Haemimont's work on the Tropico series has garnered a loyal following with fans and critics alike. Though they weren't the original developers of the island-ruling franchise, their handling of the mechanics, along with their dark sense of humor, have ensured gamers that the series is in good hands. With that done, the team has recently set out to take what they've learned and apply that to a new setting with Omerta: City of Gangsters.
At first, Omerta seems like Tropico with a new skin. The game is set in 1920s Atlantic City, and your job is to go from an immigrant to eventual ruler of the city's criminal underworld. As we saw in the demo, you start building your eventual Don by filling out his background story. Your choices shape both his strengths and weaknesses which, in turn, determine how you play the game. For example, having someone born into a rich family might make him more influential in political affairs but give him less toughness on the field. Having someone grow up as a bully might make him tough on the field and respected by the criminal element but not as strong when dealing with cops. Once this elaborate backstory is filled out, you pick your starting portion of the city and work your way up to conquering the rest of the 15 districts.
As expected, there are plenty of things you can do to build your empire as long as you hire the right people for the job. You can start off with something simple, like scouting out territories, and then graduate to shaking down businesses, running moonshine distilleries and creating underground illegal boxing matches. This builds up your respect and money meters.
Respect is split into respect and fear, where the former determines how much the community respects you and fear determines how much criminals respect you. Keeping both meters high affords you lots of perks. A high respect rating means the community can inform you of snitches in your crew and act as lookouts when other people invade. A high fear meter, on the other hand, means you can hire the toughest people to join your family, and there's a higher chance that cops and other families are after you. Thus begins a precarious balancing act where you need to keep your illegal activities going while trying to clean up the community with soup kitchens and orphanages so the neighborhood will watch out for you.
Money, on the other hand, is split into clean and dirty. Clean money can be used for anything, while dirty money can only be used to bribe cops or deal with the criminal element. Since most places won't touch the dirty stuff, you can build facilities to clean it for you, and that's something you can't accomplish with your fear and respect meters.
So far, the simulation portion of the game feels familiar but solid, but the real hook is the strategy system, which takes a page from Jagged Alliance.You can control the flow of battles in a mode similar to a tactical strategy game. After initiative is determined, each player is given action points and movement points to spend on moves. A fog-of-war system is in place, so the environment is only visible during your turn if you have a believable line of sight. In the demo, for example, you were asked to take out a KKK fundraiser in your neighborhood, and during your turn, you can only see it if you're in front of a window or doorway to the building.
The demo didn't get into too many other specifics of the battle system, but you can take cover, and your available weapons and character stats determine the size of your firing cone and the effectiveness of your melee attacks. The addition of a more active combat system is a boon to those who want to do more than watch the computer automate things. For those who just want to deal with the simulation portions, though, the ability to control battles is completely optional.
Omerta: City of Gangsters looks like it'll be a very meaty take on the simulation and strategy genres. Even at this early stage, everything feels like it's going in the right direction due to the large number of options at your disposal and various ways that you can play the game. Look for more information as we approach the fall 2012 release date.
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