Crime Boss Rockay City review: Cast over combat in dull shooter
Crime Boss Rockay City was initially revealed at The Game Awards 2022 with a puzzling yet attention-grabbing trailer that attempted to sell the game based on its star-studded cast of iconic 80s and 90s actors. There wasn't a whole lot of attention given to what you actually do in the game though, and after having spent some time playing it for review, I can see why.
The game offers some interesting ideas, but its fascination with its cast leaves many of its mechanics undercooked or lacking polish, leading to a frustrating title that feels like it needs some work to reach its potential.
Crime Boss Rockay City is a first-person shooter that's most closely comparable to the Payday franchise, being that's a crime shooter that focuses on heists and completing jobs for money. The main game comes with three modes where you'll do some version of this: Baker's Battle, Crime Time, and Urban Legends.
Baker's Battle is the biggest selling point of the three modes, acting as the single-player campaign that ties everything together. Here you'll control Baker, played by Michael Madsen (one of the few actors to actually give a performance here that feels like a real effort was made), as you try to take over Rockay City during a power struggle and stake your claim as king of the city and its criminal underworld.
It's by far the most fleshed-out of the experiences and has some really interesting concepts, like the roguelike permadeath mechanic which can see you fail the campaign and need to restart if Baker dies. In this mode, your goal is to build up your money by taking jobs, claiming turf, and defeating the other crime bosses trying to control the city. Most of this will manifest in Payday-like heists on jewellery stores and warehouses, all the way up to casinos and art galleries as you progress, along with short TDM matches when you send soldiers to take over rival turf.
There's some replayability to this mode too, as most of the goals you have can be completed in the order you want, and you can make choices which result in some different gameplay scenarios. The developers obviously had grand aims for the Baker's Battle mode, and it does come across due to the ideas in place, but even the meta-progression systems can't save Crime Boss from its own gameplay.
The other two modes feel much more tacked on in comparison. Crime Time sees you complete an array of contracts and jobs on a similar map of the city, but without the narrative and stakes of permadeath tying it together; on the other hand, Urban Legends features a series of mini-campaigns where you'll take part in some small missions with AI or other players as cutscenes fill the story in between. It becomes evident quite quickly that these modes don't have a lot going on for them, and they're more like shallow additions to try and justify the game's price point.
No Payday to be found
Crime Boss plays a lot like Payday, but it lacks the depth, flair, and excitement of that series. Most missions will involve you pulling up to a warehouse, mini-mall, or jewellery store to make money by robbing the place, and while there's some variety to situations here, they largely play out the same.
For example, when robbing a store of any kind, you start by sneaking into the nearest security room, binding the guard, and then killing the camera feed. After this, you can signal any AI companions you bring to start the heist and begin filling bags with valuables, drugs, or money to then load into the van. The stealth is all quite shallow though; there's no real depth of choice in how you proceed, and it's the same loop of killing the cameras and making sure no one runs away every time. A somewhat interesting feature is the wanted level, which sees waves of more heavily armed police come in as you commit more crimes and murder cops, but even this is easy to bypass, as you can just run to the van and leave the second things get a bit tougher.
The stakes are high, as whenever Baker is on a mission, death spells the end of your campaign, and with no option to save manually, you can't 'save scum' your way down the optimal path. This means a failed stealth attempt is a failed stealth attempt, and you're forced to adapt quickly if you will want to complete the mission objectives and get enough loot to make the planning cost worthwhile.
Going in loud is also an option, and on some missions where you'll ambush rival gangs at their safehouses or warehouses, it's the only choice you have to kick things off, before quickly grabbing any valuables and getting away. However, the disappointing gunplay here makes any mission that focuses on combat a dull time.
Crime Boss' gunplay feels a decade old, lacking the necessary impact you need when focusing a game largely around the act of shooting other people. The worst offender is how enemies react to being shot, with most of them shaking it off as if they got hit by a tennis ball instead of a sharp piece of metal being propelled at the speed of sound. It's hard to feel the impact on your end either, as guns have barely any kick and feel floaty to control.
There's nothing more homogenous in video gaming than shooting guns, and it's a real problem for the core of the experience when it just doesn't feel fun to trade lead with rival gangs and the police. With a tighter focus on gunplay and more attention toward enhancing some of the systems already in use, Crime Boss' campaign could actually be a heisting experience that's worthwhile, but falling at the first hurdle doesn't do a lot to inspire confidence that these issues will be fixed post-launch either.
It's also worth talking about how the game is quite a mess right now, with the janky nature of combat being just the tip of the iceberg. I played on PC (console ports are coming at a later date), and despite meeting the system requirements and then some, on medium settings the game suffered from frequent FPS drops, stuttering, and long load times. Another major issue was that any time I loaded into a turf war, all the enemies would be invisible, forcing me to fight floating guns for the first thirty seconds as they slowly began to pop in. A little more time in the oven would have gone a long way to making the experience more bearable.
It's hard to talk about Crime Boss without mentioning the voice cast, as it features a range of iconic actors who made their names in the 80s and 90s, however, I'm still a little unsure as to why the developers even bothered.
To name a few, the game features the voice and likenesses of Michael Madsen, Michael Rooker, Chuck Norris, Danny Glover, and Kim Basinger. They likely cost a pretty penny, but it's hard to say whether it was worth the investment.
You'll spend most of your time with Madsen, considering he's the protagonist of the main campaign, and while he puts some effort into his performance and is easily convincing as a crime lord, giving a 65-year-old actor with a voice like gravel the appearance of someone 30 years younger is a certainly an interesting choice. The rest don't suffer from the odd de-ageing choice as much, though they vary a lot when it comes to performances.
Michael Rooker is his old reliable self, and Kim Basinger sounds genuinely invested in the material, but Chuck Norris comes across like he's struggling to read the letters on the board during an eye check-up. It's some of the worst voice acting I've heard in a long while, and in a game that held such promise based on the initial cast reveal, it's disappointing that this is another aspect that disappoints.
It's also worth mentioning how Kim Basinger - and the women in this game generally - drew the short stick here. In Baker's Battle, she essentially acts as the CFO for your crime business, managing money and giving Baker advice in cutscenes, but most of the time she's relegated to eye candy while the boys play and do boy stuff.
The camera will frequently leer at her, and during one cutscene, half of her face is literally cut out of the frame just so the camera can stay pointed at her cleavage. I suppose it makes some sense that a game inspired by crime movies from three decades ago would treat women as objects of lust rather than actual people, but drawing from ignorance isn't an excuse to uphold it.
Crime Boss Rockay City is a cautionary tale for how to effectively budget a video game, and a prime example of how games need to feel and play well first and foremost.
There are good ideas buried deep within this game, and the roguelike/Payday combination is a genuinely novel concept I'd love to see explored in a project with more focus. However, using a voice cast of Hollywood talent past their prime is a choice that doesn't add anything to the game, and it's not enough to distract me from the shallow gameplay that was already done much better ten years ago.
Reviewed on PC. Code provided by the publisher.