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Omerta - City of Gangsters Review

So, wise guy, you're fresh off the boat from the old country and looking to make a name for yourself in Atlantic City - the shining beacon of excess on the grey backdrop of an America in the grips of Prohibition. Do you have what it takes to build your very own Boardwalk Empire, or will you be just another Mickey Blue Eyes?

Developers Haemimont Games have taken a break from sunny Cold War era Tropico for the altogether grittier setting of New Jersey in the early 1920's. Gone also is the traditional city building mechanic; in its place is a reportedly authentic district-by-district recreation of Atlantic City, complete with a plethora of buildings ready to be rented for a variety of purposes. Anyone hoping for an all action title in the vein of the Mafia series may be left disappointed, Omerta: City of Gangsters sets itself up as more for a more strategic approach in the style of Gangsters: Organized Crime.

The main story campaign follows your wannabe mobster from fresh-faced Sicilian immigrant all the way up the criminal hierarchy, accumulating gang members and lackeys along the way. An initial series of questions helps determine the starting statistics of your main character, however these only seem to apply to the tactical combat sections as opposed to having a bearing on your overall play style.

Omerta - City of Gangsters

The bulk of gameplay takes place on the city screen; your ultimate goal, besides completing level specific objectives, inevitably boils down to amassing money. With this being Prohibition, and the nature of business being often less than strictly legal, the money in question comes in two forms - Dirty and Clean. Find yourself running low on Dirty money and folks will be more than happy to take some Clean money off your hands in its place; but be careful, they're not so accommodating if you're short on the Clean stuff.

Money (Dirty or otherwise) doesn't just grow on trees, which is where the aforementioned property portfolio comes into play. Once rented (or built in the case of construction sites that become available in the second half of the game) properties can be assigned one of a number of roles; some generate resources (beer, liquor or firearms), others consume said resources for money, whilst the remainder work to improve the performance of surrounding buildings.

It's not just the real estate that earns you the cold hard cash; there are a number of locals who regularly give you the opportunity to buy or sell resources, or exchange Dirty money for Clean (or vice versa). Unlike story objectives, these jobs are entirely optional; if you wish, you could ignore them completely or even rely on them as your sole, albeit slower, source of income.

Omerta - City of Gangsters

As it is, time is very much on your side. Whilst most levels contain a number of independent businesses that can be worked with or run out of town, or rival gangs as part of the story, there is never any real sense of ongoing competition. It's entirely possible to set up a brewery or distillery to produce beer or liquor respectively and a speakeasy (an illegal bar) to sell it on, before going off for your dinner, safe in the knowledge that the city you return to will be exactly the same as when you left it.

This uninterrupted progress does contain one exception in the shape of the occasional random combat encounter. For combat situations, be it a chance attack by rival thugs, a supply job gone wrong or a predetermined story event, gameplay switches from the real-time city map to a turn-based mode; viewed at the building level. Specific objectives depend on the nature of the encounter, however, when all else fails just kill all of the enemies.

When the time comes to trade lead and punches, players can choose up to four gang members to form their party, with a fifth available to be assigned a 'support' role, giving a chance to swing the fight in your favour. Lose a gang member during an encounter and thankfully there's no perma-death as seen recently in XCOM; rather they'll sustain an injury that'll make them less effective in combat until it has had a chance to heal.

Omerta - City of Gangsters

Combat itself should instantly be familiar to any aficionados of turn-based tactical strategy games, but is still easy enough to be picked up by newcomers. Each character is allotted a number of Movement Points (MP) and Action Points (AP) which can be spent during their turn. AP can be used for one of three attacks which vary depending on the equipped weapon, in addition to up to three abilities that are gained as the character levels up. Be careful though, as the majority of the actions will expend any remaining MP in the process, so it's best to make sure you're in cover before taking aim.

The chances of scoring a hit on your enemy (or likewise, them hitting you) is affected by line-of-sight, distance and cover, and is presented as a percentage when you select your target; find yourself with a particularly tricky shot and you can spend an extra AP to improve your aim. Whilst boxes and barrels frequently litter the battlefields, be careful when hiding behind them, as some cover can be destroyed. All it takes is one wide spread from a shotgun to turn your safe haven into a pile of splinters, leaving you stranded and exposed.

In addition to having a health bar, characters also have a Courage meter; taking damage or losing teammates causes the Courage bar to dwindle, potentially to the level where the character becomes Panicked, significantly reducing MP and AP. Other status effects such as Concussion are also likely to ruin your day, so if you see an enemy coming at you with a baseball bat, you might want to take him down before he goes nine innings on your compadres.

Omerta - City of Gangsters

Levelling up characters is somewhat arbitrary; there is no apparent experience indicator to show that characters are close to gaining a level, it just occasionally happens after combat. A character's stats don't directly increase as they ascend the ranks, however with each new level you get to choose a Perk, ranging from increasing a stat to bonuses such as improved aim when firing from cover. As mentioned, at levels 4 and 8 characters unlock a new skill, however these are preset. Any characters not in the player's party also level up at the same time (their Perks are chosen for them), so there's no need to keep changing the party around to ensure everyone levels up; depending on your personal preference, this could either be seen as good or bad.

Combat AI is generally good; enemies are neither clueless or unfeasibly lucky, whilst friendly AI that appears in some encounters manages to get the job done without getting in the way. The main frustration for many players is likely to be the camera; whilst it is rotatable and zoomable as one would expect, it's not possible to zoom out far enough to get a proper overview of the situation.

The camera issue persists into the city view as well, and when coupled with the fact that the thumbnail view in the corner only represents businesses with dots rather than distinct icons means that you frequently find yourself repeatedly panning the camera back and forth as you try to remember which buildings are available at any given time. Conversely, there is rarely any reason to justify zooming in either; despite being able to get in quite close, there is insufficient detail in the environments to warrant doing so. As it is, the majority of the game will be played at the furthest zoom that is never quite far enough.

Omerta - City of Gangsters

Mention should probably be made to the multiplayer component, however the lack of players online whilst we had the game in our hands meant we were unable to give it a once over. What is included, for the handful of players that will try it, is a small sampling of encounters, available to be played cooperatively or competitively - anyone hoping to pit their wits against their friends on the city map will be left disappointed.

On the whole, what's left boils down to a series of "what could have been"s - had the city been more dynamic, with rival factions expanding rather than merely occupying predetermined buildings; or multiplayer extending to the full city, then the end product may have been something truly worth recommending.
We may get our wish and see these features added in a sequel, but as it is, Omerta will probably find itself cursed to inhabit the void that is "average"; it doesn't do anything particularly wrong or badly, but it never really shines. It seems a shame to end on such a negative note as the game was ultimately enjoyable; it's just when stopping to analyze Omerta that the flaws start to appear.

7.00/10 7

Omerta - City of Gangsters (Reviewed on Windows)

This game is good, with a few negatives.

So, wise guy, you're fresh off the boat from the old country and looking to make a name for yourself in Atlantic City - the shining beacon of excess on the grey backdrop of an America in the grips of Prohibition. Do you have what it takes to build your very own Boardwalk Empire, or will you be just another Mickey Blue Eyes?

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
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