RoboCop: Rogue City - Creeper Hit (Review)
RoboCop: Rogue City
Released: November 2nd, 2023
Systems: PC, PS5 (reviewed), Xbox X/S
As far as I’m concerned, Teyon can keep on doing what it’s doing. After surprising the world with a humble yet entertaining Terminator game in 2019, the studio has turned to RoboCop for its next lovably middle-shelf game based on an iconic 80s movie. You can insert your own obligatory references to buying "that for a dollar."
Given how well their latest endeavor ticks all the right boxes, I’m eagerly anticipating whatever this studio does next be it The Running Man, Predator, maybe even The Thing? Suffice to say I have a list, and The Thing is definitely on it.
RoboCop is one of my favorite comedy films, a brilliant piece of satire clothed in a sci-fi action film. While lacking the bite of the Paul Verhoeven classic, Rogue City has its moments and, in what’s becoming a Teyon calling card, it offers straightforward entertainment with familiar trappings all wrapped in heartfelt scrappiness.
If Terminator: Resistance was a stripped down Fallout, RoboCop: Rogue City is a similarly abridged take on Deus Ex. It’s a fitting mold, considering the Detroit setting and similar themes of inorganic human enhancement.
You’ll get some very light roleplaying elements, with dialog choices that lead to specific endings for various side characters and optional missions focusing on character interactions and worldbuilding. It's all very abbreviated compared to bigger budget alternatives, but it's nonetheless quite charmingly put together.
Most of the focus, however, is firmly placed on dishing out a ton of violence with an Alex Murphy that sits somewhere between the developed character at the end of the first film and the critically maligned personality reset of its sequel. Rogue City dips a toe in the water of exploring that balance between man and machine, but sadly keeps to the shallows.
I would love to have had the conversations between Murphy and his therapist at the end of main missions lead to more dramatic story results based on how you answer her questions. Having gone with answers that portrayed him as a psychological balance of Murphy and RoboCop, I hoped for a more satisfying conclusion than a psych evaluation at the end praising me for helping a guy called Pickles kick his Nuke addiction.
Deciding on a mentality that was predominantly human, robotic, or a blend of the two interested me greatly. As with other elements of the game, I feel such a decision may have been part of a game that was once more ambitious than the final product.
Rogue City’s plot premise is amusingly bemusing considering how basic it is. Following the events of RoboCop II, Detroit’s criminal community is abuzz about the new guy in town whose name is literally The New Guy in Town. Despite doing nothing except saying he’s the New Guy in Town, every gang in the city wants his attention, news outlets cover him in earnest, and the cops are intent on catching his ass.
One cannot emphasize enough how much The New Guy in Town is treated like hot shit despite doing nothing but announce his existence, nor can I stress how funny I found it that everyone kept referring to him as The New Guy in Town with a straight face.
Becoming a crime lord is apparently a lot easier than Scarface made it look.
Rogue City's plot kicks off with a flimsy premise that only really exists to make sure Murphy fights loads of baddies, has inevitable run-ins with the iconic ED-209 robot, and… well, does one need much more?
There’s not a ton of complication in the gameplay department, and that’s perfectly fine. Our big metal boy clomps through characteristically run down environments with a methodical clunkiness, blowing scores of overacting criminals away with chunky guns that pop heads with a darkly satisfying squelchiness. There's something grotesquely delightful about the fact you can blast peoples' hands off. They'll even scream about it as they slowly and painfully fall over.
That’s at least 90% of the action, and that’s all 90% of the action needs to be. Clomp, clomp, bang, bang.
Nailing the tactile feel of RoboCop himself is important in a RoboCop game, obviously, and Rogue City does a great job of it. His footsteps are characteristically heavy, adding a slight bounce to the HUD with every stomp forward, and a real sense of power when picking things (and people) up. In the name of authenticity, movement is slow, and while this can be a problem when exploring, maps aren’t typically large enough for it to be a major issue.
I mean, RoboCop zipping around town like he’s in Mirror’s Edge would just undermine the point. I’m prepared to sacrifice some speed in exchange for being fucking RoboCop.
There’s no iron-sight aiming here. Instead, you activate Robo Vision, which zooms in a little, adds retro scanlines, and highlights targets in bold green for easier shooting. There are plenty of explosive items in the environment and they’re hilariously effective at wiping out gangs of opponents. You can also lunge toward people and grab them by the neck, at which point they’re able to be thrown against walls, through windows, and into their friends.
While RoboCop isn’t invincible, he can take a good pounding, allowing you some moments of tanking bullets and stoically mowing down the mooks. This can’t last forever, though - you will often end up having to hide behind a wall to fight carefully under a hail of gunfire once you've soaked enough damage, which doesn’t feel quite right for the character. That said, I appreciate it's hard to balance a sense of challenge with a sense of being RoboCop. He's never been portrayed as completely invincible, after all.
As you level up and get skill points you’ll gain access to all sorts of upgrades and feel progressively even more like a cyborg superman.
Such upgrades include temporary shields, a damaging dash charge, and armor that pleasingly reflects small arms fire. One highly situational upgrade is the ability to ricochet bullets from certain walls highlighted in Robo Vision and hit enemies behind cover - there aren’t enough walls to do it as many times as one should, but I still love that I grabbed the upgrade because when you can use it, it’s just frigging cool.
The situational nature of abilities is one of Rogue City's biggest flaws, especially when it comes to less combat-oriented options. One upgrade, for example, allows Murphy to open safes without needing to find a code for them, but by the time I nabbed it the game had stopped offering me safes at all. Hacking turrets is a similar problem - there are so few of them in the whole campaign that you barely get to hack any even if you grab the ability before they show up.
As I noted earlier, I think there are blatant signs Rogue City was planned to be a far bigger and deeper game than it is, with the many half-obsolete upgrades serving as vestigial evidence. What we have at present is a solid but limited game hinting at a richer experience that sadly doesn’t materialize. It's a truly great little game, but it could have stood to better hide the dashed promises.
Alex Murphy’s classic thighbound Auto-9 pistol carries its own suitable weight, discharging several powerful shots with every pull of the trigger. The gun starts off feeling strong and gets outclassed by subweapons partway through, but with the right level of investment it reclaims the top spot long before the end. It’s worth that investment, since the Auto-9 has infinite ammo and there are behavior mods to suit a player’s favored style.
I kind of love the way they handled the default weapon. If you're playing RoboCop, you're likely gonna want to use his signature gun most of the time, but using just one handgun for hours would prove dull. By making the Auto-9's effectiveness fluctuate before introducing ways to alter how it fires, Teyon did a fantastic job of making that iconic gun stay relevant without turning combat into a completely singular experience.
You can hold one other gun at a time, taken from fallen enemies. These include handguns, assault rifles, shotguns, all the usual suspects.
Ammo for appropriated guns is limited by whatever’s in the specific ones found, and the diversity of guns wielded by criminals is designed to encourage a player to keep switching them out. The only setback is that SMGs are absurdly effective and anything else lacks the range or power to match them until you get those Auto-9 upgrades. At least until you rip a machine gun from its emplacement or pinch the heavy artillery in later levels - they’re even more limited in terms of ammunition, but they’re worth trading an SMG for while they last.
The Auto-9 itself is upgraded in a rather interesting way, with a series of Motherboards into which you plug upgrade nodes. You can use one board at a time, each with their own stat boosts and unique ability unlocks. At first I found it a needlessly fiddly system, but I became quite engrossed in it by the end.
Each Motherboard is uniquely laid out a bit like a hacking minigame where you guide power from a starting source to various upgrade sockets. Each socket boosts a certain gun stat once it’s activated, which is done by placing collectible nodes onto them.
I feel like I’m going to do a bad job explaining this…
Nodes have percentage values and directional outputs attached to them. The former determines how much a stat is boosted by, and the latter is required to direct the flow of power to the next socket. If you want to make sure you can activate another socket, you’ll need to use a node with the correct output to keep power flowing along the circuit’s track. There are some sockets that don’t take nodes but instead apply blanket downgrades to stats if power flows to them. The trick is using your nodes to direct power to the upgrades while blocking power to downgrades.
I dunno, imagine a cross between the BioShock hacking game and Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid system. Maybe? All I know is that if you reach a Motherboard’s unique upgrades, you can change the Auto-9’s properties in cool ways - rapid fire, infinite clips, even an upgrade that does nothing but increase the gore effect of kills.
By the end of the game I'd basically turned my default weapon into the Patriot from Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater - a rapidfire handheld cannon with infinite ammo. By that point, Rogue City had thrown balance out of the window and I was entirely on board.
Between regular linear levels full of combat, Murphy will hang out in the same small section of Detroit where a number of optional quests can be found, as well as a few parking violations for you to ticket. Here’s where the Deus Ex comparisons mostly come in, a small but open area with a bunch of sidecorn living in it.
Much of the extra content allows you to go easy on people doing minor crimes or punish them by the book, and I really like that doing the former is listed as serving “public trust,” drawing a nice distinction between doing the right thing and doing strict law enforcement. In a game that otherwise lacks the overt political commentary of the movie, I appreciate the touch.
Less appreciable are the handful of moments where you’re supposed to score more kills than either ED-209 or a bunch of mercenaries in exchange for precious XP bonuses. There’s something disturbing about scenarios in which you competitively kill people as a police officer. They’re presented totally at face value, despite the potential for dark parody, and their awkward inclusion just seems to miss the point of RoboCop as a result.
Luckily, other areas nail an adequate tone. Collectible documents are great at making fun of corporate influences over law enforcement, and background dialog can be quite entertaining too. One particular mission involves a gang lecturing a drug dealer they're about to kill, explaining how his low prices are unethical and demonstrate the need for anti-trust laws. There should be more of these moments than there are, but they’re genuinely funny when they occur.
I gotta love some of Murphy's corny one-liners as well. They're so deliciously bad.
Unsurprisingly, Rogue City is a bit of a janky affair. It’s not horribly broken, but there are occasional graphical glitches and wonky physics that send items and bodies juddering about. The worst bug I’ve seen with some regularity is a “popping” sound in the audio that gets really quite distracting and seems to need a full reboot to get rid of.
Aside from that, Rogue City is exactly the kind of production we got with Terminator: Resistance. It’s not visually dazzling or dripping in complex mechanics, but that’s okay. It’s just a very playable, very enjoyable bit of interactive media. It’s hard not to have a great time when bullets are pinging off you and you’re throwing explosive motorbikes at goons, all while that classic movie theme plays in the background.
RoboCop: Rogue City may not boast the high production quality of a top level “AAA” videogame, but it’s more fun and shows more sincerity than most of them put together. What it lacks in polish it more than makes up for in its provision of fuss-free action with immensely satisfying weaponry alongside the occasional glimmer of witty writing. It’s nowhere near as beautifully satirical as the film from which it sprung, but it’s still made with clear love for the original, as well as a ton of sincerity.
Can’t wait to see which movie this outfit gets its hands on next. Please do The Thing!