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Omerta: City of Gangsters brings an authentic yet rough mobster experience (review)

What You Won’t Like

In Italian culture, omertà is a code of honor that values not collaborating with the authorities or interfering with the business of others. I’m expected to give no names, accept punishment for a crime I didn’t commit if caught, and enact my own revenge through vendetta if wronged.

I fear that despite my Italian-American heritage, I must go pentito — I must break omertà — and call out Haemimont for its crimes against game design.

Omerta: City of Gangsters

What? This warehouse again?!
As soon as I realized that heists were an excellent source of easy — and sometimes early — dirty money, robbing banks became a no-brainer. But after about a half dozen raids, they began to wear on me.

That’s because I’d seen this particular establishment before … at least a half dozen other times. Every such mission seemed to be using the same or a nearly identical map. But since the rewards for holding the place up were too great to pass, I always felt compelled to do so.

This extends to every single tactical engagement and even the city districts, and it’s a lesson that XCOM also seems to have forgotten: Prebuilt and recycled maps really hurt a strategy game’s longevity. Would I play Civilization over and over if the world maps were not randomly generated? Of course not. Why is this now so acceptable in squad-level tactics games?

It’s lonely at the top of the world
Since Omerta is a full-fledged management sim and tactical game, I expected that I could play endlessly outside of a scripted campaign, much like the aforementioned Civilization and X-Com series. That’s what the included sandbox mode suggests is possible.

Unfortunately, it really is just a sandbox. I have everything from the campaign at my fingertips (except for the story missions), but what I’m missing is an opponent. What’s the point of setting up a criminal empire in a city district if I’ve got no competition?

Certainly, it can be entertaining as a building exercise, but once I’d seen it all, I didn’t have much reason to try it again. Without the pushback that a computer-controlled rival gang could provide — renting joints around the city, competing for jobs and influence, or even raiding my own buildings — sandbox feels more like a testing chamber than anything else.

Omerta: City of Gangsters

Ain’t nothin’ a little time can’t solve
My best ally in Omerta isn’t Sqiugs or Daredevil or Doc or any of my crew. My most trusted friend is patience and time.

I can alleviate any negative consequence by just waiting it out. Those wounded gangsters from my last scuffle? Why should I put them in harm’s way immediately when they’re not at their fighting best? Why not just wait for those wounds to heal on their own? I’ve no compelling reason not to do so. And since none of my underlings can actually die, I also have no reason to play cautiously in the tactical game.

Even if everyone goes down, I won’t lose (unless I’m raiding a police investigation to destroy the evidence against me). I’ll just head back to the city screen and have to wait for the wounds to heal (and break anyone arrested out of the big house). Once again, these are nothing a little patience can’t solve.

The heat mechanic should provide the pressure necessary to compel a rash decision, but rarely did it put me in a situation where I was forced to send wounded gangsters into battle. Ultimately, heat is easily managed because I have so many different options for tackling it.

Conclusion

Omerta: City of Gangsters comes so close to being a strategy game that I’d want to come back to again and again that it became disheartening once I started to notice the cracks. For all the great amount of detail put into the experience, the lack of real, permanent consequences and a fully simulated opponent is a huge letdown. Scripted missions just aren’t enticing enough to warrant repeated plays.

Score: 75/100

Omerta: City of Gangsters releases digitally for PC on Jan. 31 and at retail for PC and Xbox 360 on Feb. 12. Publisher Kalypso Media provided GameBeat with a Steam download code for the purpose of this review.

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