Game Review | Robocop: Rogue City is Part Game, Part Glitch, All Great Fun
Much like James Bond, another of cinema’s great mass murderers; Robocop has been largely ill served by the very medium that seems tailor made for him. While we wait with great anticipation – and growing impatience – to see what IO Interactive deliver on the superspy front, we can at least see what Teyon has put forth on the supercop side of the interactive reckless firearm fun times.
Robocop: Rogue City comes from the same fine folks that brought us the by all accounts (I’ve not played it) enjoyably solid Terminator: Resistance and the less than acceptable to even release Rambo: The Video Game (that one I have played; you dear reader should not). Like those previous two titles, it is primarily an FPS (and like Terminator, but unlike Rambo, it is not on rails). You walk, you shoot, you investigate i.e. press a lot of context sensitive prompts on various environmental assets.
Rogue City is one of those influence-ouroboros games where the game it most clearly resembles is the recent Deus Ex reboot games, and specifically Human Revolution; a game which itself was heavily indebted narratively and thematically to (and contained a plethora of references tipping its cyborg hat towards) the original 1987 Verhoeven classic. Well, that’s not entirely fair. Rogue City is decidedly smaller in scale, depth, and polish. But that’s not really a criticism.
This game very much knows what it is and what it wants the player to get out of the experience. This is first and foremost a human-head-liquification simulator and any other gameplay bells and whistles are a pleasant side dish for those who want to hear a noise or see a sight other than a human head popping like a giblet balloon from various angles and due to an imaginative variety of causes.
And on this endeavour, it can only be called a success. There are other guns (including some quite satisfying shotguns), but your iconic Auto 9 is where all the love went on the development front. There’s a surprisingly malleable perk system/mini game where you slot in chips to increase/decrease particular stats that has a similar sort of organisational appeal as the likes of the Resident Evil 4 inventory management and when used well, can slightly break combat. It’s also just a deeply enjoyable gun to use in terms of how it looks, sounds and feels to use. Which is good as most of your time with the game will entail spewing death from it.
The game knows how to pace itself and break up these corporate sanctioned massacres however. The non-shooting parts of your time with the longer-than-you’d-expect game mostly entail walking authentically slowly around completing side quests, gaining or losing public trust through minor interactions (yes, there are endings plural), hunting for upgrades or other hidden bonuses, and solving the occasionally quite easy puzzle. And naturally this is all presented through the lens of the darkly comic, heightened (but no longer all that far-fetched), capitalist nightmare world of the Robocop films’ universe.
What sells all of this is the incredible attention to detail the team have put into the visuals and sound design. From the satisfying, weighty thump of Robo’s every methodical step, to the familiar little bleeps and bloops taken straight from the film for his in-game HUD and targeting system; it is a highly authentic and immersive Robocop Simulator with its more absurd elements played just straight enough to create frequent, understated comedy gold.
Be it handing out tickets for kicking over a homeless man’s cans or collecting a colleague’s towel from the locker room, every secondary objective is treated with the same read outs and aural sounds of urgency as a hostage situation or drug bust. I’d be lying if I said the gore effects (which can be inexplicably increased as a perk bonus) and general over-the-top violence didn’t make me laugh but the biggest and most consistent smile I had on my face while playing was during a surprisingly long side quest that had Robocop stomping around the police station with grave purpose collecting signatures for a get-well-soon card.
It is fitting that the game is very specifically set after the events of Robocop 2 as tonally it feels perfectly in tune with that sequel’s slightly more wacky humour than the original’s sharper and arguably more darkly deadpan satire. Which is not to say the satire is missing but it comfortably reaches that sequel’s more attainable broadness in its comedy than the first film’s impossible to replicate sublime satirical bent.
On the less good side – and which is not entirely unexpected for in a game of this smaller scale – is some of the presentation and the not-uncommon glitches. It’s mostly a quite nice-looking game. Environments are solidly designed and look pretty good on current gen consoles. Character models vary a bit but none are outright bad. Robocop himself looks immaculate; with great little details of dirt or smudges on his glistening armour. And while the full Murphy face looks a bit videogame-y – for want of a better word – when he’s only a mouth, you really appreciate how lovingly rendered his luscious lips are.
In contrast to the commendably excellent work done on the sound design, the music is a bit of a let-down. Largely because of how much of the game is notably devoid of it. Entire cutscenes will pass in awkward silence. When there is a soundtrack, it’s not bad. Making good use of Basil Poledouris’s iconic them and score in serviceable rearrangements that don’t grate (but can get a tad repetitive as you slowly plod around large enough maps looking for hidden items with the same short loops playing over and over).
More broadly there are still a few glitches that need patching. Enemies sometimes fall off the map but don’t die, which is fine except in areas where killing them all is required to progress. Combining the iron-sights and scanning to one button gets messy in combat and makes the iron-sights feel unresponsive and slow. None of these are game-breaking. Except when the game breaks and fully crashes (which has happened a couple times). To alter a relevant quote: “glitches leave”.
Much like its half man, half machine protagonist; it’s a game of contrasts. Peter Weller’s voice acting is wonderful, while everyone else is at best, audible. The music is good but there often isn’t any. Even on hard it sort of feels too easy despite how quickly enemies can absolutely tear through your health bar. It’s aesthetically quite respectable for a smaller scale game but every cutscene is riddled with texture pop. The targeting system looks great and feels authentic to what you know from the film but has a bad habit of feeling sticky and like you’ve left aim-assist on when the game appears to have no such option. There’s a reasonably deep upgrade system yet no New Game Plus. Etc.
Is it perfect? No. Is stomping up to a biker and punching straight through his head Very Funny every single time? Yes. If you want an above average FPS with a decent upgrade tree and neat perks system, framed by a deceptively engaging story and highly satisfying attitude to ultra violence; you could do far worse than buy this for a multitude of dollars.