A knife to a gunfight
Perks all have one thing in common: they only apply to the game’s tactical mode which is activated to resolve both random and pre-scripted missions. Once in tactical mode, Omerta is a different beast entirely. The turn-based combat sessions are relatively short but satisfying. Just prior to combat, you get to select up to four henchmen that you can take into battle and can assign someone to support you during the mission. The supporting team member will attempt to either assassinate or intoxicate NPCs or even to delay enemy reinforcements. It is a fun little addition to the game but one that has a fairly small impact. The others will still have to do the grunt work.
Henchmen can be roughly divided into three different fighter types: long-range, short-range and melee. You have considerable control over how well your gangsters perform in their given role through perks and weapon assignment. Characters with a high “Toughness” rating will do well swinging bats and wielding knives, characters with “Finesse” are best equipped with a handgun or a rifle. At first, I was tempted to put a shotgun into the hands of a melee-specialized character but seeing one of my lady thugs beat up a punk with brass knuckles proved to be a huge turn on (gaming-wise!). Haemimont really struck the perfect balance between the three roles and as long as you allow your characters to play their part, combat is fun no matter who you take with you.
I was thrilled to see action points in Omerta. Many developers seem to be under the impression that Action-Points are an outdated system but I for one absolutely love it. I’m glad to say that Omerta makes it work well and selecting the right actions for your characters is almost a game on its own. A knuckle-basher can do some serious damage because bashing requires very little AP so it can be done multiple times. A shotgun wielder can usually fire only twice but do a similar amount of damage – if – there is more than one enemy in his shooting cone, increasing the amount of damage even further with every additional enemy in range. Lastly, the shooting and visibility ranges are implemented almost perfectly and taking cover really adds to the survival chances of your henchmen.
Most of the tactical battles play out on a map that makes some sense when held against the actual location of the mission, but the non-scripted ones often feel a bit out of place. Attacking a multistory building, you’d expect to be fighting in one and not in some loading area of a factory. There is just enough variety in the maps but not enough to keep déjà vu from setting in from about one-third into the game. New and unique maps do occasionally pop up but you will soon be wondering which contractor thought it would be a good idea to build all banks in the exact same way. Moreover, the cover system can be a little puzzling. Sticking with the bank example, its main hall has a large central reception area that provides cover from three of its sides, but the fourth which is equally thick has no cover at all. And while most maps allow you to shoot through windows (which do not shatter when the bullet hits), it felt utterly strange to come upon a map that did not even allow characters to see through, let alone shoot through them.
Visually, the strategic maps don’t feel all that different. This does not stem from a lack of uniquely recognizable features as each map has at least one major feature that should make it stand out from the rest. The fault lies in the visual style of Omerta, which is probably meant to depict the dreary, miserable life in the 1930’s but as a result isn’t anything joyous to look at. Drab browns and greens are occasionally mixed with listless reds and yellows, causing the maps to look as if devoid of life. I understand that the game is trying to create an atmosphere of depression and even oppression, but the sun did not shine any less frivolously in the 1930’s than it does today.
Grabbing territory from local mobsters, one would assume they would object and start fighting back. They’re not. While they will certainly put up a good fight during the tactical missions, they seem resigned to let you take their turf without a fight. Only the police will occasionally get in your way. Illegal activities fill up a bar with sheriff stars. When the bar is full, you are under investigation after which you get an opportunity to make it go away. That is all the (non-scripted) resistance that the game throws at you. No one will raid your businesses, no one will block your supply lines and no one will come for your headquarters for a good old-fashioned shootout.
Begs for more
I finished Omerta’s campaign in three days time and was left wanting more. Even if my enemies had snuck off on me rather than put up a fight, and despite the somewhat depressing ambiance, Omerta: City of Gangsters had kept me entertained for almost three full days.
What struck me most was the potential. Omerta is a good game but if it succeeds, it has the potential to be a great game. Add opposing AI gangs and allow for turf wars to occur, shrink the building sizes on the strategic maps and give players control over many more buildings, and you have a strategy title that has no equal and is infinitely playable. Daydreaming aside, there is a lot to like and even love about Omerta. And while the title suggests I should be quiet about it, I’m glad I’ve written that in black and white and get to share it with you.
Great turn-based combat, good character development.
Atlantic City’s underworld does not fight back.