Omerta: City of Gangsters review for Xbox 360, PC

Platform: Xbox 360
Also On: PC
Publisher: Kalypso Media
Developer: Haemimont Games
Medium: DVD-Rom
Players: Multi
Online: Yes

Omerta: City of Gangsters puts you in the shoes of a young immigrant making his way to the United States in the early 1920?s, during the prohibition era. It?s based on a web browser text based game that was created in 2003, and was one of the early adopters for the popular free-to-play model used for a number of tablet, phone, and web-based titles nowadays. How I don?t really know how comparable the two are, and I haven?t really delved into the web browser game much, but it still exists and is even linked back to via the game menu for Omerta: City of Gangsters.

At the onset of the game, once you?ve named your lead character and selected his background info, you?re tasked with trying to throw together a starting crew and gain a little cash in the city. Your lead character is given starting stats based entirely on the character background you choose, and along with your ever expanding crew of thugs and criminals, can level up as the game progresses to enhance those skills. There are also a hefty number of abilities given for each character to unlock, most of which seem tied into combat.

omerta cog 1Navigating the criminal underbelly of Atlantic City consists of two primary things. One is controlling your small criminal empire via the top-down city map, which allows you to zoom in to see some character interaction on a pretty small scale. You can buy buildings, rob or work with surrounding business owners, create breweries, woo local law enforcement or mob bosses, and so on. Certain buildings will tie into whatever task the campaign gives you, and occasionally you?ll run into a fight, which serves as the other half of gameplay represented in Omerta.

Combat is somewhat comparable to the Firaxis reboot of XCOM, but feels sort of unpolished throughout. You?ll be able to take a set number of gang members into a fight, but aren?t given much control on where they?re initially placed. Once the round begins on a map, you take turns with the A.I. in moving characters around until you spot someone to shoot or beat down. Most characters are allotted points to use for both movement and combat, meaning it?s generally possible to do both in one turn. You need to have line of sight to target enemies, and a fog of war effect persists throughout the map limiting your view until you?ve moved around and explored it.

omerta cog 2Some battles revolve around objectives, like locating an object or item. Most of the time you?ll need to secure that object and exit the map, either by moving to a literal exit point or eliminating the opposing force. There?s not enough variety in the battles to keep them interesting throughout the campaign, and the challenge here is sort of light. Unless you?re blindly stumbling around the map without making use of cover, and separating your gang haphazardly, you?ll rarely be in danger. Enemies don?t dole out much damage, make a lot of dumb moves, and are usually easy to take down. Toss in special moves for your characters that tend to be pretty powerful, and you?ll start to realize that combat isn?t nearly as tough as it should be.

There?s also an online co-op mode present in the game that allows you to team up with other players to take on a few set combat maps. I honestly couldn?t check this option out though, because no matter how many times I tried to match up with players I could never get a game going. I?m playing on the Xbox 360 version here, so I imagine the PC will fare better considering its pretty much the default platform. But I enjoy checking out the PC ports that Kalypso (the publisher) tries to bring over to consoles, so I thought I?d give this a shot.

omerta cog 3The empire building aspect of the game is certainly the most interesting thing about Omerta. You?ll start off pretty small, taking over and buying out a local speakeasy to sell your booze, scaring a local brewery out of business, and so on. But as you gain more characters and more influence, you?ll have to do a whole lot of micromanaging, and sometimes need to focus on money laundering to make that dirty criminal money turn clean. There are a lot of really neat systems in place here that are pretty well implemented and complement each other well. And while the combat can be fun, I looked forward to the non-combat sections of the game the most.

There?s some decent storytelling throughout the game, but most of it falls in the range of your stereotypical mob tropes. I enjoyed the presentation, with unique and appropriate character portraits bolstering the spoken dialogue, which is surprisingly well voiced. But you?ll get a pretty good idea of where the general plot of the campaign is headed quickly, which takes some of the suspense out of the overall experience.

Omerta: City of Gangsters feels like a game that?s half way there in execution. The empire building aspect is a whole lot of fun, and seems to be more thought out than the combat. It doesn?t help that the combat is similar to XCOM, and that XCOM did it way better.  But the empire building half of the gameplay is really promising, and something that deserves to be expanded on more. I don?t know if Omerta really has a sequel in it, but I think it would be worth revisiting down the line if someone can make it a more well-rounded experience.

Grade: C-