Heavily inspired by 1990’s crime thrillers and heist movies, Crime Boss: Rockay City wants to throw you into your very own movie as an up-and-coming criminal, looking to make himself the titular crime boss. You’ll achieve this by jumping into various heists and crime activities with friends to take the city for all its worth.
If you were expecting an open-world crime-based FPS, then you’re going to be disappointed because Crime Boss: Rockay City chooses, instead, to focus on bite-sized, co-operative-based experiences, designed around short segments of frantic fun. Think of something along the lines of Payday, but with smaller, less intricate levels.
Crime Boss: Rockay City has four play modes. There’s Baker’s Battle, Crime Time, Urban Legends, and a quick tutorial heist, Street Smarts.
Baker’s Battle is the single-player campaign mode, which throws you into the shoes of Baker, who’s come to Rockay City to take it all. Crime Time is your quick-play mode which you can play with A.I., friends, or randoms, while Urban Legends throws you into a series of mini-campaigns, also playable online or with the A.I.
Is there anything they won’t add rogue-like elements to?
Baker’s Battle is built around the game’s copious marketing of its 1990’s star-studded cast. Danny Glover, Michael Madsen, Kim Basinger, and a handful of once- to slightly-famous faces are here, including the ice-man himself, Vanilla Ice. Oh, and Chuck Norris rocks up as what I assume was meant to be a spoof of his Walker, Texas Ranger character.
It helps that Crime Boss: Rockay City‘s environments are quite pretty to look at, there are detailed character models, and the atmosphere feels appropriate for the ’90s vibe. You’ve got a “Performance” and “Visual Fidelity” mode, and while the game looks great in the Visual Fidelity mode the frame rate drops notably when there is too much going on onscreen or when too many NPC’s were around. Performance mode ditches some of the shinier visual details but still looks great and runs much better. A nice touch is that changing modes happens in real-time, so you can actually see the resultant graphical changes beneath the transparent menu.
Baker’s Battle is about taking over Rockay City one area at a time until you become the city’s kingpin. You’ll do this by hiring soldiers and lieutenants to create a formidable crew, buying new weapons, then robbing banks, strip malls, armored trucks, and even other gangs. All the tools and levels you’ll see in the other modes are here for you to play around in. Initially, this may seem like a good way to get to grips with the mechanics but Crime Boss: Rockay City throws a spanner into that thinking with one large campaign twist: it’s a rogue-like.
While you can hire goons and run through the levels as them, you can also play as Baker himself. Each time Baker dies though, the campaign resets and you have to start all over again – well almost. Each level-up unlocks permanent perks, from new weapons to more health, and I did find that, even after death, I started off my next run with a significant amount in the bank and some objectives already completed. Cut scenes and their dialogue also changed during subsequent runs, which makes death less of a pain and briefing less repetitive – unless you’re just gunning for the end credits.
As a result, I’d argue playing quick matches is the best way to come to terms with the simple mechanics and will make your campaign run easier.
Of course, those rogue-like elements also extend to your crew. You’ve got nameless soldiers who you don’t have to worry about, but those that you go on runs with can be killed permanently. The game initially provides you with some free operators, but the ones that you really want are going to cost you some decent cash. So in between keeping a count of your expenditure, you still have to make sure that your guns come back safely as well.
You’ll want to hire more than three other crew members as after a mission, they need to rest and won’t be available until the next game day. You could take on missions solo if you’d like, but it’s not really recommended as once the shooting starts, it can get hectic, and you can die quite easily without someone to revive you before you bleed out.
Many modes, same foundations
Urban Legends takes the campaign design and breaks it up into a series of mini-campaigns with specific objectives, heists, and turf wars to complete. There’s a whole new set of dialogue and cut scenes to sit through so you’re not just retreading old ground. This time around, you won’t get to play as Baker but rather as one of his many hired goons looking to prove themselves to the boss man. All the loot you earn is used to buy the next mission, so there are some light progression elements beyond the narrative.
Where you will likely be spending most of your time online is in Crime Time. As with all the other modes, the basic gameplay loop is the same. You can roll around here with friends, randoms, or A.I. and, thankfully, the game’s simplistic design allows even randoms to coordinate and get on with objectives quickly. For those interested, the A.I. is fairly decent and I never got too frustrated with them at any time though which is a big plus. I probably had just as many moments of watching them getting the job done with finesse as I did having them stand around pointlessly – even after I chucked a loot bag to them and told them to follow me.
I say the content is the same across all modes as Crime Boss: Rockay City uses procedural generation for its map layouts and mission objectives to add some variety across matches, but it wasn’t long before I began seeing the same strip mall layouts and guard positions across all three game modes. Luckily for anyone jumping into the game now, the developers have recently dropped the 2.0 patch which includes new weapons and environments.
As for what’s on offer? There’s a decent variety of mission types such as robbing strip malls, banks, armored cars, or engaging in turf wars that can range from a simple shootout under an overpass to a running gunfight across a freeway into a hotel. Mini-objectives are introduced as you play, ranging from finding key cards to just grabbing all the loot you can and getting away in one piece.
For those that want it, stealth is simple and effective enough for those moments that require it, but it really does feel like the developers want you to experience the cinematic thrills of a running gunfight with escalating police forces, like that iconic sequence from Michael Mann’s Heat. A fair amount of the time this is how most of my missions ended up and I’d be remiss if I failed in pointing out how tense these situations can get.
Given its rocky launch on PC and digitally on consoles earlier this year, my biggest surprise was that it’s actually quite a bit of fun if you go in with reasonable expectations. Sure, the mechanics and A.I. could be improved, but the game’s bite-size approach to missions coupled with the satisfying shooting mechanics had me enjoying most of the missions I was thrown into. Robbing a bank and holding off a slowly escalating wave of SWAT officers, while my crew was looting the safe, was both tense and exhilarating. As was a daylight armoured car heist where I had to hold off converging cops while I waited for the automatic saw to slice through the doors.
Procedural problems and questionable “star” power
There are some downsides to procedural generation, of course, especially when the solo campaign uses the same tools. That variety on offer is still limited and it won’t be long before you’ve seen all the permutations on offer in a single campaign run. Infinite variability through procedural generation still has to happen.
Another issue is that the solo campaign, while entertaining enough in its own right with some unique sequences you won’t find in the other game modes, still suffers when it comes to the side stories played out in the background. Running across familiar beach or warehouse levels shooting up yet more rival gang members feels like a missed potential when there’s an elaborate side story about Russian scientists that you only get to hear about. It feels like perfect content for more scripted, hand-crafted levels but the procedural generation design template, along with the focus entirely on Rockay City and its rival gangs, leaves these moments feeling flat.
And perhaps Crime Boss: Rockay City‘s major flaw? Well. . . If you’re expecting that “star-studded” power to lend some extra oomph to the game, you’re definitely going to have to check your expectations at the curb. Sadly, the writing is horrendous and most of the voice acting aims to match it. There are a couple of performers that do the best with what they have (like Michael Rooker) but for the most part, it’s universally bad. Sadly, Chuck Norris plays it as straight as can be amongst all the absurd dialogue and delivers his lines like he’s slowly reading a restaurant menu without his glasses.
Top o’ the world Ma!
Overall, Crime Boss: Rockay City is certainly a title that surprised me. While it isn’t the open-world affair I was hoping for, and the procedural generation doesn’t vary things enough, the game is far more fun than I went in expecting it to be. That said, it’s at its best when played with friends for quick matches of explosive action if that’s how you want things to go, or maybe a solid choice for a late-night drunken party game. Whether or not you’ll return to it after you’ve completed the campaign and seen all the variations that the procedural generation has to offer, is another story.
Crime Boss: Rockay City was reviewed on PS5 using a code provided to gameblur by the publisher. It is also available on PC and Xbox Series S|X.
Crime Boss: Rockay City (PS5) ReviewCrime Boss: Rockay City (PS5) Review
- Solid shooting mechanics
- Fun, bite-sized gameplay
- Good visuals
- Vanilla Ice
- Horrendous writing
- Terrible voice acting
- Vanilla Ice