All too often I find myself leaving a cinema or turning off a game and thinking to myself, “That could have been so much better.” Take, for instance, the latest James Bond film Skyfall. It has everything a great action film needs: an intriguing villain, a good plot and – the man himself – Bond. Yet, at the end of the film I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by missed opportunities that could have created those perfect shock moments in cinema. So much so, that it could have been the best Bond film to date. This same feeling also permeates the games industry, continually leaving me thinking “If only they have done this or that.” So, where does Omerta: City of Gangsters come amongst all this disappointment? I’ll come to that later, for now though, here’s what you need to know.
Omerta is set in a fictitious place called Atlantic City, where you’re trying to make it big; just like everyone else in America. The difference here is that you are willing to do whatever needs to be done to make your dream that happen. Hence how you find yourself in a career in the Mafia. Therefore, in this top-down strategy game where your organise everything from drive-bys to construction work, you’ll need money. But you’re going to have to grasp some of the clean green, as well as the dirty dollar, if you want to get things done. There are, of course, various missions with varying objectives, but essentially the aim is to get rich – and fast.
It won’t be winning any prizes for its storytelling, you definitely won’t be crying with sympathy or raging in anger. It really is nothing more than justifying the missions and objectives you’ll undertake as you move up the ranks and take part in some violence for money. There are some interesting story driven missions though, but on the whole the cutscenes could easily be skipped and you wouldn’t feel lost or cheated by your experience.
Missions come from your own character, your right hand man and various other mob bosses around Atlantic City. Once you’ve mopped them up in one area, you move onto another part of the city and repeat the process, ad nausea. I say this because, instead of arriving with some money to start with and a slight tad of notoriety to your name, you dont. You start with zilch, nada, nothing. That mansion you built? Gone. All those businesses you set up like a well oiled machine? Gone. It’s all gone and you’re back to wallowing in the dirt for money. You can’t even go back to your past luxuries – it all feels like progress for naught.
There’s also very little interlinking between districts with almost none occurring within the city. At most, all you can do is to buy and sell goods to, or from, other criminals in the city. But, these are one time only deals that require you to pay a set amount of money for a fixed amount of goods. There are no continuous supply of goods arrangements like a real business would utilise. For instance, I wanted to have a regular income of beer as I had decided that didn’t want to brew it in this particular map. But to organise shipments I had to send one of my men to make another deal every few days, just to get what I needed – which is rather tedious to say the least.
Each district within Atlantic City, or essentially each campaign map, is surprisingly small. They could have still been as easily playable and fun if they had been expanded, thus offering you more to do in each area, such as building a bigger empire in each section. In fact, the only foreseeable problem with larger maps is the slight difficulty some could have with locating those all important points of interest – such as safe houses or corrupt deputies. Such a problem could be remedied rather painlessly by simply improving the map, making it bigger, giving particular building types different colours, shapes and sizes. It’s clear that this was the initial plan as there are some nods to it, but it falls short of truly being a useful feature.
However, for me, the biggest and most notable failing of Omerta has to be it’s complete lack of AI in campaign mode to help or hinder you. Police are no more than a ticking time bomb that needs to be reset regularly through bribes, destruction of evidence or scapegoats. Mob factions also serve to do nothing more than playing a role in the story, providing no impact on your progress with fights. As you can imagine, this leads to a rather vapid experience where the allure of running a gangster empire fizzles away into nothing more than a period business building title because, in reality, you have no opposition. This is realised even more when you eventually buy out, or drive out, another criminal to gain his ‘turf’. Once that’s happened nobody will retaliate or fight back. All you have to do is sit back and, ensuring you have enough money to perform your mandatory business actions, just wait to complete a level.
Everything changes when fights do actually occur, though. Combat takes place in a turn-based system where you can spend a turn moving, attacking or performing special abilities. So far, this aspect of Omerta is reasonably balanced, providing a decent challenge – at least to start with. Later on, once you get the hang of things and you have a strong character and weapon set-up, things become a bit easier. However, this just gives you a feeling of power both in the battle itself and in the overall campaign. This is largely because you become confident in your ability to pull off daring missions, such as bank jobs – for instance.
While it may be a little bit slow for some, it’s perfect for spending time planning and executing well thought out moves in a relaxed and enjoyable experience. It won’t have you at the edge of your seat, but that’s also not what Omerta is about. Instead of thrills and spills, it offers up entertainment inline with that of SimCity – allowing you to build up an entire functioning empire through various means. It’s just a shame that this is an empire only in name as it certainly isn’t the expansive underworld you’d love to be able to craft.
Games like this also benefit from the little touches, those little extra details that just make the world somewhat believable and a joy to navigate. Pleasingly, Omerta does this pretty damn well – if you ask me. Atlantic city is full of life with cars and people going to and from… well, wherever people went in a fictional 1920’s America. Buildings are beautifully detailed with rich textures, even the cars look wonderful. There’s also the option to decorate your house and expand it upwards and outwards, which helps to make you feel like a rich and powerful mafia boss.
Moving back to combat, ‘battles’ – if you can call them that – are also rather nice to look upon, providing a level of detail that can also be seen in the main maps – plust a few bits of destructible cover items thrown in for good measure. In this regard Omerta does itself proud. There are only a few minor details that would make it just that little bit more immersive, such as cars. That may sound odd, but for a mafia boss and henchmen swimming in money, they opt to run all over town instead of buying a car. I mean, how else are they supposed to adhere to the fat Italian mafia boss stereotype?
That’s not all though as Omerta also offers up a combat heavy multiplayer mode that works much like the turn-based strategy skirmishes found in the main campaign. You’ve got four different game modes to pick from, two co-op modes and two versus – one against an AI, the other against a human opponent. Honestly, I can’t see the co-op modes taking off too well, but the versus mode should – and deserves to – take off. There’s also character customisation and the ability to buy new henchmen with different powers, weapons and abilities. The scope for change is wide and it’s a refreshing entry into the online space, provided that a winning formula isn’t discovered and exploited heavily.
Omerta: City of Gangsters could have been one of my favourite titles this year. It could have been one of the best gangster games of all time if they had really realised its full potential as a massive and complex criminal empire building game. Instead it’s ended up as an ambitious but ultimately hollow game that leaves you wishing for something slightly more filling, without leaving an aftertaste of “what a waste of a brilliant concept.”
There is still a lot of enjoyment to be had here though. As an entry-level game it’s pretty good and the multiplayer has a lot of potential, providing there are enough people playing. If Omerta is supplied with DLC, manages to patch up some of the smaller issues and captures a strong community, there’s absolutely nothing stopping this tactical title becoming a cult gangster gem.
Audio/Visual – 4/5: Looks lovely, but doesn’t brush up well enough in the audio department.
Gameplay – 2/5: A lack of any kind of AI challenge leaves Omerta wanting in this category.
Innovation – 3/5: Great ideas, but a lack of connected features, such as resource management from one district to another holds it back.
Value – 3/5: At £25 on Steam it seems a little too expensive to justify with so many features missing, if the price dropped though…
Final score: 3/5
– Finn reviewed Omerta: City of Gangsters on PC -