What I’ve Played – Omerta: City Of Gangsters

Platform: PC
Also On: Xbox 360
Developer: Haemimont Games
Publisher: Kalypso Media
Rating: 16 (PEGI) / T (ESRB)

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From the combined efforts of Haemimont Games and Kalypso Media, the partnership that brings us the ever-charming Tropico franchise, comes Omerta: City of Gangsters. Sat on a mountain of bullets, booze and cash, I’ve dropped the mantle of El Presidente and taken up that of capo di tutti capi. After many days of hard work and empire building I’m finally ready to tell you what I think.

I’ve always been a fan of the glorified idea of gangsters. The idea being that they have their own code of honour, Omerta, which means they never betray the family, they remember and honour their origins and heritage and they look after and help their territory. Also interesting is the idea of managing and growing a vast, intricate, empire while simultaneously having to hide it from the prying eyes of the fuzz and wading in yourself when needed.

This has led me into trying nearly every gangster style game I could find and none have come close to what I wanted. After much reading of news and the watching of trailers, combined with my love of Tropico, I was happy for Omerta to lead me to the promised land and let me bathe in all the reflected glory. Sadly all it did was lead me behind the speakeasy and give me a good old fashioned beat-down.

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Omerta isn’t cruel, despite what my last line would have you believe. I genuinely found myself enjoying parts of it, only to then be dragged back around the corner and wailed on. Disappointment is that sort of thing but at least there’s consistency and there’s some sweet, soft, jazz in the background to cheer me up.

Cheer me up it does because I’ve always been a fan of Jazz. It’s criminal that I don’t own a collection by the people behind this fantastic music. What it does is help set the mood, keeping with the tempo depending on your situation, and also fits the setting perfectly. This high level has carried along to all of the sounds found within. From the cars and bustle on the street to the gunshots and cries of pain in battle, all sound excellent and the voice acting captures the accents well enough that I don’t notice any flaws.

Not only are the sounds of a high level but the visuals as well. With the story being told with a collection of artistic monochrome, aside from blood, slideshows to keep in with the setting of the 1920′s to the excellent map of Atlantic City featured in the mission select screen. Then, when in a mission, the intricately designed details of sections of the city for you to look over and conquer while the people walk and drive around on their daily lives.

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Which is what they would have you believe, but this is where it all comes back like a shotgun blast to the gut. Omerta is lifeless. Sure, you may see movement but all of that is for show, unlike such as Tropico 3 where they seemed to be going about their daily lives and added life to the city. What adds to the feeling of lifelessness is that even if you are actively taking over, through violent or non-violent means, the territory of another gang lord there is no push back and consequently, no challenge.

It’s this lack of challenge that leaves a fundamental flaw in the whole of the game. With no fight, everything leads to be a matter of time. Build a brewery to make beer, a speakeasy to sell it. Walk away, make a ham sandwich and a cup of tea, eat said sandwich and drink tea, welcome back boardwalk emperor. This is the same throughout every single campaign mission, as well as the sandbox.

I may be oversimplifying that a little. Doing that would make you the emperor of dirty money and beer, but there are other considerations. The management has seven different resources. Dirty and clean money, Beer, Liquor, Firearms, Fear and Liked levels. The first five are easy to modify by building the respective buildings and are ever changing as a result, but always there to be spent or converted. The feared and liked ratings are a little different and act more as keys to the door of earning more resources. They can also be increased by building certain buildings or upgrades, but also by initiating combat or purchasing it directly from somebody with the influence to make you more feared or liked.

This purchasing is all done on the ‘Jobs’ screen. A simple exchange of one currency for another, or currency for the intangible assets. None of them are actual jobs however, just a simple method of clicking the relevant tab and waiting for your selected minion to head over and make the trade like with every other action done in the management section. The only surprise is when a further option will open up randomly, either offering a further trade from your contact or informing you that it was a set up or a third party has got in the mix and you have the option to cut your losses and run, or fight.

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Combat is the second part of this two-pronged game. With the management being over-simplified and lacking in the finer subtleties it falls on the combat to compensate. To an extent, it does. Combat is initiated through the aforementioned choices, or through your own actions of deciding to rob a bank, destroy some evidence the cops have or through scripted missions that occur throughout.

What is more involving is that it’s possible to start to favour one above another, albeit mostly through their pre-set list of skills rather than personality quirks. Weapons are always interchangeable as you are able to equip one of your guys with any you have in stock but each have their own obvious choice, but it all allows for a little involvement and puts important decisions in your hands.

Not always fluid, or intuitive, it is still fun to grab your man with a rifle and start picking people off while your others distract them, or lure a group in one funneled area and lob a grenade in for good measure. Basic tactics, and the feedback to show they are working is always fun. The downsides being that tactics are very limited, begging for more complexity. The consequences of a botched job aren’t death, just a stat reducing injury for a short time. Finally, the AI can be downright idiotic at times, marching out of cover into a certain death situation like a row of ducks at a firing range.

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While enjoyable in parts, the management leaves you asking questions and begging for a little more complexity, or at least a push from opponents in what is meant to be a cutthroat way of life. The combat being the same, offering some tactical considerations but breaking them by having opponents fling themselves at you, nary a thought for their own safety.

Just one side offering more depth or improving on flaws would elevate Omerta, giving it the feel of a management Sim with decent enough combat or a tactical game with a decent management side. While not bad enough to want to bury it in a shallow grave, it finds itself stuck in the mud and turning its wheels trying to move forward.

Knowing the devil going in, it’s certainly possible to enjoy your time in Atlantic city so if like me, you have been waiting for a gangster game this is one that can at least tide you over.

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