It all sounds so good on paper. A Gangster Sim, set back in the day in Atlantic City. Gameplay involves a mix of citywide strategy and turn based combat. To add icing to the cake it comes from the developer behind the most recent Tropico games.
However Omerta: City of Gangsters just doesn’t live up to its promise. It isn’t a bad game per se, more an average one. There are some good ideas but they ultimately end up being overshadowed by the fact that playing the game is an incredibly boring experience, and the turn-based combat is a frustrating reminder of how only a handful of games have gotten the formula right.
While the game offers a Sandbox mode, the real meat comes in the form of the campaign mode. In it you play an up-and-coming mob boss, facing a series of challenges as you grow your influence. These take the place of discreet levels – effectively minor variations on a theme of gridded streets and flat terrain.
Within these levels are various kinds of buildings, and your interaction with these forms the bulk of the strategic game. You can rent some buildings and turn them into parts of your empire. Rent a building and turn it into a brewery and you’ll have a supply of beer, which you can then supply to speakeasies owned by yourself or NPCs.
It is through the careful control and management of these buildings that you move towards your goals, sending out gang members to do your bidding. If a rival brewer is on your patch, you can send out one of your guys to do a drive-by shooting, for example, which will clear the building and make it available for you to rent.
If this sounds like a tedious game of rock paper scissors, that is because it is. The problem is that while the basic game design is alright, everything takes so much time to occur that we found ourselves rapidly losing interest. There is no way to speed up time and nothing to really watch while you wait for tasks to be completed.
Every now and then you’ll be given a special mission, or one of your tasks will run into trouble, and you’ll be faced with the game’s turn based combat. If this was well implemented, then it had the possibility of redeeming the mundane strategic aspects of the game, but it isn’t. There is a somewhat confusing cover scheme, that doesn’t seem to include leaning against walls, or crouching under windowsills, and the combat itself feels way to arbitrary at times.
It has that old turn-based strategy issue where a focus on statistics and the judicial assignment of action points means that the combat feels unrealistic. Unload on an enemy with a shotgun at point blank range, and all that happens is a certain amount of Damage is removed, or it misses entirely, despite the fact you were standing right next to the target. One of the biggest surprises was that standing behind a shipping crate didn’t seem to block any shots from the other side of it, and there is no decent indicator of line of sight, which means trying to flank an opponent with a sneaky shot through a Window ends up being an adventure in trial and error.
After a couple of these combat sessions, we found ourselves stabbing the ‘auto resolve’ button whenever the game threatened us with this turn-based combat. Which left us languishing in the strategic mode most of the time, wondering just when the level would finally end.
These fundamental gameplay issues are so profound that it almost isn’t worth mentioning the cringeworthiness of the racial stereotypes that make up the characters in the game. We do appreciate that Bulgaria’s finest videogame developer, Haemimont Games, may not get the nuances of Prohibition-era America. The cast list has everything from drunken Irishmen to a baseball bat-wielding African-American brawler (who joins you after you defeat the Ku Klux Klan for him).
Omerta isn’t a bad game, but it isn’t a good one either. The combat is rudimentary, and the strategic game is way too sluggish for something so simplified. It would probably work as a Facebook or tablet game, but on PC it just doesn’t cut it.