Crime Boss: Rockay City Review

Crime Boss: Rockay City Review

Getting ready for my first big bank heist, the voice of Chains in Payday tells me that I should mask up to hide my identity before this job. Michael Madsen, playing a coked-out crime boss replies sounding like he’s about to fall asleep, “No way, masks are for pussies.” Hold for applause…

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Sometimes as writers we use comparisons too liberally. We should judge games on their own merits and not what they vaguely remind us of. Besides, describing something as “like Skyrim with guns” means you’re assuming everyone that is reading your review has played Skyrim and understands what you mean. Overall, we should try to avoid it. That said, Crime Boss: Rockay City is Payday in fake 1980s Miami, with the pros and cons you might imagine would come with that idea.

Crime Boss is published by the same company as the previous Payday games from a decade ago, 505 Games, and Ii’s co-written and stars one of the main voice actors from the Payday series. In terms of gameplay and mission structure, the foundation is almost identical to Payday. Stealth around the back of banks, jewellery stores, and other gangs’ hideouts, break in the back, get noticed by a camera, shoot everyone, and constantly repair a damn drill. All this in the hopes of becoming the best criminals this side of Los Santos. It is hard not to imagine a world where this 1980s heist game didn’t start life as a Payday spin-off before Starbreeze took custody of the IP and partnered with Plaion for Payday 3. It’s a confounding mismatch of things that worked in a four-player shooter from 2011, with progression from modern single-player roguelikes and management games, all topped off with the most disinterested celebrity voice actors since Ronda Rousey took over as Sonya Blade.

Crime Boss: Rockay City Review

As a result, Rockay City is a game that feels like it exists outside of time. I feel like everything I do in the moment-to-moment gameplay is the same as what I spent hundreds of hours doing back in 2013 playing Payday 2, but it has been layered with a roguelike-pasticeish until it seems somewhat more contemporary.

Rockay City’s temporal displacement spreads to the game’s world too. I’m pretty sure it’s meant to be set in the 80s, but honestly it is almost impossible to tell. The phones and fashion are definitely from the 80s but all the guns look like they’re pulled directly from Modern Warfare. The cast is character actors de-aged to look as they did during their halcyon years around 1995, except for Vanilla Ice’s character, Heilo, who seemingly just stepped off-stage in 2003.

Not to say nothing about Crime Boss works. It turns out stealing stuff and murdering waves of cops and gang members is still pretty satisfying. The gunplay feels pretty good, and it certainly helps that the sound design of the guns (not the voice acting) is really imposing. Guns are loud and sound dangerous, and hearing the clattering of bullets down a street as another wave starts coming at you does feel like something out of Heat.

However, that gunplay and combat fall a bit flat thanks to the AI. Before you go guns blazing, you can try to stealth your way through like a master thief, and not a high-as-hell drug lord. However, it feels a bit weird to be able to couch walk around undetected until you wander into a guard and yell “GET ON THE GROUND COCKSUCKER”, all while a guy less than five feet away goes about his work as you zip-tie his screaming co-worker one room over.

Crime Boss Rockay City - Danny Glover, Vanilla Ice, and Kim Bassinger-1

You can also see the game struggling when things get loud. It’s cool when a police car full of people pulls up and starts shooting at you, but much more often you will be able to see cops and crooks endlessly flooding out of magic doors in nearby buildings, sometimes appearing right in front of you. For the most part, cops will charge into choke points in single file, so you can promptly mow them down, and some of the level design even encourages this. The vault in the first bank is at the top of a flight of stairs, so you can just drill away unimpeded for a few minutes while law enforcement slowly tries to assault your advantageous position.

On top of this, the balance of Rockay feels way off. The main mode, Baker’s Battle, is a roguelike. This means you’ll be repeating a randomly generated adventure for Mr. Madsen where you try to slowly take over the city by weakening other crime organisations (all of which vary from annoying to straight-up racist stereotypes). The game makes it very clear you aren’t meant to beat this mode on your first try, as it opens with you failing to hold out against the forces of the most badass Sheriff to ever exists. The game demonstrates this by having him page through paperwork using only the barrel of his gun and having him carry around a golden bayonet. This sheriff of course played by Chuck Norris, because that is still a timely joke. You’ll then restart the mode with a slightly different cutscene as the song Connected by Stereo MC taunts that you are going to “Do it again!”

That set-up is fine. What’s slightly less fine is spending six hours recruiting people and finally getting some good guns, only to have them not carry over. You do have a persistent Boss Level and every time you level that up you will get a bonus that sticks around. This format is cool in concept and certainly gives structure to the game’s replayability, beyond “well I want to see if I can rob them fast this time.” The big problem is that while AI might be as dull as a brick, it can kill you exceptionally quickly, so much so that the game gives everyone regenerating health to try to compensate for the low time to kill. This doesn’t really work though, and you’ll find a lot of missions (especially before you can recruit good gang members or buy long-range guns) follow a formula. You stealth for a bit, get caught, go loud, kill swaths of bad guys as they funnel into narrow halls, and then as soon as you go outside you’ll be quickly picked off by all surrounding forces. Yes, this problem is somewhat alleviated as you get better gear, but it means the opening of every run through this mode feels like a slog where you can crash out in an instant.

Crime Boss Rockay City - Sheriff Chuck Noris and Stealth gameplay with a revolver

The game also has a quick play mode where you and friends can squad up, but again, characters that you can recruit are randomly generated, alongside the weapons you can buy. You never really feel like you have control of the setup or like you are a criminal getting prepped for a job. Alternatively, you can use prebuilt characters from the game’s campaigns, but this limits you to a strict playstyle.

Those prebuilt characters can be unlocked in the third game mode which also acts as a secondary story mode. Here you and a squad can take on predetermined campaigns that will consist of three missions. These missions feel like a cakewalk compared to the other modes though, as you will be given characters with legendary guns from the get-go, and you can breeze through them with friends.

Overall, Crime Boss is a game at war with itself. All three modes offer something, but none of them does their specific thing that well. Meanwhile, the characters and writing that surround these missions feel painfully stuck in 2011. And customisation is either limited or random in a way that makes it feel like you never quite have control of your loadout.

There’s very little you could get out of Crime Boss that you couldn’t get out of Payday 2 next time it comes around in a Steam sale. And besides, I think those masks that “are for pussies” are actually really cool.

Crime Boss Rockay City Review - summary - 2 star review

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