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“Street Vultures are the biggest gang in Detroit”, comes a warning a few hours into RoboCop: Rogue City, as our hero attempts to infiltrate the hoodlums’ hideout.
Reassuringly, RoboCop replies: “I have a large supply of bullets.”
He isn’t joking, either – the main firearm in Rogue City comes with infinite ammunition, and using it to wipe out countless yobs in a stream of bloody explosions is deeply satisfying.
It’s also a line that probably sums up chunks of the game quite well, and not necessarily in a negative way. When the action starts here, it doesn’t let up. But to dismiss it as a mindless action game would be doing it a disservice.
We were admittedly worried about Rogue City. Polish developer Teyon hasn’t exactly had a shining reputation for its movie tie-ins, thanks to the awful Rambo: The Video Game and the forgettable Terminator: Resistance.
Despite the studio’s clear love for ‘80s action movies, until now it’s yet to display evidence that it knows how to turn them into enjoyable games. This has all changed, because we had an absolute blast playing Rogue City.
Set between the events of RoboCop 2 and 3, the story – to keep it deliberately vague – revolves around a new criminal leader simply known as The New Guy, whose secret operation initially appears to be based on the Nuke drug but ends up being something altogether more sinister.
Naturally, it’s up to OCP’s finest to save the day, but RoboCop’s not quite feeling himself. He’s started having glitches that are bringing up illusions of his wife and child and it’s affecting his performance, leading to a pivotal incident a few hours in that he could have stopped had he not been malfunctioning.
Most of the previous RoboCop games released over the years – in particular the 8-bit and 16-bit games of the ‘80s and ‘90s – focused strictly on action, despite the fact that the movies juggled the gunplay with genuinely deep philosophical topics, such as what it is to be human.
Rogue City does a good job of making sure these moments of downtime are catered for just as much as the times when all guns are blazing. This ensures the game isn’t just a case of moving from stage to stage mowing down criminal scum, but also gives similar time to the detective side of things, building a story that has the player genuinely invested in what happens to RoboCop.
It also results in numerous opportunities to better enjoy the game’s writing, which is a joy. Rogue City knows it’s set in an ‘80s action movie world and so performs a very fine balancing act, delivering dialogue with its tongue in its cheek while continuing to play it straight.
“Rogue City knows it’s set in an ‘80s action movie world and so performs a very fine balancing act, delivering dialogue with its tongue in its cheek while continuing to play it straight.”
It’s occasionally written for laughs – RoboCop has some brilliantly cheesy one-liners – but is always handled with sincerity, and it’s superb as a result. Which is just as well, because an important part of the non-action sections of the game involve speaking to citizens, the media and fellow officers, with your responses having an impact on their perception of RoboCop.
Teyon has also clearly revelled in the game’s period setting, and has gone to great lengths to ensure that everything feels like the same world fans knew and loved from the original 1987 film. The most obvious example of this is the meticulously detailed recreation of the police station, which can be explored fully and is populated by a host of officers, many of whom are recognisable from the movie.
Big ‘80s hair and equally big moustaches are rampant, discovered security footage plays on grainy VHS tapes, nothing ever breaks the illusion that you’re playing a game set in the late ‘80s.
When the combat finally does kick in – usually in the form of an area infested with criminals – it does a great job of playing to its protagonist’s strengths (literally) by making you extremely slow but wonderfully overpowered, to an almost comical degree.
RoboCop’s trusty Auto 9 pistol sprays blood like a fountain when it hits an enemy’s chest, with headshots exploding like balloons filled with jelly. Like the original movie, it’s so absurdly over-the-top that it never really feels offensive, and as a result gunning down grunts never feels old at any point.
Over time, RoboCop’s abilities can also be improved with a skill tree, letting players slowly work on his obvious deficiencies. His extremely slow moving speed, for example, can be compensated by unlocking a temporary shield and a dash attack, both of which charge up between uses to avoid being spammed.
By and large, though, this is a game that shouldn’t be played like a typical first-person shooter. You can’t duck, you can’t jump, and you move so slowly that while you can hide behind walls for cover it’s only a temporary measure.
The whole point of RoboCop is that he can soak up hits like a sponge, so the best fun to be had is in stepping out, spraying bullets at the enemies in front of you, taking hits in the process then using one of the frequently provided OCP health charges to heal up afterwards when the bad guys can’t see how vulnerable Robo really is (in more ways than one).
The game isn’t entirely perfect. It’s lacking in any of the political and social satire that continues to make the original movie a classic to this day, and while it does frequently make references to the nefarious deeds of the OCP mega-corporation it never quite nails the anti-Reaganomics messaging the film delivered.
Some players may also be unimpressed with its rough edges. While many of the characters bear an undoubtedly strong resemblance to their real-life movie counterparts – RoboCop’s partner Lewis is particularly uncanny – their mouths aren’t particularly expressive while talking. The supporting cast also looks positively last-gen, and the quality of the voice acting varies wildly.
For the most part it feels like a modern version of a movie tie-in from the era of the PS2 and the original Xbox. The characters are in there, the music is in there, it’s clearly been designed with real care for the source material, but it’s unapologetically basic at its core – go to the next point on your map, talk to people, go to the next point, shoot lots of people, occasional boss fight, repeat until the credits.
Even when the action takes a back seat and you reach a section where you have to do detective work, it’s never too taxing. You look around crime scenes and scan things, or have chats with specific characters, then continue. The game wants you to hit the marks you’re supposed to hit, and continue with the story.
The thing is, that isn’t a criticism. We found its self-assuredness refreshing, and we dare say some other players will do too. This is a game that doesn’t overcomplicate things – there’s no elaborate item crafting system, no service game tomfoolery, no shoehorned co-op or competitive multiplayer modes.
It’s just a solid action game with entertaining dialogue, laughably over-the-top violence, a story that has you keen to see where it leads and a protagonist who can punch enemies across a parking lot, all while showing clear reverence to the movies and characters it’s based on.
What it is, above all else, is evidence that not every game has to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes, as long as you’re RoboCop and you “have a large supply of bullets”, there’s a good time to be had.
RoboCop: Rogue City feels outdated at its core, but this actually works in its favour. With no pretensions that it's offering something revolutionary, the game focuses on delivering big dumb action scenes interspersed with entertaining detective work. It has an engaging story and well-written dialogue, all wrapped in a package that shows clear love for the source material.
- Satisfyingly over-the-top action
- Meticulously faithful to the movies
- Dialogue is well-written and entertaining
- Doesn't overcomplicate things
- Old-fashioned design may disappoint some
- Facial animations and NPCs look outdated