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Crime Boss: Rockay City's least important mode has some aggressively okay co-op heisting

Does it rock, is it rocky, or is it plain rockay?

I spent some time with Crime Boss: Rockay City, the upcoming Payday-esque heist FPS that sees you tackle crime and murder in either singleplayer or co-op, all with nostalgia hits from characters played by Michael Madsen and Vanilla Ice. What's happened here is: I've come away with thoughts, but they're thoughts on one of three modes that's the least useful one to have thoughts on. The other two - the bulk of the game - weren't playable. Still, what I did play was simplistic fun that valued chaos over stealth, with middling results. Unless the other two modes wrap up its action in more interesting ways, I'm unsure whether I can see Crime Boss racking up the cash when it releases next month.

The game has three modes: Baker's Battle, Crime Time, and Urban Legends. I played roughly two hours of Urban Legends – the least important of the bunch, it turns out. Baker's Battle is the bulk of the game and singleplayer only, while Crime Time is either a singleplayer or co-op blast through missions that'll earn you money to spend in Baker's Battle, I think? Bear with me here, as I am working from snippets of B-Roll, some printed out slides, and an eight-minute video presentation.

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From my understanding, Baker's Battle is structured similarly to a roguelike, where you dip into multiple playthroughs, lose, get stronger, and eventually win. Playthroughs are your attempts to become the kingpin of Rockay City by doing varying difficulties of crime and taking over turf in the process. Losses are at the hands of Chuck Norris, a policeman who picks up on the "evidence you leave" between each mission (whatever this means), and will apprehend you without much trouble early on. But as you earn Boss Levels and money from previous runs, you'll unlock new characters and perks that make fleeing from Norris a bit easier. Crime Time, seemingly, will help you outrun the lad.

A screenshot from Crime Boss: Rockay City which shoes Michael Madsen looking at a map of Rockay City's various territories, which are all colour-coded according to gang affiliation.
In Baker's Battle, you can pick and choose the territories you want to fight over. I couldn't do that in the mode I played. Yes, I am bitter about it.

So, then. Urban Legends is made up of what they call "mini-campaigns", but that's maybe a touch generous. You can play this with up to three other players, or solo with bots if you'd prefer, and they're more like short heist missions stitched together by very brief snippets of Madsen's 90s face pushing out crime words. You're not getting much story here, which is fine! The point of the mode seems to be more in chucking some cocaine into a van with your mates, all without the grind that comes with the other two modes. All you unlock here are further "mini-campaigns" and teammates for Crime Time. Again, this is fine by me. I'm into a mode that lets you let rip with your pals without getting tangled up in everything else.

When you party up with mates, you get to select a character first. They have excellent names that all sound like they belong to Jason Statham characters, like Bricks and Yakult and Shelf (okay, I made up Yakult and Shelf, but you get it)". Most look like they've modeled themselves on the 3rd Street Saints. They all have a set number of lives, so if they die multiple times they'll be out of action for a while, and each comes equipped with a primary and secondary weapon, as well as a slot for a grenade or a brick or a flashbang to prevent death from happening. I opted for the brick, because it emanated strong immersive sim energy.

Vanilla Ice dressed in shades, a cap, and a purple hoodie is in a disco basement in Crime Boss: Rockay City.
If all of your characters run out of lives, then they'll be replaced by a range of basic folks until the others recover between missions. It's a bit like Rainbow Six: Extraction in that regard.

Crime Boss isn't an immersive sim. The game, or the game mode I played, seemed more akin to, say, Payday's routine heisting. Crime here isn't so much a puzzle to be solved through elaborate means, but more of a multi-step process pulled from a bucket of activities, which are then popped together in different combinations; a Kray Twins Lego set, if you will. For instance, a standout mission involved getting onto a cruise ship, then stuffing cocaine dotted around the ship into bags, and making off with the booty unscathed. Others were simplified variants. Get into a warehouse, stuff jewels into bags, then get back to the van. One saw us kill a gang leader, then run back to the van. The van is a staple: crime doesn't happen if you don't chuck bags into a van.

To each their own, but for me, chaos is the least interesting part of a heist. I'm someone who likes to dip in and dip out without alerting a single guard, or even better, snuff out blunders as they happen. Maybe knocking a guard unconscious just before she plunges the alarm lever, or going loud and giving them all the slip later. From what I've played, Crime Boss makes it very, very difficult to sneak into a space undetected. Get spotted by a baddie? Ha, get absolutely fucked! That's everyone on the map alerted to your presence for the entire duration of the mission! Stealth might be an option, but Urban Legends doesn't seem to support it all that well.

Three characters infiltrate a warehouse in Crime Boss: Rockay City.
Most missions started off with a stealthy option, letting you infiltrate the area unseen. Just don't expect there to be a plethora of routes and options. For the most part, there's only ever one or two ways of reaching your objective and it's packed with guards. Go even slightly off track and a grey screen will tell you to turn back.

A Grand Theft Auto-style star rating is symbolic of the game's obsession with chaos, as it fills when you fell police officers, and fills even more when you fell entire SWAT teams. There's a thrill to be had in chopping down waves of enemies in a sort of frenzied plate spin as you wait for a safe to crack, or urge your co-op pals to hurry up with their drug swiping. But as the mini-campaigns motor on, janky stealth and near constant chaos begins to meld into "meh".

And it's not like Crime Boss nails the fundamentals, either. Shooting is aggressively fine, with AI that's about as intelligent as a swarm of krill. If you go down, chances are you've been outnumbered, not outsmarted. It may be different in the other modes, but playable characters aren't all that different either, really. Some just have more powerful guns than others or more lives to expend, which gives your old Bricks and Yakult about as much personality as the guns they wield.

A van races off as cash flies out its back doors in Crime Boss: Rockay City.
Chucking bags of cash into the back of a van never got old, though.

Progression also isn't central to the mode I played, so I couldn't get a sense of whether the cash we made off with could be spent on anything. I think I could've bought some new guns? Maybe some new characters with more lives and stronger guns?

To really get a sense of Crime Boss, I need to see its other main modes. While I can't pass judgment yet, I can say that I wasn’t blown away by the gunplay or the stealthing. I'm pretty certain you could get the same fix if you turned to Payday 1 or 2, or perhaps find a better alternative altogether if you tackled some objectives from the latest Call Of Duty games. I worry that even if Crime Boss: Rockay City's other modes wrap up its action in clever, interesting ways, its middling action may ward off players when it launches on the 28th March.

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