So I’m sitting there watching Boardwalk Empire, and I think to myself, “I can do what Steve Buscemi does. He walks around, makes deals and maybe has to do a couple dirty jobs to tighten his grip on the organized crime of Atlantic city.” Omerta: City of Gangsters gave me the opportunity to step into these shoes and become ‘The Boss’ that I have always aspired to be.
o•mer•ta (-mûrt, mr-tä)
A rule or code that prohibits speaking or divulging information about the activities of a criminal organization. (this rule is broken several times over the next few paragraphs)
Sometimes in your life, a game comes around that changes your perspective on a genre. Omerta is not the game that is going to change your mind on the gangster simulator. However, it is the only modern gangster simulator that gives you the satisfaction of taking over Atlantic City piece by piece. The game starts with character creation, where both backstory and character stats are determined through a series of thinly veiled questions. What craftsman did you work with as a child? Well of course I hung out with the shopkeeper, which is displayed to grant 1 to cunning and -1 to toughness. I wanted the RPG elements to influence my play style throughout the game, but it really only factors in during the combat missions. Perks can be chosen to make you a skilled fighter or a better businessman, but I didn't’ find them to have a huge impact on the game overall. Once I was done with the quiz my newly formed character, Locke “The Stud” Vincent, was ready to venture into the underworld of organized crime.
Set up businesses to gain a foothold in Atlantic City
First you get the money...
The game breaks down into two distinctly different phases. Most of your time will be spent in the city overview making deals, trading contraband, and developing the city. Why does every crime lord get into the business? The money. Everything in Omerta: City of Gangsters revolves around you making money, dirty or clean. There are multiple ways to make money, the most simple are by taking ‘jobs’ from NPCs around the city. These jobs are literally buying or selling beer, liquor, and weapons to a character portrait that you select from a menu. The other main way to make money is by starting up businesses around the map. The isometric view is nothing special, and does little to add to the experience but give you things to click on. Businesses range from underground boxing rings to pharmacies. The former bringing in dirty money and the latter giving you clean money. Both types of currencies can be spent, but the end goal for most missions is to attain a certain amount of clean money (which is more difficult to acquire). Businesses will bring in a constant stream of cash, as long as you have the production and goods to sell. Upgrades can be given to the businesses to increase efficiency, all with one goal in mind, to make more of that cold hard cash.
Take jobs from other crime lords around the city
Then you get the power...
Some jobs around the city will require you to rob a bank, defend your hideout, or raid another gang’s location. In these missions Omerta shifts to an old school, turn based tactical strategy game resembling the combat from original Fallout titles. It is a drastic shift, but it is a refreshing change of pace from the daily grind of running businesses in the city overview. You can get your hands dirty and go in as the boss, but these types of missions are better suited for your gang of wise guys and cronies. Early on you can only afford one or two gang members, but as you grow your empire more gangsters will be available for hire. Each character has a backstory and specialty when it comes to combat. Some are agile and can get in close with melee weapons, while others sit back with firearms. Stats determine character movement points, action points, hit points, and courage levels. A beefy grunt can take a blow, but may be a little slow getting there. There are various objectives depending on the mission; steal important documents, get all the cash from the vault, but each mission I played was won through a bloodbath. There is some strategy to the fights with line of sight and cover being major factors in survival, but it does come down to some dice rolls and percentages. If you enjoyed the recent XCOM, you will feel right at home in Omerta.
Then you get the women...
The co-op play in Omerta: City of Gangsters is limited to the tactical missions. You and up to one friend can take control of a gang and complete missions together. I’ll be the first to admit, the more the merrier on a heist, but the co-op is sorely lacking especially for a game where you ROLL IN GANGS. I find that turn based strategy does not translate very well to co-operative play, so I am surprised that it was included in Omerta. I would have liked to see something more from Kalypso, like being able to control allied gangs and take on missions simultaneously. Even playing in the city overview would be interesting to have some co-op action, with partners managing different parts of the city and influencing each other’s businesses. Don’t get me wrong, the tactical missions are fun with a friend but it feels awkward. The missions are meant to influence your overall empire, but when you are taking on individual scenarios, you lose some of the effect of taking out a rival gang.
Team up with a co-op partner and take turns in the tactical combat
I have to admit that I have a soft spot for the time period and I totally soak up the theme in Omerta: City of Gangsters. A gangster simulator comes around every decade, and Omerta feels like a modernized version of Mob Rule or Constructor. It lacks the depth and detail of Gangsters, which gives it an uninspired feeling and simulation fanatics may lose interest after a couple missions. It isn’t for everyone, and it stumbles over its own feet with the multiple genres trying to share the spotlight. Omerta has little competition, and if you’re hankering to become "The Don" you always wanted to be then I’d recommend picking this up. If you want a deep simulation or strategy game, you’re better off sticking to watching Boardwalk Empire.
The Co-Optimus review of Omerta is based on the PC version of the game.