Omerta: City of Gangsters: Xbox 360
Mar 26, 2013 Web Exclusive
Atlantic City, for the early half of the 20th century, was regarded as America's Playground. Before it devolved a slightly dirtier, East Coast version of Vegas, the City by the Sea was the place for Americans from any walk of life to cut loose and enjoy some of life's little decadences. Atlantic City reached the height of its notoriety during Prohibition, when the lines between politician and gangster were blurred enough to allow vice to operate freely along the resort's famous boardwalk. During those years, Atlantic City was one of the seats of power for America's organized crime syndicates.
Now, from German publisher Kalypso Media, publishers of sim games Tropico and Port Royale, comes Omerta: City of Gangsters, in which players battle it out with competing gangsters for their own slice of the underworld pie.
Players take control of a custom-built gangster, who starts out as a common street thug and later builds his way up the city's underworld power structure. Jobs start on the simple side of things—rough up a con man here, bribe an informant there—but before long you'll be renting properties and running your own distilleries, speakeasies, bookmakers, casinos, and ponzi schemes. Some missions have specific goals, while others leave the methods of gaining wealth and power up to you. (An early map, for example, asks you to run the competing protection rackets out of town; you have the option of buying them out, killing them off, or putting them out of business with your own, better-run rackets.) There's also a sandbox mode, which lets you build your crime empire in any way you'd like, whether you choose to run a semi-legit pizza chain, or to become Atlantic City's top dog hooch runner.
Combat sequences, which are surprisingly frequent for a city-building game of this type, add another element of strategy to the proceedings. Certain actions in the overworld will trigger the X-Com-like turn-based tactical combat mode, where you devise your strategies based on your team's movement and action points. Pick your combat team from the pool of thugs under your employ; each gangster has a unique set of abilities and dormant perks which will play into your overall scheme. Individual units can gain levels, which increases their stats, and allows new perks or abilities to be assigned. Units can also be injured in combat, as well; certain lingering wounds—such as a broken wound—will carry over from map to map, and be detrimental to your stats.
These sequences have different goals; some, such as raids, end when all enemy units are defeated. Others involve retrieving an item or unit—say, springing one of your thugs from prison—and then escaping the map. This variety—and having several viable options to succeed on each map—keeps combat feeling fresh for a long time.
Combat can occasionally get tedious, particularly when a map boils down to telling units to execute the same actions turn after turn after turn. Thankfully, sequences can be auto-skipped when you heavily outpower your opponents.
Omerta: City of Gangsters is probably better-suited as a PC game, but translates incredibly well onto the XBox 360. The controls and mechanics have a steep learning curve, but are very intuitive after the first couple hours. Many commands are mapped to a combination of triggers or shoulder buttons with a face buttons; once you've gotten the hang of these, you're golden. Load times are moderate; there's some waiting at the beginning of each mission and any time you switch from combat mode to the overworld and vice versa, but it's far from terrible. (Menu screens, on the other hand, can be pulled up and flipped through very quickly.)
The storyline is well thought-out but often feels inconsequential. The back story plays out in a series of voiceovers, which, while solidly-acted, may fail to grab you. Omerta makes up for this shortcoming with its engrossing world and its commendable attention to historic detail. From the realistic city map—you'll recognize the street names if you've ever played a game of Monopoly—to the still-under-construction hotels and world-famous boardwalk, Omerta: City of Gangsters does a fine job making you feel part of an Atlantic City as it existed long before the mega-casinos came to dominate the resort. The game makes for a great companion to HBO's Boardwalk Empire; perhaps an even better one to Nelson Johnson's book on Atlantic City of the same name.
Omerta: City of Gangsters is a very complex—and lengthy—game that offers plenty of replay value with its large number of maps and paths to victory. It's also a challenge; even the easy mode offered will likely result in its share of losses. Console gamers can rest assured that it comes with few of the glitches and problems that go hand-in-hand with ports of PC strategy and city-building titles. It's highly recommended for anyone looking for an especially deep strategy gaming experience on the 360. (www.cityofgangsters.com)
Author rating: 7/10
Average reader rating: 6/10