"As far back as I remember, I always wanted to be a gangster (with tactics! And floating numbers!)"
Published on Nov 13, 2012
Tactical games are trendy again! Sort of. XCOM: Enemy Unknown has done a lot to make games based that prioritise stats, thinking ahead and smart tactics fashionable once more but it’s the kind of game that Kalypso has been pushing for a while now, via its Tropico series.
Game publishers at large are still chasing whatever breadcrumbs are leftover at the Call Of Duty table, so it’s nice to see some still have the balls to go against convention.
Omerta: City Of Gangsters should see that faith pay off for Kalypso. It’s a refreshing game on many levels. It doesn’t want to blow you away with explosions consisting of 34 graphics or dramatic set-pieces but rather, it places all its faith on your lust for tactical tinkering and floating numbers. Its 1920’s American gangsters theme also feels surprisingly novel, and it has a surprisingly calm, sedate pace
Everything here revolves around The Boss, an up and coming mafia leader who looks like Michael Hutchence from INXS. As the floating eye in the sky looking down on Atlantic City, which is ready to be picked apart with clean hits and dirty money, you direct The Boss around the streets.
There isn’t much direct control over The Boss though, as you’re actually clicking on buildings and floating icons dotted around the city instead. Omerta isn’t so much about building a city as it is about transforming it. You’re not creating new buildings and watching them rise out of dust clouds as you are renting what’s there and repurposing it. There are plenty of options for what you turn buildings into, each with their own benefits – breweries allow you to control liquor, boxing rings earn you money from gambling, weapons factories mean you can supply your crew with more guns and so on.
In addition to that, there are powerful figures around the cities to be influenced – rival gangsters, politicians, celebrities and so on. You can use them as you rise to the top or discard them, creating a reputation as a gangster to be feared who the police keep an eye on. That duality is played upon with the money side too, as you earn both clean and dirty money rather than one big pile of cash to spend.
There’s a pacing issue with this side of Omerta though. It’s easy to get your city up and running, and good fun too, but you soon hit a ceiling where you’re waiting for resources to accumulate to satisfy the objective needed to progress. Either the wait is too long or there’s a lack of busywork in between watching the resources tick over but either way, for a gangster, there’s a lot of time spent twiddling thumbs.
It’s not an issue with the actual battles themselves, which is the other side of Omerta. These isometric battles kick in for the usual mobster reasons – fights over territory, raids and so on – and they too remain tactical and forward-thinking in nature.
It’s turn-based, with movement points and action points determining what choice is available to you for each turn. Each crew member has different special moves, which cost different amounts of action points. You might go for a shot that makes your target bleed rather than doing direct damage, useful for enemies with high health bars. Other moves trade damage for accuracy, or allow you to shoot through cover, or allow you to heal up or defend.
There are a lot of moves to select and not many action points to spend them on but another consideration is cover. Cover is your best and often only defence against taking damage but being in cover also limits your options on who to shoot at.
It’s an intriguing mix of risk versus reward, as moving into open ground to get a better shot leaves you vulnerable. There isn’t a huge sense of feedback due to the underwhelming animation and presentation but the sense of tinkering with crew
Another important consideration is getting the right mix of crew members. They have their own weapons and their own statistics, which includes important attributes such as nerve (panicked crew will lose statistics). You discover new crew members as you work your way through the game, providing incentive beyond unlocking new chunks of city to explore.
Two very different ways of playing, both very similar lines of thinking. Once you learn the user interface quirks, Omerta: City Of Gangsters is tactical without being intimidating, light without being throwaway. Issues with pacing and presentation could hold it back but regardless, Omerta has our attention. Maybe the tactical gaming revolution continue.