Omerta: City Of Gangsters Review
Set at the height of the Roaring Twenties, Omerta opens with the player character stepping straight off the boat from Sicily and directly into the dark heart of Atlantic City, USA.
This is the fabled Land of Opportunity, and thanks to prohibition, anyone with a few good connections, the right resources and above all, a willingness to get their hands dirty has a chance to make their fortune – and then some. Here, crime does pay.
After a few introductory screens where you’ll choose text options that shape your gangster’s formative years and their starting stats, Omerta’s story driven Campaign Mode lets you loose on the city, and you’ll soon recruit your first lackeys.
Though at first seemingly hired on the strength of their textbook mobster names alone, as more henchmen are unlocked you’ll come to appreciate the unique skills, specialities, and more detailed tactical thinking they bring to the table, as they each level up through experience gained under your enigmatic employment.
All of the characters in Omerta are painted with broad, archetypal brushstrokes, so it’s with an air of familiarity that you welcome French Femme Fatales, smooth-talking snipers and weedy, pistol-toting lickspittles into your fold.
Through deploying your goons to explore city maps and unlocking points of interest, you’ll slowly begin to acquire buildings, resources, and influence, steadily securing the foundations of your criminal empire. By renting premises and repurposing them, you can establish a variety of shady businesses – like an illegal brewery or a pawn shop quietly manufacturing firearms in a dusty back room.
You can also take on odd-jobs from some of the city’s most influential figures; everyone from corrupt cops and opportunistic soldiers to society girls and Irish immigrants are looking to trade in beer, liquor, firearms, and storage. Money comes to you both clean and dirty and you’ll need a healthy supply of both, so laundering, wherever and however you can, is also a factor.
The majority of player actions during this strategic portion of the game will attract attention from the authorities, shown in the bottom right hand of the screen as the Heat meter. Once this maxes out, an investigation against you will be launched. To avoid incarceration, you can bribe the detectives, call in a favour from a friendly deputy or even find and eliminate a key witness to your trial.
Expanding your territory and strong-arming citizens is all well and good, but there will be instances where the cops or crime kingpin competition will rise up against you, and this is where the tactical, turn-based combat element of the game comes into play.
After choosing your best men and women, you’ll enter a field of battle, and opposing cronies will need to be eliminated. Each character possesses points for moving and separate points for performing actions like shooting, intimidating, or using more specialist skills and perks. Learning to utilise cover, especially during early missions where missed action ratios are high, is crucial to victory.
Recruiting henchmen with a variety of weapons and status effects is helpful, and ensures an entertaining variety of attacks – with tommy guns, shotguns and rifles providing the edge over longer distance and pistols and fists doing the job at close range.
It’s solid enough action, but provides nothing new for RTS fans, and with rather basic action animations, firefights lack flavour or any real sense of satisfaction. Online co-operative and competitive combat modes include Gang Wars, Bank Heist, Jailbreak and Get The Money, but aside from letting you team up with or face off against a friend, these don’t provide any deeper layers of complexity or challenge. There’s also a practise-friendly Sandbox mode, where you can organise crime without being hampered by story-based missions.
Switching regularly between the strategy of the city to the confines of turn-based combat and back again helps keep things interesting, but the option to auto-resolve smaller skirmishes rather than navigating away from the level map is a welcome feature for when you’re too engrossed in selling on a batch of bootlegged beer for more than you bought it for.
Setting up and maintaining a steady cashflow early on in a level is easy enough, but resource collection often presents a pacing problem. At times you’re simply left to wait for the numbers to tick upwards before you can move on, with not a lot to do in the meantime. This wouldn’t feel quite so pronounced if the game gave players anything much to look at whilst waiting.
One of the joys of strategy titles, aside from when those once-dwindling resource numbers start to soar, is seeing a map begin to bend to your will. This feeling is sorely missed in Omerta, as buildings you take over don’t change to visually represent the businesses you’re setting up inside them.
Though it wouldn’t be exactly prudent to have a neon sign pointing to your underground speakeasy, some small visual clue, some subtle mark of ownership – aside from a spinning brown icon on top – would give the map a much needed sense of gradual domination. Likewise, when you send a character to pull off a raid, a firebombing, or a drive-by shooting of a rival business, you don’t really see or feel much excitement or involvement.
It’s this lack of feedback that prevents Omerta: City Of Gangsters from ever really taking off. You see your baseball bat crack the head of an advancing thug, but it doesn’t leave much of an impression. Your numbers tell you that you’re both feared and admired by criminals and citizens alike, but Atlantic City, outwardly at least, doesn’t seem to notice you’re even there.
You never get to feel like the pinstriped-suited crime boss you are. Omnipresent you may be, but you’re lacking in potency or any meaningful presence.
Omerta: City Of Gangsters does well in capturing the atmosphere of a memorable time and place in history. Gin-soaked speakeasies and sepia-toned shootouts provide colourful context for some fun turn-based power struggles but sadly, the strategy never feels complex or deep enough to be truly fulfilling.
Version Tested: PC