This review uses a lot of Mafia terminology. All the relevant Mafia translation shown here.
There’s no doubt about the fact that when it comes to depicting organised crime, Grand Theft Auto does it the best. Expansive worlds, fast cars, and massive explosions; you name it and it has it. However, it is all set in more recent times. We’ve never really seen a classic game set in 1920s America – where the Mafia was rampant throughout the streets of big cities like New York or Chicago. The Mafia series came close, but still wasn’t in the right time period, while Gangsters: Organised Crime is currently the best gangster game set in the right period. To be fair though, that is far from a great game, so now we have Omerta: City of Gangsters attempting to make a big name for itself. Is it a wise-guy, or should it be subject to a mock execution?
Thankfully, you take on the role of an already made man in the 1920s. Prohibition is in full swing and everyone just wants to get drunk. You take on the role of a Capo – a small-time gangster who leads a group aiming to cash in on the money to be earned by, well, supplying the populace with weapons and booze. In your campaign from Capo, to Underboss, until you eventually become the Don, you’ll lie and cheat your way to the top. However, Omerta: City of Gangsters fails to actively tell a decent narrative, instead opting for segmented missions across a small range of territories across Atlantic City. Its presentation is surprisingly dull, with still pictures and stereotypical voice acting being all you get. The exploits of your gang are nothing in comparison to the fables of mobs from other gangster games.
Gameplay is divided into two sections. The first of these is the management section which pits you in a territory to expand your business without garnering police protection that you can’t worm your way out of. Sending your mobsters to do your bidding by buying up plots, setting up businesses, and doing deals with out-of-town clients will take up the majority of your time here. Each business set up will do various things. Some obtain beer, liquor and firearms for you to sell in other joints; others act as extra storage, while some can launder your dirty money into more desirable clean money. Two big factors in your success are businesses that increase, or are based upon your Liked and Feared rating. These two are separate, so it’s best to raise both as high as possible.
It sounds like an appetising start, but just like a cold pizza slice the result is disappointing. Without much in the way of competition, the whole thing feels a little one-sided. Sure, the police may come knocking at your door, but as long as you’ve successfully bribed a deputy in advance, paid a bent cop to “look the other way” beforehand, or have at least $1000 to hand, you’ll very rarely trigger the “raid” combat scenario that losing means an automatic game over. The lack of competition from other gangsters in the city highlights the fault that you really can have your pizza pie and eat it.
The second part to your path of conquest in each scenario is the turn-based combat, which essentially translates to “whack the other guys”. Sometimes you will get a combat scenario where you protect an AI controlled character, but the variety is a bit thin in this respect. You can place up to four mobsters in your party, while another one can act in a support capacity – either as a hidden assassin, reconnaissance, or the guy who gets your enemy drunk. Considering that you’ll regularly be facing off against more than four opponents, things do feel severely one-sided despite your statistical advantage. Everything is governed with Movement Points and Action Points, similar to turn-based RPGs of old, which is a tried and tested method that seems to work for the most part.
One thing that Omerta: City of Gangsters does manage to get partially right is the movement. When you move blindly into a new enemy, your character will stop to allow you to find that new enemy. Sometimes the game will bug out and stop your guy even though nobody is there though. You also have icons in your movement path that either allows you to position yourself where you can open fire on an enemy, or warn you of the first point where enemies can hit you. It’s a big part of being successful in combat and is handy when you figure it out, but the game says absolutely nothing about this crucial part of the combat, so it’s essentially up to you to decipher these cryptic symbols in your movement path. You may also find that your guys won’t properly move into cover, despite clearly clicking on the symbol, which is a recipe for disaster.
Despite having the coolest setting, it makes a mockery of the two genres it tries to imitate.
Each mobster has an equipable weapon slot that determines how they attack. Some rely on melee weapons to do the job, while others use guns for ranged combat. While the game does tell you how to initiate combat, it doesn’t say what status effects mean until you either have a skill that inflicts it or are inflicted by one yourself (in the form of small text over your character at the beginning of their turn). The inability to explain key combat mechanics properly is by far the biggest failing for Omerta: City of Gangsters. Having unfair percentages that regularly lie about your chances of hitting enemies is also an issue, as a shot percentage of 80% misses more often than one of 40%, even for close range attacks.
Finally, when it comes to squad building, you automatically level up based on missions you do and the “reward” for that mission. It takes a lot of the experience grinding out of the game and yes it makes it easier to micromanage your mob, but at the cost of feeling like a true strategy RPG. The icing on this rather rancid cake is that the only things separating one mobster from another are their talents, stats (which are also not explained properly), and their portrait. That is horrendously bad for immersion as you don’t feel as connected to your mob.
Multiplayer is available, but at the time of review (by which I mean several weeks after release), nobody is playing either the cooperative or competitive modes. From evidence gathered, these are just as underwhelming as the campaign, and indeed the Sandbox mode that is fundamentally the story mode style of gameplay, but on one of four maps and with everything unlocked. This in fact makes even less sense than the campaign mode as you have nothing to aim for; except completely taking over a portion of Atlantic City, which is an incredibly mediocre goal in itself.
Other huge bugbears about the game are the control interface and glitches, especially for the console version, which are atrocious, with the mini-map being of no help at all and the game automatically deselects stuff you’ve highlighted after a small waiting time. You’ll regularly be fighting with the interface to try to get things to work! The bland visuals have no character, despite not a lot going on at any given time, so the fact that characters regularly walk through cars and fences in the management section is just sloppy design. But what is severely depressing is that the brilliant music is rendered unplayable by a massive bug that disrupts the sound in a way that loops it like a scratched record.
I’m going to make you an offer you can’t possibly refuse. Do not play Omerta: City of Gangsters. Despite having the coolest setting, it makes a mockery of the two genres it tries to imitate. Management sections feel bland and uneventful, while combat is a game of chance thanks to dodgy percentages and the sub-par explanation given by the tutorial. What little innovation present, is severely hampered by the awful execution. What little charm present, is utterly destroyed by glitches and bugs. The fact that Gangsters: Organised Crime, a PC game over a decade old does a better job than Omerta: City of Gangsters did, is a worrisome outcome for this operation. Che peccato…