The folks at Kalypso could tell a strategy junkie when they saw one. Maybe it was the fact that I asked if I could take home the 7-foot tall cardboard game standee on the way out of my pre-release preview meeting (I still don’t know how I would have packed it). I actually have two addictions that this game fed into: Strategy gameplay and Prohibition-era mafia history. During a time in America when the “trench sweepers” and hand grenades of World War I were making names for themselves on the streets such as the Chicago Typewriter and The Thompson Anti-Bandit Gun, crime was realizing that if their brains matched their brawn they could build empires on the back of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. The gangsters required craftiness and innovation to survive but, most importantly, they required strategy. So, what better time and place to set a strategy game in?
Taking the role of a fresh-from-the-boat immigrant, with dreams of the big life, the player will work his way up the criminal hierarchy of 1920’s Atlantic City. Starting with small jobs, his character recruits a gang and expands his empire by taking territory from other gangsters. Eventually he establishes his own crime syndicate and becomes the de facto ruler of Atlantic City.
- Historically accurate representation of Atlantic City and its landmarks
- Strategic gameplay allows city overview, planning, expansion and gathering of intel
- Turn-based tactical combat with a cover system and stealth action
- 15 unique player controlled characters each with unique personalities and backgrounds
- A RPG system for development of player characters and managing their equipment
- Competitive and cooperative multiplayer mode with persistent gangs
- 15+ hours of gameplay in a single play-through
- 20 unique maps visualizing the various districts of Atlantic City
The first time I got to lay fingers on the triggers in this game was at the unveiling of Kalypso’s upcoming Dark game. The event was spaciously laid out with multiple terminals to try out Dark and in the corner of one room was a single booth with Omerta set up for anyone who happened to have missed it’s unveiling and wanted a look. Crammed into this booth with people standing off to the side as well watching I saw this strategy game which was not only smart in design (Kalypso and Haemimont Games also brought us the insanely good Tropico series) but themed in my favorite historical era. Understanding it would be hard to get a proper feel for the game while packed like sardines in a little booth, Kalypso sent me a build code for Omerta on Steam, which I played as far a the build would let me, then waited for the next update. Whenever development updated I played again putting anything else I had planned to do on the computer aside until I had caught up again.
Eventually this plan didn’t work so well because there are so many ways to play this game with so many different results that you would have to play through the game multiple times to even get a proper taste of its depth. The game starts off easy with training on how the menus work so you don’t feel out of sorts with them. Then after you get the idea, the game gives you jobs you can do and objectives to complete on Campaign mode but also gives you plenty of options on how you do them. Rival gang muscling in on your territory? You can get them to take a fall, parlay with them or just have a good old fashion negotiation with lead. Different choices all have different consequences, especially where you are. If you decide to do a drive-by down by the docks there is bound to be a lot less of a squawk than if you set fire to a mansion in the respectable neighborhoods. You must also decide if you want to be known as the family man who takes care of his neighborhood providing plenty of soup kitchens and taking care of the less fortunate or if you want to be known as the fella people will cross the streets to avoid stepping on the toes of. Your enterprise is crime, but not all crimes or criminals are the same.
You will at some point get “heat” on you and, while a little is fine, too much will get the boys in blue snooping about your business. If you don’t want to try and run your business wearing black and white striped pajamas, you have to take care of it. You can setup a patsy, which might not make you such a popular guy. You can pay off the cops, but the price always goes up. Or, you can even cause your troubles to go on a “permanent vacation”. All choices have consequences so you need more than just consider whether or not you want a speakeasy or a lead parade, you need to use strategy to try to determine what you will do when those succeed or fail.
General gameplay takes place at a street map level like many sim games though you can zoom in right down to street level and watch the action and character’s personalities unfold. When taking on a job you will generally find yourself in a mini map environment where individual gang member’s combat styles come into play. So for example you need to rob a bank, you put together a team from your gang you think will best be able to accomplish this and you go into a mini map of the bank with the street outside. You get a certain number of Movement and Action Points (players of games such as Jagged Alliance and UFO will be familiar with this idea) so you can move a certain number of hexes and then perform as many actions as you can before your points are exhausted and it is the end of that team member’s turn. As another example, during this bank robbery you have your drunk Irishman Doc charge in the front door and start shooting wildly (and I do mean wild, any team member in front of Doc has a roll for being hit). He can only move so many hexes forward to the entrance and then he can only take as many shots as he has Action Points available to cover. It may sound a bit complicated but it is pretty straight forward once you get to playing. The turn base goes back and forth between your team and the enemy until the job is either a failure or success. On the subject of success the developers tried to be as realistic as possible when it came to the accuracy and range of weapons as well so don’t be surprised if you miss a guy across the room with your pistol and he hits you with great accuracy with his rifle.
Campaign Mode isn’t the only way to play the game. You can also choose Sandbox mode, which is a fun, less structured game mode, letting you see how you can succeed with your own wits in one of four areas to choose from. You can work your business up down by the docks or start it in the ritzy neighborhood, the choice is yours as are pretty much all the choices afterwards. If you want to just build an empire without being told to hire this person now or open this business here this is the way to go. Also it can be nice to just see what you can do when left to your own devices.
Another way to play which I expect to be very popular in these days of heavy PvP emphasis in games is the Multiplayer avenue which gives you the choice to work with a teammate to commit a crime or work against each other to see who can rub out whose gang first. Personally I found I really liked the co-op missions, where you can come up with a strategy as a team and pull off the perfect crime but I get the feeling there are plenty of pals out there just waiting for a chance to knock each other off. Whichever this is done in the mini map mode and usually consists of a single building map.
Keeping It Fun:
When you are playing a game where crime is its own reward, some might think that making the game too serious might encourage bad behavior. Luckily the developers kept this in mind and made the game and its characters fun as well as strategic tools. A great example would be the character “Doc” who is modeled after the stereotype of a drunk Irishman who is almost always at the bar and, when he isn’t, he is thinking of beer (ed. note: Guinness please!). He is animated as shooting wildly and stumbling around during fights, making it hard not to laugh at his hi-jinks. Weapon names also have historical accuracy and usually a little tongue in cheek humor behind them too.
Another way the game tries to drift a bit toward the right side of things morally is in some of the missions, one of which is beating the snot out of clansmen running around in hoods. In missions like that you get a certain amount of satisfaction while at the same time completing game goals.
When I first saw rumors of this game, I was excited. When I got to see the first builds, I got completely amped. Then, getting hands on with this game, it just got better. This is an extremely solid strategy game with a great atmosphere set in an every interesting historical period. The developers went for accuracy in weapons and missions for the environment and time, while also making sure to have some fun with the characters and animations. I have played a lot of strategy games over the years and I can honestly say I think this may be one of my favorites. Omerta – City of Gangsters is a strategic offering you can’t refuse.