Prohibited Thoughts: Omerta – City Of Gangsters Demo

By Adam Smith on January 24th, 2013 at 2:00 pm.

Omerta’s demo is odd. I’ve been hoping that the game will deliver on its turn-based gangster shenanigans ever since it was announced, but I expected mild disappointment as none of the pre-release media had entirely convinced me. A demo seems like the perfect solution, providing a playable sample and helping my wayward mind to form some basic conclusions. That hasn’t happened. Instead, I’m still left with a strong interest in playing the game that Omerta might be, while at the same time half-convinced that Omerta isn’t going to be that game. You can download the demo for yourself or read on for more meandering opinions and details.

I like the way the story begins, with a ‘choose your own history’ character creation section. It’s over in five or six clicks, and the writing isn’t as sharp as the suits, but I find making narrative, character-driven choices far more interesting than clicking buttons to tweak stats. I’m a ‘flavour’ man and Omerta’s success will largely hinge on its ability to infuse its strategic city map and turn-based combat with a decent sense of time and place.

The music does a good job and the voice acting is fine on the whole, but the opening tutorial manages to make raiding breweries and strong-arming suppliers feel about as exciting as completing some not-particularly-pressing paperwork. Businesses and points of interest are discovered by speaking to informants, which causes icons to appear over buildings in the Boardwalk district where the game begins. Click on one and a selection of choices appears. Mostly, it’s about collecting resources and prohibition era Atlantic City is a bit like Elite’s galaxy, except smaller and without the spectacle of space travel. Collect the beer, find a place to sell it for more than you bought it for, and then use the profits to hire more gangsters, or buy out a business.

While it’s only hinted at in the demo, I can’t ignore the possibility that the strategy will eventually become complex and fulfilling, particularly as rival gangs become more of a threat. Otherwise, the actual management side of the game simply involves clicking on rabbit-hole buildings and waiting for tasks to complete, then hiring more people to do the same thing.

I’m unsure about the gang management then, although I’d be willing to concede the full game might offer more options and more sense of the city pushing back against my clicking. It’s all too simple at first, with businesses becoming displeased when your little pin-striped pixels repeatedly raid them, but without any real sense of urgency or involvement. The city has some neat touches, in the billboards, the car designs and the umbrella-toting pedestrians, reacting to the changing weather. Most of the illusion is broken when a gangster sent on a mission bursts from the headquarters and sprints across the city, taking the straightest path, and immediately betraying the fact that the theme is more of a paintjob than a construction.

There is a great Irishman though.

Onto the combat, which, like the strategic portion, contains no real surprises. Movement points allow movement and action points allow action. It’s a system that falls in between XCOM and X-COM, with time units provided but action points doled out distinct from those for motion. Firing a weapon usually consumes all remaining movement points though, which means its often better to move and shoot than to find cover and remain behind it. The system also allows for perks that allow specific gangsters to manipulate their movement and action allowance in unique ways, and that’s a promising feature. Indeed, the best thing about the few combat sections I’ve played is the importance of individual skills and stats. Levelling up allows units to pick a perk, most (all?) of which are dependent on stats, meaning there should be plenty of variation between individuals.

Unfortunately, combat itself isn’t particularly thrilling. Some cover can be destroyed, shots can be aimed at the gut to cause bleeding, and being taken out causes permanent injuries that affect stats. The system is perfectly serviceable but there’s nothing, either in the tactics or the polish of the design, to bring about a smile of approval.

That may be the final word on Omerta – ‘serviceable’. The demo doesn’t suggest it will make the most of its theme, nor does it suggest there’s anything fundamentally wrong with the approach Haemimont have taken. There may still be a moment when the City of Gangsters genuinely thrills me, but the demo has left me unconvinced. And yet, I remain not only eager to see more but hopeful that there is more to see. The fact that I’ve just written 800 words about a demo shows how much I actually want to play turn-based gangster dress-up.

The game is out February 1st and the demo is available now.

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20 Comments »

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  1. sleepisthebrotherofdeath says:

    So is this Boardwalk Empire the game but they couldn’t afford to license the name ?

    • f1x says:

      Or just any other of the 3 millions of gangster histories out there?

      Omerta is a fantastic name (instead of having to buy the Boardwalk thing) as it refers to the honor code of the Sicilian mafia, Mario Puzo (who wrote the script for the godfather trilogy) wrote a novel named Omerta also (the game is not related to that tho)

      The game dosnt look that promising tho, at least from this demo impressions

      • BobbyDylan says:

        Sadly, when the Kalypso sign came up at the begining, I knew what we were in store for.

        • Curry the Great says:

          Feels like you’re right about that. Imo Kalypso’s stuff is always servicable, never really good, never as deep as you want it. You play it for a bit and then you figure out where you thought you were scratching the surface that’s really the whole game.

          • caddyB says:

            Like Cyanide then.

          • gritz says:

            Agree 100%, and it’s made all the more galling that most of their games require you to log into their special service GFWL style.

        • Deadly Habit says:

          Hey now, they go Tropico right and… ok you have a point

      • Michael Fogg says:

        ‘Omerta’ also sounds like a small homage to Jagged Alliance 2 :)

  2. Kohlrabi says:

    My godfather is not really thrilled by the game.

  3. hemmingjay says:

    The demo is pretty decent. It’s a strategy game in the style of the Gangsters series. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be much more than a continuation of that series. Still, decent fun, satisfying but limited combat options and a decent UI.

  4. Shooop says:

    Bah, he’s not Danny Greene. Higher standards man!

  5. Spacewalk says:

    Is that top image from Grandma Shooter II?

  6. Cyrius says:

    Man, I really wanted this game to be good. Typically I am a fan of Kalypso (and haemimont).

    But this game is straight up shovelware. I really expected more from the management side of things than the combat side. I am glad the demo came out so that I do not have to waste $40 on it.

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      maninahat says:

      That’s a shame. As a Tropico fan, I was hoping for a “Gangsters III” that was actually worth playing. Judging by the interface and the overview, it looks like they’ve simply taken Tropico 4 and barely altered the UI and mechanics. Funnily enough, that also describes Tropico 4 compared to Tropico 3.

      • Ted D. Bear says:

        Yes. I really liked the orginal Gangsters. For a few turns at least. Then it just degenerated into random shootouts and all the planning became pointless. Since then I am waiting for someone to try again and get it right.

  7. a1ml3ss says:

    I’ve been looking for an excuse to pre-order this on steam. This still isn’t it. I was desperate for some total war strategy map and xcom battles crossover, in natty attire, but it just doesn’t look like its happening…

  8. katzenkrimis says:

    Good write-up. That’s exactly how I feel about this game.

    House-clicking in multiples of a hundred in isometric view, aint my bag. But the game has just enough punch to get my dirty money.

    It’s an intriguing game. A game that will be fun to play, albeit for a few weeks. A game that will tie me over until the real show begins.

    Company of Heroes 2 gets my clean money.