Crime Boss: Rockay City Feels Like a Half-Baked, Rushed Heist

Crime Boss: Rockay City felt a bit weird from the get-go. The crime-themed game was announced at The Game Awards 2022 for a late March release on PC (as an Epic Games Store exclusive) and immediately offered a 40% discount over its already budget-type price of $40. That offer lasted for two full days, only to be replaced by a 20% promotion off Crime Boss: Rockay City that stood active for the entire pre-order period up until the game was released today.

Needless to say, it’s unique rather than merely rare to witness such a promotion for a game that still hadn’t been launched. I had nearly forgotten about it, though, and as the release date inched ever closer, I reached out to PR to check out the game.

That’s when I was told that while Crime Boss: Rockay City code would be provided (albeit only a few days in advance, as it turned out), updates to the PC version and the full launch on consoles would be coming later this year, so it was up to me whether I wanted to wait until the most complete edition became available or just check it out right away.

This is also very unusual wording coming from PR and it immediately reminded me of the aforementioned pre-launch promotion. Adding two and two, I had an inkling of what was happening here and confirmed it after playing the game for some time.

The current version of Crime Boss: Rockay City can be essentially considered an early access release and a middling one, too. While there’s the skeleton of a potentially interesting game, much more meat (read: content and features) would be needed to actually get there.

Let’s take a step back for a moment and overview exactly the kind of game we’re talking about. Publisher 505 Games and developer INGAME STUDIOS didn’t exactly explain a lot about Crime Boss: Rockay City at first, leaving many to wonder about a possible GTA-like experience. The fact that INGAME STUDIOS is a Czech Republic-based team with former Mafia developers also raised hopes of an open world, story-driven game.

Nothing could be further from the case. In this title, the player manages the budding criminal empire of Travis Baker, the would-be king of Rockay City, mostly through menus, like in a strategy/management game. Then, when it comes to fighting turf wars and completing specific heists and robberies, the game becomes a first-person shooter, albeit not a very good one.

Once you’ve selected your crew, you are dropped in the immediate vicinity of your objective. The first problem is that the maps are extremely small and equally repetitive. You’ll quickly find yourself retreading the exact same scenarios, whether a robbery of a rival gang’s garage or a turf war under a railroad bridge. Crime Boss: Rockay City has roguelike elements, like permadeath for all the playable characters (including the big boss, whose death automatically ends the campaign run), and you would expect the genre’s signature extensive random/procedural generation of the maps to keep things fresh, but either there’s nothing of the sort, or if there is, it’s not nearly good enough.

Despite the playable areas being very tiny compared to what gamers are used to nowadays, oftentimes you can’t even enter most of the nearby buildings, thus restricting your tactical options to a very narrow space. Crime Boss: Rockay City does encourage players to take a stealth approach whenever possible during missions. Doing so not only improves your chances of succeeding in the objective and making it out alive, but it’s also supposed to help long term as the police collect more and more evidence against you on behalf of Sheriff Norris. I haven’t made it that far in a campaign run yet to see such an event, but I can tell you that the stealth system is far from perfect.

It’s unreliable with its detection, for one thing, which is incredibly frustrating at times. You have the option to intimidate NPCs at gunpoint, which is supposed to be the go-to option for guards and the like so they can be forced to lie down and be zip-tied. Too often, they’ll just turn around and start shooting instead, which will ruin all your chances at a non-violent operation.

The gunplay itself is decent but not remarkable in any way. The lack of an in-depth squad command system also feels like a huge missed opportunity, as you can only ask them to follow or stay put rather than any specific tasks. Sometimes they aren’t even that good at following, and the AI in general, both friendly and hostile, is not a strong point of Crime Boss: Rockay City.

Are there any? Well, if you’re into 80s movies, the game’s cast is a veritable all-star ensemble from the time. We have Michael Madsen playing the careless protagonist, Kim Basinger in the role of the cunning accountant, Michael Rooker as a football nut who manages Baker’s small army of foot soldiers, Chuck Norris as the eponymous and self-righteous Sheriff, Vanilla Ice and Danny Trejo as the heads of two rival gangs, Donald Glover and Damion Poitier (who was also on the game’s writing team) as the well-connected hands of the protagonist.

As with any game, though, or any movie for that matter, a cast of famous actors isn’t nearly enough to save the day if the rest isn’t where it should be. This brings me to the other half of the gameplay. Even on the strategic level, Crime Boss: Rockay City easily underwhelms. There isn’t much you can really do other than sell the stolen assets when it is most convenient (depending on the day, the price of electronics might be down, whereas weapons might be up, or the reverse) or take loans if you’re strapped for cash. You’ll have to manage the costs of your operations, but it isn’t that deep of a system to truly engage the player. Team members who have been on successful missions can eventually get a promotion, but it’s just a random perk instead of a skill tree like in XCOM, for instance, where you can really build your squad the way you’d like. Moreover, there is no option to fortify your bases and buildings against enemy assaults.

How does Crime Boss: Rockay City fare in terms of visuals and performance? Not any better than elsewhere. Powered by Unreal Engine 4, the game supports DLSS and DLAA, but the visuals are hideously oversharpened, and there is no slider or option to dial that back somehow. Performance-wise, it’s not terrible, but there are some stutters here and there that aren’t justified by the visual quality.

I haven’t played enough of Crime Boss: Rockay City to assign it a score, nor could I check out the other modes (Crime Time and Urban Legends, both of which seem geared towards PvE co-op), but I can give you my recommendation to hold off on this game until it is fleshed out a lot more.

In an interview with GamesRadar, INGAME STUDIOS recently said the game’s scope and ambition will ‘increase’ with additions like ‘new characters and scenarios, new heists, new jobs, and more’. That’s fair enough, but I wish they had been more forthcoming from the beginning about the amount of content and features that would be available from the Epic Games Store launch. As I said earlier, the right thing to do would have been to assign the early access label to this release.

This is a rushed job, as far as criminal enterprises go, and those tend to end badly. Still, I’ll keep an eye on further development, as we’ve had more than a few comebacks in recent years.

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