When the ridiculously named Crime Boss: Rockay City was announced last December, I wasn’t entirely convinced that it actually happened. Revealed during Geoff Keighley’s gaming extravaganza – The Game Awards – this blink-and-you’d-miss-it debut depicted a GTA-esque shooter starring Michael Madsen, Danny Glover, Kim Basinger and er, Vanilla Ice. As part of a stream aired at 2am UK time – hosted by an out-of-his-depth Al Pacino and slowed by a God Of War actor seemingly attempting a filibuster – I was beginning to wonder if I’d dreamed the entire thing.
It turns out, Rockay City is very real – and I blasted my way through two crime-filled hours of it last week. While trailers depict this ‘90s set heist caper as a first-person single-player GTA-alike, the reality is far closer to a more colourful Payday. At its heart, this 505-published shooter is a multiplayer merc sim. Littered with ‘90s action movie tropes, Crime Boss: Rockay City is all about getting a criminal crew together, shooting some goons and scoring some loot.
It’s in this chaotic co-op spirit that I am entered into the wacky world of Rockay City. I’m told that the full release of Crime Boss is split into three distinct modes – the Michael Madsen-starring single-player campaign Baker’s Battle, brief pick-up and play co-op missions called Crime Time, and the longer-lasting ‘story-led’ heists of Urban Legends.
In the star attraction, Baker’s Battle, players are put into the shoes of Madsen’s Travis Baker. Competing against sheriff Norris ( played by, yes, Chuck Norris) your aim is to take over the city by successfully executing a series of murky missions. Precision, however, is supposedly key – as the more you botch missions, the more evidence you’ll leave behind for old Norris to use against you. Throughout this story-led mode, PR promised showdowns against Danny Trejo and a series of other inevitably celebrity-voiced gang bosses. The problem? I didn’t actually get to see any of it.
While I was most intrigued to play this utterly bizarre celeb-filled story, my demo instead had me dive into some drug-nabbing co-op heists. Jumping into the Urban Legends mode with three other gun-toting newbies, I was surprised by how little impact the undeniably glitzy cast had. When you spend this much cash on securing massive names, they naturally dominate the conversation, yet in the mode I play, these stars are little more than between-act set dressing.
Popping up in uninspiring cutscenes that segue into each mission, these 90s legends gather around a desk and point at objective markers, while half-heartedly saying things like “he’s a real tough motherfucker” and “there’s only one way to do this – the right way!”. Stirring stuff.
Once you get into Urban Legends’ actual heists, that star power is nowhere to be seen. While famous faces plan your heists, they leave the actual hard work to the more disposable-looking help. Typical. Players instead choose an avatar from a selection of distinctly non-Hollywood character models, each sporting unique weapons and equipment. As you’re readying up in the lobby, a smidgen of tactics reveal themselves: will you opt to go in with a submachine gun like your partner, or mix it up with a team of half shotguns, half SMG? Once the mission begins, you and your crew are tasked with infiltrating the goon-filled mission area however you see fit. From a luxury yacht to a beachfront club, each locale required different approaches in order to sneak in undetected. You can of course, put stealth aside entirely and run in guns blazing – It’s what Vanilla ice would want.
Once you’re into the mission proper, the bullets start flying and you begin racing the clock in a familiar-feeling wave-based shooter. Weaving in and out of cover, Crime Boss demands that you and your squad wipe out the goons in the mission area and then steal their stash as quickly as possible. Once you’ve murdered your local budding ecstasy-selling entrepreneurs, there’s a brief window to tool up, nab the goods and prepare for your final stage: operation get the fuck out of there.
With the law descending on our location from all sides, sliding behind crates and walls become crucial to survival. Slinging duffel bags over your shoulders, my teammates and I took turns covering each other as we sprinted our freshly nicked cash and cocaine into the getaway vehicle. To make matters more interesting, you can opt to carry three bags at once, allowing you to drop off more loot at a time – but at the expense of your primary weapon.
As your bullet-ridden chaos attracts more unwelcome attention, the initial squad cars coming to apprehend you are slowly replaced with riot shield-totting swat teams. The final stage of each heist was by far the most enjoyable, ramping up in a tornado of flak-jacket-bothering tension. With bullets flying at you from every direction, dividing and conquering is key to making it alive. With your teammates having to clear each individual path, we quickly learned that coordinating your escape is the only way to pick off the rappelling S.W.A.T teams as you leg it toward your unmarked van.
It’s all fairly enjoyable, if entirely unoriginal stuff. While nabbing the loot is your primary goal, each mission features a series of sub-objectives, allowing you to play more tactically for a higher score. Still, shooting waves of enemies and occasionally grabbing some items is ultimately the extent of the gameplay in this mode – meaning the entire game lives and dies on the shooting. Thankfully for developer Ingame Studios then, it’s an area they’ve largely nailed.
While the weapon selection is hardly revolutionary, each loadout feels pleasingly unique, with the AUG proving a long ranged highlight. The shotguns however are bafflingly low impact. Charging into the fray with an automatic shotgun, I was ready to clear the way for my teammates with a series of shotgun blasts, but they landed with more of a whimper. It’s a weapon that clearly needs some tweaks, as even the game’s lower-level street thugs took several blasts to the face before crumpling to the ground. It’s a story that sums up the early look at Crime Boss.
The game’s name conjures up images of a straight-to-DVD Jean Claude Van Damme flick, and tonally, that’s what players are in store for in Rockay City. Despite the eye-watering budget spent on Hollywood A (to C) listers, in Urban Legends Mode at least, Crime Boss’ story element is surprisingly inconsequential. While failing a heist sees you being mocked by ‘Crime Boss’ Chuck Norris – Deathloop style – it’s the kind of thing that players will immediately skip after the initial novelty’s worn off.
As the game is set in the ‘90s, each actor’s CG recreation looks as they did during their VHS prime. Yet, their haggard voices tell another tale. Poor Mr. Madsen sounds like he’s delivering his lines while chewing gravel, chasing each exasperatedly performed sentence between takes with a drag on a chili-laced cigar. Guardians of the Galaxy actor Michael Rook seems like he’s having fun at least, with his chirpy delivery breathing some much-need life into a handful of otherwise painfully stiff story segments.
While Norris and the other actors’ role in the single-player story promises to be more substantial, based on what we’ve seen so far, Crime Boss is an experience built around last-gen gunplay – not ‘90s big-screen thrills. There’s certainly fun to be had in this co-op crim sim, but in an age of free-to-play titles and Game Pass, the single-player mode will have to really wow in order to make this familiar-feeling offering stand out.
Crime Boss: Rockay City launches on March 28 for PC, with console versions planned to release at a later date.