Omerta: City of Gangsters was a game that was completely off my radar. In all honesty, I only put it on my list of games, as I thought it might be another 3rd person sandbox game to sate my desire and fill the void until GTA V finally arrives on my doorstep, but I was completely wrong. Omerta is not an action game at all, but a management game with some turn based combat a la X-Com. If I had done any homework on the game I would have realised my error, as Omerta comes from the same team that created and published Tropico 4.
You are initially given quite a nice variety of choice on your characters back story, all of which affects your stats and starting equipment as you undertake the task of taking your gang to the top of the criminal underworld in 1920′s Atlantic City. Do you choose to have wrestled a bull to the ground as a teenager or did you break into the mayors wine cellar? Was your family wiped out in a vendetta, forcing you to elope to America to seek a new life, or were you just lured in by the attraction of the American Dream?
All of these choices influence your characters statistics, which will impact the combat sections of the game.
The opening few levels of the campaign take you by the hand as you undertake jobs to earn the cash you need to maintain your gang and take over the neighbourhood. Initially, you have no idea about your environs, but checking in with an informant reveals details about the surrounding area. Purchasable premises and illegal markets show up on your map with which you can interact. These markets could be gun runners, distilleries or breweries which you can raid, buyout or purchase items from with dirty money if your reputation is sufficient. At the local Speakeasy, depending on your reputation with the proprietor, you can supply them with booze, buy the place out or do a drive by to scare off the owner, all the things you would expect of a budding mobster.
Purchasable buildings come in four different varieties: Joints, which serve to supply the locals with those items they want or need, be it a bookmaker, protection racket, Gun shop or even your own speakeasy; premises where you can establish your own breweries, smuggling operations or even hidden storage caches; the plots of land where you can set up a lawyers office to help you out with the police, a flop house which improves the output of your breweries and distilleries or even a clinic, where your gang can heal wounds faster after combat; and finally residential buildings which you can purchase and rent out for clean money.
The story mode features a series of missions you undertake for the current kingpin, to establish your place in the pecking order, before finally taking over to run all of the criminal enterprises in Atlantic City. To this end, you will be primarily purchasing property as detailed previously, but to do this, you need cash. Money comes in two forms: dirty cash, from your less than honest pursuits, and clean cash, from above board premises and pursuits.
Alongside the standard property you can also obtain three primary resources through numerous means, firearms, beer and liquor. These five options can then be used to persuade informants to give up the details about surrounding establishments, conduct raids on rival outfits or bribe local deputies and city officials to keep the law from taking undue interest in your operations.
Alongside managing your establishments you can also undertake jobs from your contacts to get rid of your ill gotten goods. These jobs come in five distinct types. Buying and selling the booze, liquor and firearms, money jobs where you can loan out cash for large returns, trade high amounts of dirty cash for lesser amounts of clean cash or special jobs where you can increase your standing in the community or undertake jail breaks to rescue your gang members.
These latter missions bring you into the combat instances, which are reminiscent of X-Com. These combat missions pop up infrequently from trade jobs, interactions with the overworld and, during the campaign, when you need to take out an rival gang boss or investigate as demanded by the don. Once the mission is underway, you are taken to a selection screen where you select four combatants from your maximum gang of six and if you have the members available one can be put on an associated support role, which varies depending on the mission. These supports could be bribing the cops so they arrive later when busting out a gang member, or revealing random areas of the combat map.
At this point, you can choose to auto-resolve the combat, or move into the fight. Taking the form of turn based combat, very similar to X-Com, you are tasked with completing specific objectives, be that recovering incriminating documents, or just simply wiping out all the enemies on the map.
Much like X-Com, this game suffers somewhat from unbalanced back end dice rolls, with enemies picking off your characters from across the map with a shotgun even though your own shotgunner has only a 5% chance to hit in return, to the characters standing right next to the enemies and missing with a 95% chance to hit. The designers so knew this to be true, that there is even achievements for missing/hitting at the respective extremes.
There is one thing this game does better than the firaxis title, which was a minor gripe people had with X-Com, and that is with regards to destructible cover. Like the original Enemy Unknown, Omerta allows you to take out cover items with specific weapons allowing you to focus on removing the obstacles between you and your enemy so the other team members can get a better chance to hit. This unfortunately is all for naught. The cover system is regrettably incomplete. Some items in the environment have cover only on certain sides, and typically this fell to the advantage of the enemies, and you always get the feeling that the AI always has a distinct advantage during these battles, sometimes able to make the most impossible shots regardless of the cover you have taken.
Your efforts in these battles are often rewarded with experiences and level ups for your gang members which allows you to spend skill points on modifications, be it an increase to the chance to critical hit, a boost to their core stats or simply more damage to their ranged/melee attacks. Unfortunately, during the campaign these level ups are severely limited, with my characters only leveling up twice during eight hours of play time, compared to the five times they leveled up in three hours of Sandbox mode. This hobbling of the character development was obviously intended to balance the game, but with so little reward over the course of so many hours it did detract from any feeling of accomplishment that could be gained from this mechanic. You then have to take into account that, although you are meant to be a budding mob leader, the limitation of your gang to a maximum of six people, including yourself, does not make you feel that you can truly live out that fantasy.
There are numerous times during the campaign where it feels that bad design choices strip away what enjoyment can be gained from the title. With each mission lasting at least an hour, your key role is to earn enough cash to pay the Don his due, and anything above that is yours to keep, but once the mission is completed, these earnings are reset, leaving you feeling that at least some of your time had been wasted. To that end, there is a tipping point, once you have established enough joints and premises, that the game run itself with your production and sale enterprises continually earning you funds without any interaction.
The audio for the game is a somewhat mixed bag. The voice actors convey believability with each piece of dialogue, but since that dialogue is typically for a well worn stereotype; be it the money grubbing Jew, the drunk Irishman, the hard as nails Italian hitman, they can feel quite out of touch and almost like caricatures. The music in the game is a decent selection of Swing, Jazz, Folk and Blues that epitomised the roaring 20′s. Sadly, some shameful music cues cause the songs to have three to five second sections repeated instantaneously multiple times in succession in the middle of a track or even stop the track dead before it has fully finished leaving a very jarring experience throughout despite the high quality of the tracks themselves.
Even with a game that does not appear to require much graphical power, the unacceptable screen tearing makes an appearance in the game to add to the somewhat erratic and shaky animation.
This game had a lot of potential, and given its pedigree I was expecting so much more. The greatest crime in Omerta: City of Gangsters, is that it was released in this ramshackle, buggy condition.
MLG Rating: 5/10 Platform: Mac / PC / Xbox 360 Release Date: 12/02/2013
Disclosure: Derek “Digi” McRoberts rented a physical copy of Omerta : City of Gangsters for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of five days on an Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.