Omerta: City of Gangsters Review

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Developer(s): Haemimont Games
Publisher(s): Kalypso Media
Platform(s): PC, Mac OSX, Xbox 360
Review Platform: Xbox 360
Release Date: February 12, 2013

Omerta: City of Gangsters is a top-down resource management simulation/strategy game with a turn-based combat component set during 1920’s Prohibition America. Coming on the heels of publisher Kalypso’s last console title—Tropico 4—Omerta finds itself in a position of somewhat heightened expectations. Kalypso has proven time and time again that this particular sub-genre is sort of their thing. But does Omerta: City of Gangsters—to borrow a phrase from a famous child of the 20s—bewitch, beguile and bewilder?

Well, the short answer to that question is no, and we’ll get to that in a second. I’d like to point out a few areas where the game succeeds before I start ticking things off of the list of areas where the game fails miserably. Where the game succeeds is in the creation of an authentic 1920’s atmosphere. Most everyone old enough to play this game is familiar with, in some shape or form, the romanticized gangster era.

Whether it is the likes of Good Fellas, The Untouchables or the more recent Public Enemies, the 1920’s gangster was a huge part of America’s 20th century pop-culture conscience. Everything from the cars of the 1920s, to the somewhat gruff, off-putting-yet-friendly disposition of most people living in the era is faithfully recreated within the context of Prohibition Atlantic City. 

What is also worthy of note is the game’s music. As a devoted fan of jazz, and particularly jazz and swing of the 1920s, I really must say that the music is fantastic. It’s catchy, well-composed and sounds authentic. Could have fooled me.

Unfortunately, that’s where the good things end. When you begin the game, you’re asked to pick a portrait and go through a Mass Effect-like character customization, although somewhat less involved. You pick from a variety of answers to a series of questions and then finally name your gangster. I opted for the twitchy-sounding Jimmy Spriggs.

Once you’ve created your gangster persona, you go through a series of missions comprising the meat of the game. Missions vary, from establishing specific types of gangster properties (pizzerias, a soup kitchen, a Ponzi scheme) to raiding the liquor warehouse of a rival Boss. As you complete missions you’re constantly recruiting more henchmen, raking in more money and spreading your influence all throughout Atlantic City. Sounds nice, right?

It does sound nice, but it doesn’t play nice. The game tries to trick you into believing that there is variety in the number of resources you have access to, such as beer, liquor and firearms. Resources such as these are gathered by raiding, buying out or renting local beer, liquor and firearm vendors. But, you can’t actually do anything with them. The main purpose they serve is to be sold for dirty money.

Dirty money is the economic force of the game, and everything comes back around to it. Want to rent a property? Have dirty money. Want to bribe a local city official? Check the books filed under dirty money. Want to upgrade your hideout? Yep… you guessed it, dirty money. You can only gather money for so long before you stop having fun, and after a couple of hours Omerta runs out of things for you to do. The missions all revolve around the same thing no matter the objective: Gather enough dirty money to be able to buy enough property that produces clean money to pay off who you need to so that when the police come knocking you have the appropriate people in pocket to keep the fuzz off of your back. The rinse-and-repeat approach Omerta takes to gameplay is ultimately unsatisfying and becomes monotonous and arid all too quickly.

Every now and then you’ll have to fight rival gangsters, rescue a trusted friend being held by a rival gang boss or do battle with the police. For these sections of the game, Omerta goes into a turn-based mode. This is an area where Omerta comes out looking the worse for wear. The graphical infidelity of the game is very prominent during combat. Characters models look terrible, environments look drab and the color palate consists of the same five colors. The controls are clunky and imprecise to the point that the game actually makes it difficult for you to accomplish a simple task like moving around a corner while staying in cover.

The game does allow you to auto-resolve the combat, but the results are randomized. Even if you are given a 30 percent chance to win the battle, you can auto-resolve your way to victory if you reload from the autosave enough times. Unfortunately for Omerta, the solution to its combat problem isn’t a broken auto-resolve system. That’d be like saying you’re going to buy and keep 50 cats to deal with your rat problem, and I think we’ve all seen Animal Hoarders and know how that turns out.   

The game also has an impressive number of technical and UI issues. Many times throughout the course of the game, the audio track would wig out and repeat the same three seconds of a song, jump to the next three seconds, repeat that three seconds, jump to the next three seconds, and so on. The text that is displayed on the screen is simply too small. Now, I’ve knocked on games for this before (my review of Zombie Driver HD comes to mind), and Omerta isn’t going to get away with it either. Listen up, developers! I should be able to read the text in your game from my couch nine feet away from my television. Get with the program.

The colors used to highlight different choices on some of the text logs (think of the “choice” wheel from Mass Effect but in a playing card style) are identical to the background color of the text display itself, making it almost impossible to discern what choice you are actually making. There were many, many times when I ended up fighting the police instead of bribing them, paying them off or calling in a favor from a city official because I couldn’t be sure which choice was actually being highlighted. There were also a number of times when building and upgrade menus would simply disappear because I moved the cursor while making some sort of selection. I know, “How trite of you Jon. Why worry about a minor annoyance?” Well, it really isn’t a minor annoyance when it happens so frequently that I don’t even want to play your game anymore. UI issues like the ones mentioned above are simply inexcusable, even for a budget title like Omerta: City of Gangsters.

In the end, Omerta is a huge disappointment. When I heard Kalypso was making a 1920’s version of their famed Tropico franchise, I was all sorts of onboard. I had plenty of reason to be excited, too. But, their effort is ultimately flawed. Omtera: City of Gangsters suffers from a lack of variety in its simulation components, combat is terrible and the game is riddled with technical issues that prove to test one’s patience. I hate to be the guy who gets his kicks by stomping on a dream; but, Omerta isn’t deserving of your money or your time. 

Final Score “A Big Step Back from Tropico” 5.0
There are games like this out there (Tropico 4, Civilization: Revolution) that look much better. The environments are passable, until you zoom in and see bad texturing and rudimentary lighting effects. The character models that are displayed during the combat phases of the game look like character models from Sims 2, a game released eight years ago. The graphics are decidedly middle-of-the-road.
There is simply not enough to do. One can only play resource manager for so long before the game starts to get boring. The game’s biggest problem is a lack of anything to do outside of the terrible combat and gathering of money. There are too many superfluous resources categories masquerading as alternative means of accomplishing the same end, when in reality all of the resource types feed back into the same thing: money.
It’s hard to place a numerical value on a category like this when you wouldn’t recommend people to buy the game in the first place. Therefore, I really don’t have any other choice but to rate it a 5. Let me be clear, at 39.99 USD it’s cheaper than your standard console release; but, there’s a reason for this. It’s a budget title. So, I treat it like I would a 59.99 USD release.
In the end, the music for the game bumped this score up from a 5 to a 6. The music is excellent, as is the case with most of the games publisher Kalypso puts out. However, when you first power up the game, the music, despite being the same as the voice and sound effects settings, overpowers everything else in the game to the point where it is hard to hear what characters are saying during cutscenes or in dialogue windows. As noted in the review, there are also audio bugs.

Review by Jon Hamlin

Jon Hamlin is a freelance game journalist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He plays too much Mass Effect 3 multiplayer and enjoys a good glass of wine. Occasionally, he can be found commanding his legion of doom on Xbox Live as GeniusPantsPhD. Follow him on Twitter @WordsmithJon, or email him at All Articles by Jon.

1 comment :

  1. ah, what a shame, I was actually looking forward to this. :(