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December 2023

RoboCop: Rogue City

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: NACON
Developer: Teyon
Release Date: Nov. 2, 2023


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PS5 Review - 'Robocop: Rogue City'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Nov. 1, 2023 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Become the iconic hero whose part man, part machine, all cop as you attempt to bring justice to the dangerous, crime-ridden streets of Old Detroit in RoboCop: Rogue City.

Robocop is a franchise that's more difficult to adapt than it may initially appear. Yes, it stars a really cool-looking cyborg who shoots bad guys. It's also largely a story about the depersonalization and dehumanization that corporations inflict on people. You can make a game where Robocop just shoots a bunch of guys, and it might be fun, but it wouldn't exactly feel like Robocop. That is why I applaud Robocop: Rogue City for attempting to thread that needle and create something that feels like the movie. The result isn't exactly great, but it's clearly a game made with heart.

Robocop: Rogue City is set after the events of the first two films. Players take on the role of Alex Murphy, AKA Robocop, murdered police officer-turned-zombie cyborg, as he navigates the crime-filled streets of corporate-dominated Detroit. Poor Murphy is not having an easy time. A series of glitches and errors are causing him to flash back to the life he lost, leading to him freezing at a critical moment and almost getting a hostage killed. As if that weren't bad enough, a criminal known as "The New Guy in Town" has appeared and started funding the town's gangs as part of a scheme. Robocop has to balance his personal issues with tracking down the New Guy before Detroit is in ruins.

Unfortunately, the story is kind of a mess. It's less a story and more like a loosely bundled collection of Robocop references, tropes and cameos that have been shaped into something that roughly resembles a story. Characters seem to act randomly and without much logic, and certain scenes are borderline incoherent. Part of this seems like it may be due to a script translation issue, as there are several scenes where the dialogue doesn't mesh with what is said. The title still has its appealing moments, and if you're into hear Robocop making increasingly tortured and ridiculous '80s movie one-liners, then you'll be well taken care of. (For example, "Well, Robocop, time to see if you can bring the heat." "I prefer justice ... served cold.")

One thing to be clear about is that Robocop is designed to be pretty faithful to his film persona, and that means you're the rare FPS protagonist who is a genuine tank. Even at the lowest levels, you're going to spend less time behind cover and more time wading toward enemies as their fire plinks off you. You can (and occasionally will) need to use cover, especially against heavily armed foes, but the core combat is designed to mimic the scene where Robocop walked into a factory and buzzsawed through everything.

Robocop has a level of raw power that is uncommon in FPS protagonists, and a big part of this is your defensive abilities. When you start out, you're already very durable, but an investment of points rapidly gives you a lot of new defensive options, such as a fast-recharging personal shield that reduces damage by 80%, the ability to heal yourself via electrical boxes, and recovering 75% of your health when damaged. If you choose not to invest in any defensive skills, you might have to duck and hide, but even at your weakest, you replenish health to 20% pretty quickly. Nothing short of a grenade directly to the face is going to kill you.

This level of raw strength also applies to your offensive options. While Robocop can perform a standard melee attack, he can also use his brute force in other ways. Any enemy (or sufficiently large object) can be grabbed and thrown with bone-breaking force, and you can breach walls or doors to smash them; it gives you a brief period of slowed-down time during which you can shoot enemies before they are able to respond.

Of course, you're Robocop, and you're mostly going to shoot things. Robocop's iconic gun, the Auto-9, is pretty much exactly as expected. It is brutally powerful, fires in bursts, and has infinite ammo. Early in the game, you unlock the ability to customize it with different chips. These chips change how the weapon functions, such as turning it into a single-shot, armor-piercing weapon or a rapid-fire machine gun. As the game progresses, you get better chips that go from making it stronger to making your bullets explode, for example.

All of this is done via an inventory minigame. You find collectible chips scattered throughout the stages and attach them to a circuit board. Each attached chip improves one of Robocop's stats by a specific percentage and has coded connectors on one to four sides of the chip. You need to link the connectors to unlock more advanced things, but not every link is positive, so you need to balance the chips. A weaker chip that doesn't accidentally trigger a bad link is always better than a stronger one that does.

Rogue City offers the choice of picking up other weapons, but I'm not sure why. You can grab a machine gun or assault rifle from a downed enemy, and there's a surprising variety of weapons available. Except for the very earliest part of the game, Robocop's custom sidearm is better in every way, shape or form. Why would I want to bother with a regular pistol when I have a modified super-pistol that shoots as far as a machine gun, does massively more damage, and has infinite ammo that I never need to reload? In theory, you could carry a weapon that makes up for your gun's weaknesses, but it's so easy to create a gun with no weaknesses that it feels pointless.

The downside of combat is that you're Robocop. Once you get a few levels under your belt, you're nearly invincible. Enemies struggle to damage you, health regenerates absurdly quickly, and your rapid-fire machine gun blasts through enemies like they're made of butter. About one-third of the way through the game, I was holding down the fire button, aiming roughly in an enemy's direction, and watching them explode. Even armored enemies barely matter since they die quickly (in a nod to one of the most infamous scenes in the films, their groins are unarmored and extremely vulnerable, which leads to the rather uncomfortable optimal tactic of aiming low). It may be an accurate depiction of what being Robocop is like, but it grows repetitive. You eventually unlock skills that let you do things like slow down time, but they are almost unnecessary.

Outside of combat, the game gets ... odd. Rogue City is less of a shooter and more of a Robocop simulator. While you spend a lot of time shooting folks, you also spend a lot of time doing police work. I mean that genuinely. A good chunk of the time you spend in the game involves doing things like taking witness statements, finding lost cats, and even ticketing cars for illegal parking. There's a lot of downtime, and not all of it is glamorous. Sometimes you'll spend a good chunk of time getting a "get well soon" card signed for a sick officer or helping to print a photo.

Oddly, this plays into the overall gameplay mechanics. You can influence how Robocop acts and is perceived. You can pick dialogue choices and actions that influence his humanity, either by reinforcing how he feels about himself or how he treats others. This can range from being an obedient robot that does whatever OCP says to identifying loopholes in his programming so he can release innocent people for petty or justified crimes. The game reflects this with different scenes and endings.

It's a cool idea and plays into the Robocop Simulator feeling of the game, but it means the title feels weirdly disjointed at times. In terms of tone and feeling, it's cool to play around with what Robocop's humanity means, but in moment-to-moment gameplay, it can be dull. Slowly trudging around an environment looking for cars parked next to fire hydrants isn't compelling, and a lot of the simulator aspects boil down to scanning for objects in the environment.

While the ideas are hugely ambitious, they're not always well executed. Every segment feels weirdly divorced from the last, with ideas being introduced and vanishing seemingly at random. You can find lootable safes with codes in the environment except when they suddenly vanish partway through. In comparison, you can unlock the ability to hack enemy turrets — except those turrets don't appear until the very end of the game. Mechanics are introduced and then never revisited. There's a whole dialogue skill tree that never seemed to do much, and I had a skill check for Deduction exactly once in the entire game. There's a certain element of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks, but it's done without any real sense of buildup or growth.

Rogue City looks great. A ton of effort has been spent on capturing the feel of the films, with many locations re-created in picture-perfect detail. Even when you visit original areas, they largely do a great job of capturing the dour and ruined state of OCP's Detroit. There are even a lot of great visual touches, such as when you fight a robot enemy, and they are animated to move around like a stop-motion model instead of a smooth CG creature. Sadly, the voice acting ranges from OK to absolutely awful. Peter Weller does a great job as Robocop, and almost everyone else either sounds like they're reading off a script or overacting to a comical degree. It is hugely distracting, but it can be amusing in a cheesy B-movie way.

If you take it on its own merits, Robocop: Rogue City isn't exactly a great experience. The combat is simplistic, the mechanics are slapdash, and you spend as much time finding someone's lost towel as you do shooting bad guys. Despite all of that, it's oddly compelling. It's ambitious and charming enough that if you're a fan of Robocop, you'll probably find it appealing to take a trip in his robo-boots. I can't imagine it holding much appeal for anyone who isn't excited for the chance to revisit the iconic locations of the franchise, but die-hard fans will probably revel in it.

Score: 7.0/10

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