The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
This hybrid strategy/tactics gangster simulation tries to be two games in one, but uninspired combat and a complete lack of challenge or threat in the strategy layer prevent Omerta from reaching excellence in either, much less present a compelling fusion of the two.
Omerta sets its sights on being an early 20th-century take on XCOM, with gangsters and coppers taking the place of Kevlar-suited commandos and psychic aliens. Players grow their criminal empires in a real-time overhead view of one of Atlantic City’s many districts, pushing out rival operations and establishing everything from underground boxing arenas and bookies to illegal distilleries and speakeasies. When the situation demands it, your gang goes to the mattresses and descends upon a single-building map to blow away opposing gangs, cops, and even the National Guard in turn-based tactical combat.
The main trouble with Omerta is an utter failure to push or punish the player on the strategic level. The only consequences to standing pat and waiting for your business ventures to pile up the cash you need for your next objective are your gangsters’ trivial daily salaries and the slowly growing heat of police investigation, which eventually demands a miniscule bribe to reset the meter. Your buildings require no maintenance of any kind and effectively conjure money out of thin air. District simulation has no depth, so you don’t have to worry about bankrupting the locals or dealing with larger federal investigative threats outside of scripted story moments – so there is no reason to not just kick back and watch your accounts swell.
An ever-growing pile of cash would be fine if you were racing against a clock of some kind or had to make choices about what to establish where in order to make the district work as a whole, à la SimCity or Tropico. Buildings don’t interact with each other at all other than with global efficiency modifiers like bookies making boxing rings more profitable and multiple speakeasies stepping on each other’s markets and reducing individual income. Go ahead and put your brewery on the other side of town from your nightclub; it doesn’t make any difference to the constantly running money train. Feel free to send all your gangsters to the corners of the district on whatever jobs you like, as they all magically appear at the site of a heist and resume their tasks no matter how many bullets they take.
These problems lead to a giant hole in the game’s believability. If I had to make choices about what kind of boss I am, role-playing the head of a criminal empire, I could forgive the nonexistent strategic challenge and the paper-thin simulation. No consequences or results of any kind are tied to having high or low Liked and Feared ratings, each of which are trivially easy to raise with a minimal investment. Little difference exists between Dirty and Clean money, since laundering cash is also pathetically simple. Any role-playing in Omerta exists strictly in your own head, since the game barely reacts to your choices.
Combat is a much stronger part of the game, but suffers from its share of problems as well. The rules are simple enough while still offering moderate space for tactical creativity beyond basic strategies like hiding behind cover and concentrating fire. Melee weapons play an important role, as characters equipped with bats, knuckles, and knives inflict debilitating conditions on foes while ignoring cover bonuses. Destructible objects offer little protection from shotguns or tommy guns but plenty of cover from pistol and rifle shots. Coming out on top against 3:1 or worse odds by taking advantage of these systems is a great feeling, though it is cheapened by AI that seems to choose targets and abilities at random with no thought to efficacy or tactical goals.
The story campaign is the only game mode with any value whatsoever, and its flat characters and predictable narrative leave much to be desired. I appreciate the quick pace at which it introduces new concepts, but I never shook the feeling that I was waiting for the real game to start, even as the ending credits rolled. The strategy layer problems make the four sandbox maps into sad jokes even on the hardest difficulty, and I cannot imagine a reason anyone would spend any time in the barebones tactical-combat multiplayer offering.
Omerta could have been great. I adore the premise, the era is underserved in gaming, and I have a lot of love for Haemimont’s work on the Tropico series. Omerta fails to close the loop that XCOM managed so adroitly by having a strategic layer so simple as to be a pointless afterthought, with no simulation depth to make up for a game world that turns the other cheek to the most egregious of criminal offenses and a combat system that doesn’t rise above basic adequacy. Perhaps silence is better than any further conversation about this disappointment.
Omerta is also coming out on Xbox 360, and publisher Kalypso tells us that the content is identical on both versions. There’s nothing about the design or interface that shouldn’t work fine with a gamepad, and the engine Omerta runs on already handles more arduous tasks in the 360 version of Tropico 4, but we have not had a chance to evaluate the 360 version firsthand. We will publish an addendum to this review when we get our hands on the console version, but for now please take this as the definitive review.