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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Crime Boss: Rockay City’s FPS heists are the GTA we have at home

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I really appreciate it when I come away from playing a videogame learning something I didn’t know before. Thanks to Crime Boss: Rockay City, I now know that for $400, I can get a shirtless Michael Madsen to send me a Cameo video from his pool. Chuck Norris charged $3,150 for the worst motivational video I’ve ever seen. How much more did he charge the makers of Crime Boss: Rockay City for recording a few slept-through voice lines and a scan of his face? Did he insist on being “Sheriff Norris” for the use of his likeness, or did the writers of this game step right out of a 2005 time portal where Chuck Norris jokes were funny? 

Everything about Rockay City has “parody movie-within-a-movie” vibes. It’s like if Heat was directed by that guy who did The Boondock Saints instead of Michael Mann. And yet it’s real: in about an hour I played through two co-op mini campaigns, in which I stole Vanilla Ice’s drugs and shotgunned at least 50 SWAT cops.

This is a game desperate to snatch a single chicken nugget from GTA Online’s billion-dollar lunch tray, ditching the open world to focus on tight, short heists and gang shootouts. You could find much more nuanced or thrilling versions of these firefights in a bunch of other games… and yet I found myself having fun anyway.

Rockay City is a competent FPS that, in the “Urban Legends” mode I played, has you choose a henchman to embody before each mission, with their own stat differences and loadouts. One character had a silenced pistol, making stealth a little bit easier; another had a hard-hitting assault rifle but a character trait that made their aim a little wobblier. Then a short cutscene starring a barely interested ’90s actor explaining who you’re about to kill or steal from, and then you’re on the streets of LA Rockay to get into the action.

Each of these missions hems you into a fairly small explorable area, but to its credit there are usually a few paths to take, if you want to try to sneak your way past a few cops or baddies. In my experience, there wasn’t much point or fun in stealth beyond some missions that called for it as a secondary objective. Enemies operate on a basic alert system, where once they see anyone on your team and their alert meter fills, all of them know where all of you are and start shooting. You can crouch and sneak around and melee enemies from behind or distract them by throwing a rock (but only if you play as a character who spawns with a rock as an equipment item), but you’re not going to be able to hide after they go on alert or don a disguise or anything. Hitman this ain’t.

Shooting’s more fun, anyway, and here again I’m going to roll out the word competent. The guns here don’t feel like weightless pea shooters—I appreciated the kick on the shotgun, and the way an SMG started spraying wildly the longer I held the trigger—but you won’t find the slick bullet hoses of Call of Duty or the untameable recoil-heavy beasts of Tarkov. They have pinpointed the exact average of a videogame gun and executed on it effectively.

Enemies are also average in the way most FPS baddies seem to be chronically dumb, either crouching behind cover or jogging straight at you. Still, I had a good time flanking a squad of SWAT guys and unloading on them while my co-op partners shot at them from the front. Another time I sait waiting around a corner for cop after cop to run in front of my shotgun. It’s a kind of mostly brainless whack-a-mole FPS that’s boring after five minutes of solo play but decent enough to keep breezy co-op missions engaging.

Our team cleared each mission with ease, even when we stopped to carry extra bags of loot or saw into a safe for more cash. There’s a very basic minigame attached to break-ins that feels like it should be more interesting, and hints of mechanical depth that Rockay City could do more with, like only being able to use a pistol when you’re loaded down with bags of cash. Just like a parody film, it feels like Rockay City is delivering the shallowest possible version of a crime game. 

Maybe there’s more depth to be had in the singleplayer campaign, though, which is essentially a GTA turf war roguelike. You’ll play crime boss Michael Madsen, using the money you earn from heists and gang shootouts to hire more and better henchmen. Apparently too many mistakes will get you caught by *grimace* Sheriff Norris, and if Baker dies, your campaign’s over; time to restart. That’s the most intriguing thing about it—the mini campaigns I played offered no sense of stakes, so the campaign would greatly benefit from consequences to shooting 75 police officers before jumping in the getaway van.

Rockay City’s developers claim some degree of random generation will make every campaign playthrough different, including branching story paths, but frankly I’m skeptical that they’ll feel significant in any way whatsoever. The cutscenes I saw were hardly Goodfellas. Rockay City is at best “Remember These Fellas?” and I suspect the full game will only be worth your time if you’ve sunk so much of your life into GTA Online and Payday 2 that you’re desperate for more cops ‘n’ robbers—or to find out if Vanilla Ice’s energy drink will be making a cameo.

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