Prohibition era gangsters are nothing new to the medium of video games but one genre where most people wouldn’t expect them to turn up is in turn based strategy. While the idea of a turn based strategy, city takeover game based in 1930’s crime ridden Atlantic City does sound interesting, add Tropico’s Haemimon Games AD’s name to the mix and the game seems like an automatic classic. To varying degrees, Omerta is a compelling gangster city takeover experience that recreates the world of illegal alcohol and firearm smuggling but several missteps keep the game from realizing its full potential.
The main facet of Omerta is building up your criminal empire in Atlantic City, funneling money from illegal establishments and underhanded activities. As the boss of your own criminal enterprise you will be responsible for upgrading a hide out, establishing premises such as illegal breweries, opening joints like a speakeasy to peddle your illegal alcohol and launder your dirty cash into clean money. There are plenty of different rackets and front businesses that can be established in order to create an efficient, cash cow criminal empire. Owning both the bookies and boxing arenas is one of the smart strategies to monopolizing the market of underground activities.
Unfortunately the process of establishing a network of illegal enterprises ultimately ends up being a waiting game for the cash to roll in. There is little strategy to when comes to placing premises or expanding into an area. Establishing a speakeasy next to the home of a police constable won’t raise any eyebrows and there is no risk to transporting bootleg goods across varying distances. You essentially buy and upgrade property until they garner enough money to purchase the next business. Continue this cycle until you reach the requirements to beat the level.
The only time a hurdle is thrown in the player’s way is when their organization attracts the attention of the police. However, simply paying them off for a mere $500 once they launch an investigation is an easy out resulting in the police never amounting to a credible threat on the road to victory. The same can be said for any of the artificial problems that arise. Stealing alcohol from a brewery may result in immediate consequences but will have no long standing effect in five minutes time.
One of my major gripes with the game is that the sense of progress is lost after each level. While the predictable story lets you believe you are progressing and building up your empire, the slate is wiped clean at the end of each mission. All of the cash you have earned and the businesses you’ve established will count for nothing in the next level. Instead of strengthening your criminal foothold in Atlantic City, it feels like you are repeating the same tasks over and over in each mission.
While each mission does feel like an incarnation of the last, the game’s presentation helps to recreate the feel of prohibition era Atlantic City. The look of the city is populated by buildings whose architecture is taken from that time period along with character fashions and dialogue. Several smooth Jazz tracks compliment the game’s authentic visual look but can encounter problems of their own. Playing the game for extended periods of time can result in the music looping five second sections repetitively until the console is shutdown.
In addition to the city takeover management aspect of Omerta: City of Gangsters, turn based strategy is a major element of the game. With the successful release of XCOM late last year I hoped that Omerta could attain the same level of success at reinvigorating my interested in the turn based genre. It does offer the basic perquisites in terms of combat and navigation but it gets bogged down do to issues with the AI. Throughout several of the turn based missions I played, enemy AI would behave in a manner that made me think they wanted to die. Instead of attacking one of my injured goons close by, an enemy decided to run across the map to target another. When I would place one of my gangsters behind a low crate that indicated cover, they would remain standing only to take bullets to the torso.
Prior to each combat mission the developers did include an option to auto resolve a conflict instead of playing through them, which was a tempting feature some may appreciate it. Occasionally the option is presented to pay cash to resolve a dispute rather than committing violence. While I loved the combat in XCOM I was much more inclined to skip out on these sections during my playthrough of Omerta.
Despite some of the issues noted above I did have fun expanding my criminal presence in each area and watching the cash roll in. Creating an efficient organization that has its hand in almost everything and can launder dirty cash into clean money, even if there is no real difference, is something I thoroughly enjoyed. There is also a multiplayer component to Omerta: City of Gangsters that lets two players cooperatively participated in specific turned based combat missions. I always appreciate the ability to play a game with a friend but I feel that the developers could have created a much more interesting and compelling multiplayer game mode. Having multiple rival factions online vying for control of Atlantic City could have been a great way to spend an afternoon with the game.
Omerta: City of Gangsters does a great job at creating an atmosphere that draws the player into the prohibition area. The story may limp along in some parts but the process of building up a criminal empire, particularly in simulation mode can be a lot of fun. The game does a serviceable job at both turn based combat and city take over but remains in the shadow of XCOM and Tropico. It should be noted that Omerta is priced lower than either of the aforementioned games, so a direct comparison isn’t entirely fair.