Crime Boss: Rockay City is a lot of things. Mostly, it’s a shooter, a first-person blaster set in the fictional Rockay City, a crime-filled city where digitally de-aged celebrities mingle with each other, trading lines with the charismatic impact of a Nerf dart that couldn’t make friends in secondary school.
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Elsewhere, It’s a single-player roguelike game that takes the trappings of the Payday franchise and wedges them into a campaign that sees you trying, again and again, to bring the entire city under your control.
Then there are the cooperative modes, Crime Time – a quickplay multiplayer mode that delivers the Payday magic without any of the overarching progression that made that particular heist-’em-up so compelling – and Urban Legends. Urban Legends is the same, really, but has little vignettes that play out over three-heist arcs, and echoes the mechanics of Payday even as it fails to understand that the dollar figure that underpins it all was an essential part of Payday’s appeal.
Lumped in together there’s a lot on offer from Ingame Studios’ Crime Boss: Rockay City, but even as the game tries to achieve some success as a nostalgia-baiting blaster, a multiplayer shooter and an exercise in roguelike persistence, it rarely succeeds at making the game feel worthwhile.
The primary issue here is that the shooting in the game is imprecise and messy, while the weapons you’re armed with lack impact, with rounds hitting goons in t-shirts with no sense of consequence whatsoever. The guns are boringly designed, a collection of humdrum rifles, uzis and shotguns daubed in nonsensical colours. Picking out weapons from Rockay City’s dull arsenal does not spark joy, and it’s incredibly rare that firing one of them thrills, either.
The enemies you’ll fight slowly escalate in difficulty but this often feels artificial. The gang members you’ll face off against can only real hope to damage you by using the weight of numbers, and entry-level cops and security guards will often look at you passively as you run over to do them in. A longer firefight will often see the police escalate in difficulty until they’re hurling athletic S.W.A.T teams at you that will dive around and take a fair bit of punishment before dying. Later still heavily armoured juggernauts lose the balletic grace of their S.W.A.T colleagues but will happily eat your entire ammo reserve without falling over.
A first-person shooter with bad gunplay and a boring collection of guns isn’t in a good spot to begin with, but Rockay City also doesn’t succeed as a nostalgia piece either because the cliche-ridden writing and poor delivery rob even performers such as Michael Rooker and Michael Madsen of the charm that makes them so watchable on the big screen.
For some characters, it can just come off as awkward. Vanilla Ice, better known for his music than for his lead role in say, 1991’s Cool as Ice, voices rival gang leader Hielo, who seemingly can’t decide which misogynist sound bite to get out of his mouth first, stuck between whether to refer to women in his orbit as property or just calling them Bitch every 15 seconds.
He doesn’t have a monopoly on misogyny here, either. While some will no doubt argue that some sort of social shittiness is to be expected from a game set in the ‘90s, it still leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
It would also be about the only thing about the game cohesive with the timeframe it’s supposedly set in. The case of has-been heroes (and Michael Rooker, who’s still fantastic whenever he appears in anything) may be firmly from the ‘80s and ‘90s, the weaponry feels contemporary with laser sights, optics and other attachments hailing from the modern day. Factor in the tonal dissonance of emerging into a level to hear Bomfunk MC’s ‘Freestyler’ blasting from a boom box, and the world of Crime Boss fits together imperfectly, resisting all attempts at immersion.
While, as mentioned above, Crime Boss has heisted most of its mechanics from crime-’em-up Payday, it does have a few of its own ideas: the single-player Baker’s Battle tasks you with heisting as a way of building the bankroll for your own criminal empire, chucking loot and cash into a big pit that you can use to decorate your office – giving you prestige – hire soldiers or even just tool you and your gang up with more firepower.
Along the way, level-ups will enable you to unlock perks for both Baker and his core team of crime middle managers, which gives them perks in their specialist areas. Michael Rooker’s Touchdown is mostly focused on the game’s turf war mechanic, for example, and can be upgraded to make attack and defence easier. Other characters deal with recruiting gangs or flogging off your stolen merch.
These aren’t the only NPCs that’ll join you on your journey, either. AI heisters can be recruited for you to play as or take along on missions. These can also level up and in more successful campaigns this gang will more closely resemble some sort of Baker’s dozen that you can send around the city to get shit done. Having these NPC options is invaluable for riskier missions too, because if you take your main character out onto a mission and he gets bounced, your campaign run is over and you’re back to the start, keeping only the level-ups you’ve previously earned.
This moment to moment whirlwind of heisting, taking territory and tackling little story vignettes with a collection of random characters is quite compelling, despite Crime Boss’ many issues, and if the shooting felt good it’s possible that it would be quite fun.
As it is, the shooting isn’t where it needs to be and so the game’s entire existence feels superfluous. It’s possible that Ingame Studios or publisher 505 Games knows this too, because as of the time of writing the only place you can play the game is the Epic Games Store, with console versions planning to release in June.
If you’re a Payday superfan, the myriad of issues here might not put you off. For everyone else, there is better nostalgia bait elsewhere and a whole lot of better first-person shooters.
Crime Boss: Rockay City is out now on the Epic Games Store. We played it on PC.
A subpar shooter that is diminished by the money spent on licensed music and stunt-cast voice acting, Crime Boss could be the year’s biggest “if only,” as you can see good ideas let down by poor writing, woeful shooting and a game that feels like all of its cash was spent on Chuck Norris one-liners instead of making the game stand on its own without those issues. A disappointment.
- Baker’s Battle is a fun roguelike twist to heist gameplay
- Hey look, it’s Michael Madsen but from the past!
- Terrible shooting
- Cramped levels
- Awful writing