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May 2024

Crime Boss: Rockay City

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: InGame Studios
Release Date: Sept. 5, 2023


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PS5 Review - 'Crime Boss: Rockay City'

by Cody Medellin on July 6, 2023 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Crime Boss: Rockay City is a star-studded co-op organized crime game FPS set in the seedy underbelly of '90s Florida.

When Crime Boss: Rockay City was revealed at last year's The Game Awards, no one could figure out what kind of game it was. The 1990s setting made it feel like someone wanted to emulate Grand Theft Auto: Vice City's vibe but with a cast of more recognizable actors being de-aged to their prime. There were shots of a first-person shooter and cut scenes done with what was obviously in-game graphics, but there was nothing else to go with it. When the game came out on the PC, the response was less than positive, but development soldiered on toward the console release on both Xbox Series X and PS5 that occurred a few months later. The time spent on porting the game over didn't exactly make things better.

You play the role of Travis Baker, a drug dealer who's moved to Rockay City in search of success. After the king of the underworld dies at his party in a big explosion, a power vacuum appears, and Baker is keen on filling that void. To do that, he'll need a crew and a means to take on the city's various gangs until he's the last one left standing.

As far as crime story video games go, it's familiar and doesn't do much to stand out from the likes of Grand Theft Auto and its contemporaries. That would be fine, as most of those games don't need big, sprawling epic narratives to push things along. However, other simple premise isn't helped by the cut scenes, which veer off in wildly different directions and have vastly different tones. Some of the scenes try to be serious, some are witty, and others feel like they're trying to be a parody of other crime-related games and movies. Some of the scenes barely hold together as far as connectivity to one another goes, while others are non sequiturs. There's been plenty of focus on having a ton of big stars, but considering the quality of lines they're being given and how it fails to flow together coherently, it feels like money wasted.

There are three modes to Crime Boss: Rockay City, with the campaign mode receiving the most focus and split into very different gameplay mechanics. You start off with a map that shows which missions you can engage in based on where you are in the story, and those missions can break down into a few different types. Heists can vary in scope and complexity. Some are simple, like going to a garage to grab the cash. Others are more elaborate, where you take down a bank or jewelry store, using drills to break through safes and zip-tying civilians and guards like you would in Payday. You can take on a stealth approach or go in shooting everything, but these missions fall under a strict timer that counts down once you do anything. Have that timer expire and the cops show up, and just like Grand Theft Auto, you have a star system that increases the more you fight until the cops bring in military-grade weapons to take you down. No matter your approach, the objective is to grab as much as you can and leave in the getaway van.

The other type of mission you'll engage in is territory takeover or defense. In both cases, the game plays like a standard match from Battlefield or Dynasty Warriors, where enemy forces are whittled down with every kill. Get to a certain threshold, and the area boss comes out. Gun them down, and everyone else flees to indicate a successful takeover. Unlike the heists, these aren't time constrained, but you will find that the areas are small enough that missions of this type last for only a few minutes.

Due to the nature of the story, you also have missions that take place outside of Rockay City and in the past. One of them will see you infiltrate an arctic base. Another sees you back in the Vietnam War with your own platoon. They're strange inclusions, but they make sense when you consider what's in some of the cut scenes.

Governing all of this is an economy where successful heists and taking over territory pulls in cash, either directly or by selling goods. The cash is paramount to upgrading your crew, whether it's with new members, weapons, or keeping the business running. When it comes to mission completion, as you can decide whether to leave with the bare minimum to guarantee some success or get greedy and clean out the place for maximum cash. When you fail a mission, the game goes on to a different branch, with you losing money or gaining nothing and hoping that another mission or passive revenue streams help you keep fighting. It is an interesting mechanic, as it breaks the expected cycle of needing to pull off the perfect mission to progress.

Crime Boss: Rockay City also uses some roguelike mechanics that are hit-and-miss in execution. Missions have objective locations that are randomized at every run. Missions are also randomized per day, so playing through the campaign again will never result in you taking the same route twice. Having Baker die anywhere outside of the campaign's opening level forces you to replay the game from the beginning, complete with the same cut scenes. Let any of the random characters die, and you'll lose out on their buffs; this doesn't happen to Baker if he dies. Again, it's not exactly the best execution, but it does its best to spice up the gameplay.

Those elements aren't enough to counter everything else that saps the fun out of the scenarios. There's an option to take some missions with elements of stealth, but just about anything you do breaks that mechanic. Break a camera, and stealth is essentially broken. Try to take down an enemy from behind, and there is almost always a witness. Get spotted by one person, and everyone in the area knows where you are. If you go in with guns blazing, the firefights never feel satisfying, and enemies pour in from all sides. Sometimes your character dies because there's a wave of enemies coming from behind that you never knew about. Your AI teammates are fine when it comes to shooting, but you practically have to babysit them when looting, as they rarely touch the goods unless you direct them to or loot for them and hand them the bag. Perhaps the biggest flaw is that every mission feels practically the same, and while you will be glad that the missions are short, it all becomes tedious instead of exciting.

Crime Boss: Rockay City has two other modes that are fairly similar, and while they're meant for multiplayer, they can also be played solo since bots can accompany you. Crime Time has you going after solo heists, while Urban Legends has you taking on a few heists that are connected like mini-campaigns. The good news is that the online performance is good, and while the presence of bots does mitigate the small user base, you will find that connecting to a game with an actual person produces no lag at all. The bad news is that just about every heist is a mission you've already played through in the campaign, so anyone hoping for new content in these modes is out of luck.

Graphically, the game can be quite impressive. The cut scenes show off quite a number of de-aged actors, but their rendering is quite good, as are their lip sync and general animation. The environments also look fine, especially with some of the places that have some light bloom. During gunfights, things break down, and you'll notice that almost all of your enemies are essentially clones, and while one might expect that from the cops, it happens to the various gang members as well, so it feels like every enemy has been cloned and mass produced. The game runs at a pretty high frame rate, and while the PS5 iteration features both Quality and Performance modes, the differences are negligible enough that the option feels unnecessary.

The sound is in a similar state as the graphics but with more dire elements. As mentioned earlier, the script isn't good, but only half of the cast seems to try to make it work. Some of the more seasoned actors with voice work experience are Michael Rooker, Michael Madsen and Damion Poitier. Vanilla Ice is decent, while Kim Basinger and Danny Glover do well enough. Chuck Norris is awful, as he never seems to give much emotion to his lines or pay attention to how the lines should be spoken in a normal conversation. The worst offenders are the supporting cast, as they overact and use bad accents on top of trying to make the script work. Elsewhere, the sound effects are weak across the board, from the toned-down gunfire to a drill that sounds like it has a silencer on it. The only strong point in the sound department is the music, which has a great selection of big songs from the '90s that play during cut scenes, which do a great job of setting up the vibe even if everything else falters.

Crime Boss: Rockay City isn't a complete disaster. The idea of fusing together managerial duties with action-oriented shooting works well on paper since the gameplay styles complement each other. However, neither aspect plays out that well, and when you combine it with a lackluster story and worse than mediocre performances, the experience doesn't improve as you get further into it. Unless you're hard up for a crime-based game, there's little reason to give this title a shot.

Score: 4.0/10

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