Omerta: City of Gangsters Review

Omerta — a code of silence that forbids Mafia members from cooperating with authorities and revealing information about their criminal activities. To break the omerta code is to bring the greatest possible shame upon yourself, and is punishable by death. My family name is Miozzi — you can trust me on this sort of thing.

Sharing its name with the famous code, Omerta: City of Gangsters is a management simulation and turn-based tactical combat game set in prohibition-era Atlantic City that follows the activities of a newly-established mob boss. But is it a game worthy of the somber name Omerta, or is this a title we should all remain silent about?

Omerta: City of Gangsters (PC [reviewed], Xbox 360)
Developer: Haemimont Games AD
Publisher: Kalypso Media
Release: January 31, 2013 (PC)/February 12, 2013 (Xbox 360)
MSRP: $39.99

The story is that of an immigrant fresh off the boat from Italy who works his way up the criminal hierarchy of a prohibition-era Atlantic City, eventually rising to the title of “capo di tutti capi” — the boss of all bosses, more commonly known as the Godfather. Complete with crooked cops, power struggles, and betrayals, it captures the twists, turns, and tropes we expect from gangster movies. Without giving too much away, I will say that we eventually meet the protagonist’s brother — a by-the-books FBI agent — after which the thickness of blood relative to water becomes a dominant theme. While the plot isn’t original and does start to drag past the second act, it’s otherwise well-executed and delivers a satisfying ending.

Character creation is reminiscent of classic turn-based RPGs like Fallout or Baldur’s Gate, but in a mobster setting. Rather than just assign points to your attributes — Muscle, Finesse, Smarts, Cunning, Guts, and Toughness — you select four or so out of a dozen options that establish your character’s aptitudes. There’s a nostalgia-fueled allure to the process, but sadly, the choices you made in character creation soon become irrelevant. The attributes of any one gangster are only pertinent in combat, and once you have a full complement of goons, your main character will most often fill the “support” role — a character that, rather than partaking in the battle, sits on the sidelines and gives your team an edge, such as by reducing the number of enemies you face.

Omerta’s turn-based combat feels like the generic brand version of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, lacking any cinematic flair and seeming no more evolved than the turn-based strategy titles from the ’90s, with a cover system that feels ambiguous at best and arbitrary at worst. You can equip the four gangsters you bring into battle with various weapons, ranging from knives and bats to pistols and Tommy guns, and they each come equipped with a small arsenal of attacks and abilities. They level up, gain new abilities, and improve based on the perks you choose for them, but most combats ultimately carry out the same way and feel repetitive.

Sometimes you fight mobsters, sometimes you fight cops, and sometimes you fight KKK members, but there’s little nuance to be had in your approach to dealing with these foes. To Omerta’s credit, you can often skip combat with an “auto-resolve” option, and when I started making more liberal use of this feature, I found myself enjoying the “mandatory” combat encounters more as a reprieve from the game’s city management mode.

When you’re not fighting, you’re running your criminal empire — establishing breweries, buying out speakeasies, and bribing the local police. There’s a certain complexity to the game’s resource management, but it boils down to a foundation of accumulating dirty money.

An ever-updating trading interface displays what deals are currently being offered, and it’s up to the player to discover the worth of beer, liquor, and firearms so that you can buy low and sell high. A nice touch that Omerta brings to what would otherwise be a drab numbers game is giving each of the NPC traders a personality that comes through with their trades: mobster Charlie Luciano offers fantastic deals on beer, but always be prepared to buy more than you asked for, lest he make you a deal you can’t refuse; soldier Mike Hedges sells firearms for the best price and often throws in some discount liquor he finds stashed away; Rabbi Hobsbaum may offer to buy your beer for a great price, but once you shlep it over and he discovers it isn’t kosher, the schmuck has the chutzpah to renege on his initial offer and try to get you to sell the beer for bupkes.

All this wheeling-and-dealing is necessary to accumulate the resources you need to establish enterprises that will generate passive income, provide bonuses to efficiency, and eventually complete whatever objectives the current mission sets out for you. However, while there is a bounty of different establishments to build and upgrade, every mission has you start over from scratch, and the process of rebuilding your burgeoning criminal empire eventually becomes repetitive. While the same can be said for competitive RTS titles like StarCraft, it just feels slower in Omerta, almost becoming a chore.

Moreover, the lack of detailed statistics on income adds unnecessary headache. When I wanted to know if I could afford to purchase a weapon and then accumulate enough money by tomorrow to afford to bribe an investigator, I had to check every one of my money-earning and money-spending establishments and tally the numbers myself. The game does provide some figures on daily earnings, but the numbers seem to be affected by purchases you make and will vary wildly from one minute to the next, going from negative to positive and being altogether unhelpful.

But, I suppose it’s nice to zoom in and out on all of your buildings in the city view, watching cars drive by, pedestrians walk the streets, and your goons run across the town on missions at a comically quick pace.

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