage penalty applied for a certain amount of time after the match is over. If you don’t want the combat in Omerta you can skip the battles – auto-resolving. Given that no one dies, this is a safe option if you’re more interested in the economy management side of things.
Aside from the story missions in the game, there are missions from contracts, such as buying and selling liquor, which can be compromised in various ways, often leading to combat missions which you can either skip or take on. The thing about Omerta’s economy dynamic is the sheer authenticity of what they were trying to accomplish. Every mission, script, or ability and building you can set-up screams mobster, and the team have apparently tried very hard to work out just what it is a gangster does. For example, you can rent or buy buildings to set up a pizza restaurant, which will both make you money and raise your fear notoriety. You can also create a soup kitchen to increase your likability. These two, although seemingly mutually exclusive, are both independent. Your like status can grow just as your feared status, and being feared allows you to intimidate informants to unlock more buildings on the map, or find more people. Likewise, being liked allows you to call in favors, or befriend celebrities you can later exploit.
There are multiple options for everything you want to do. Need more beer? You can buy some from an under-ground brewery, or you can raid it increasing your heat, which will also cause the owner to dislike you. If you raid too much, you can put establishments out of business, which will ruin your ability to tap them for resources. Don’t want a business around, you can call in a drive-by so long as you have enough weapons in storage, and hopefully drive the proprietors out. Omerta is full of authenticity, charm, and character, and the story campaign really is a story campaign – charting the rise of a gangster in a very meaningful and dynamic way.
If you fail too much at combat, though, one (or more) of your henchman will be put in jail. you’re unable to hire or fire a henchman whose spot is in jail, giving you the choice to break into the jail in a combat mission to try and release them. I ran into a problem early on in the game where only I was free, armed with a knife, making it impossible for me to free my men alone. The problem with that is that all the missions in the game are executed by designating a henchman, or yourself. Sending a man off to do a mission activates him in the real world, where you can actually watch him run from point A to point B. During this time, he can do nothing else, and is essentially gone from your control. This means that the amount of missions you can set at any one point of time is capped by the amount of people allowed on your team. If everyone but you is in jail, you can only do one thing at a time, dramatically restricting what you can do.
Upgrading your hide-out allows you to unlock more buildings, and eventually you’ll be running hotels and casinos, with a number of accountants laundering your dirty money into clean money. With this, you can pay off the police on your tail, or bribe politicians. Everything you can do in Omerta is right out of a Godfather movie, and whilst after about 10 hours of game-play you can see it’s not a particularly deep game, it’s still an enjoyable, polished story-driven experience.
Multiplayer further increases the enjoyment, offering a substantial amount of extra content. There are four different kinds of multiplayer missions: Gang War, Get the Money, Bank Heist, and Jailbreak. Two are cooperative experiences, rotating through players on the map character by character. Multiplayer matches have the potential to be a painful bore since you’ve constantly got to wait for your teammate to make his move before you can make his, and because the MP distribution is too low for the amount of spaces between enemies on the map, you find yourself throwing your team anywhere just to get the game moving. The cooperative experiences are fun, and it’s nice that Omerta has a more substantial multiplayer component than XCOM, albeit with similar mechanics, but playing with strangers can be painful since as far as I can tell there’s no in game communications what-so-ever and no way to talk over VOIP. Like-wise, the lack of strategy in battles makes PVP matches seem kind of redundant – the winner being who just so happened to be slightly positioned better than the other, with variable chances to hit basically orchestrating the win.
You can upgrade and unlock players with cash you earn in multiplayer, which adds a layer of depth in leveling up, but it’s not a game I can see people playing competitively for very long – although a lot of players were online when I was playing. Coop is very fun with friends, though, and relatively bug-less. Maps have been made specifically for this component.
City of Gangsters really isn’t innovative in any real way, but it’s incredibly authentic and incredibly competent. It seems strange to praise a game on its competence, but Kalypso’s waning trust has meant than some fair few good concepts have been made into poorly executed titles, but this isn’t one of them. For £29.99 things are a little light on the ground, but those looking for a Theme Hospital meets XCOM Enemy Unknown dynamic set in the 1920/30’s should find their niche here. Everything seems to just work, and whilst the combat isn’t strategically rewarding, it’s a nice part of an economy title that has an authentic and realized theme. The voice acting is fantastic, and the campaign lengthy, enjoyable, and dynamic. If you’re looking for a sandbox experience, look elsewhere, but if you want something uniformly entertaining and mildly challenging, Omerta City of Gangsters is a good start to Kalypso’s 2013 releases.