The 1920s was the height of the Italian Mafia in America. Prohibition, which started at the beginning of the decade, made it illegal to sell, manufacture or transport alcohol. Of course, there were people willing to break those rules and greatly profit from it. Famous names like Al Capone and Salvatore Maranzano rose to prominence during that time while speakeasies sold alcohol illegally.
Omerta — City of Gangsters is a simulation game from Kalypso Media and Haemimont Games that takes place during the Roaring Twenties. As anyone who has seen The Godfather or The Untouchables knows, this was a time where crime could equate to power. Omerta, which refers to the code of silence mob members are supposed to follow, gives players a chance to build their empire from the ground up. Anyone standing in the way can simply be made an offer they can’t refuse. With an interesting subject matter and development handled by the same team behind the well-received Tropico 4, Omerta – City of Gangsters seems like an easy recipe for success. However, the team fails to recreate their magic as the game falls short of expectations.
After the brief setup, the new Italian mafioso is thrust into the strategy environment. The game has specific tasks players must follow, such as getting information from informants and setting up a pizzeria. Beyond that, the mob boss is left on his own to build his empire.
Players must survive against rival mafia leaders, police, politicians and other business owners. Doing so is based on a system of dirty money and clean money earned, community liked and feared ratings, and heat from law enforcement. Make too much dirty money, police will start launching investigations. A mafia head is not happy with the operations, provide them with some appeasement money or help them in combat.
While the system makes sense, it is far too easy to accumulate money and use it to get out of every challenging situation. Fans of the genre may enjoy setting up operations such as boxing rings and Ponzi schemes but it feels like a social game that is wasting the capabilities of the Xbox 360. Too much time is spent waiting for characters to complete an assigned task, which consists of a simple animation occurring at the location of the event.
When matters start to get out of hand, players will have to lead their crew in XCOM-like turn-based combat. The most important thing to know in combat is don’t bring a knife to a gun-fight. The game can be very unbalanced for anyone who has a gun as melee attacks result in sure death. Combat is such a chore players might even find themselves using the auto-resolve feature to skip past the actual fighting sequence in order to go directly to the end result.
Each character in Omerta is brought to life by brilliant voice-acting. From mob boss to lowly henchman, every person encountered in the game sounds exactly how one would imagine them. While the acting talent fits the characters and the setting, it is wasted on one-dimensional characters. The characters merely drive the underdeveloped story from point A to point B, making it difficult to appreciate the one of the game’s best elements.
One of the most distinct aspects of the Roaring Twenties is the music that came from it. Omerta accurately brings the music of the 1920s to life with a wonderful jazz soundtrack. The music populates every aspect of the game. Whether setting up soup kitchens and safe houses in Atlantic City or fighting law enforcement in combat, the tunes bursting through the background are enough to make players want to grab a scotch in an old-time bar. Unfortunately, the appeal of the music quickly wears off as tracks are similar and repetitive.
Atlantic City in the 1920s is accurately portrayed in Omerta. The city is alive with vehicles and people wandering the streets. The game features a full day-night cycle but the city falls extremely dark at night. Even during the day the city lacks vibrant colors. Turn-based combat sequences are even worse as crew members are often asked to sneak around in the dark. Enemies in other areas are sometimes not visible until stumbled upon. Simplistic animations suck all the fun out of taking down opponents.
There is some aspects to enjoy in Omerta for fans of the strategy genre but the game is mostly disappointing. There is not enough strategy necessary when building operations and combat is boring. The game’s plot is underdeveloped and the main character lacks any true rival. Considering the level of talent behind the making of Omerta — City of Gangsters, the game can be considered nothing more than a disappointment.
A copy of the game was provided to Gaming Illustrated for the purpose of this review.