Hollywood icons meet a glitzy, sun-drenched Miami-like underworld in this action crime shooter.
I won't lie, I wasn't expecting a lot from Crime Boss: Rockay City. It may have been prejudicial, but the recent preview coverage matched up with the delays, the live service angle, and the fact that it won't be coming to consoles for a few months all made for a product where I didn't have the most confidence upon kick starting my review process. However, I have been surprised, because while this game has some clear problems and issues that it needs to work through, it's still a fun title to spend a bunch of hours with.
Set in a 90s Miami-like city called Rockay City, the idea of this game is to take up the mantle of Michael Madsen's criminal protagonist Travis Baker, as he wages war on the rival gang bosses of the sun-drenched metropolis, all with some help from friends like Kim Basinger's Casey and Danny Glover's Gloves, and while evading police and law enforcement headed up by Chuck Norris' Sheriff Norris. Yes. Very creative names. The gameplay essentially revolves around completing robbery jobs to fund your empire, while Michael Rooker's Touchdown does the dirty work of claiming and defending territory across the city.
In terms of how this all works in practice, Crime Boss: Rockay City is essentially just a first-person action shooter. The game will tell you that you need to plan and be smart about your heisting, but running in guns blazing and leaving a trail of bodies is just as effective, and is actually far easier than attempting to plan something out. Why? Because (as it tells you many times) Crime Boss is not a heisting game and therefore lacks the options of a heisting title like Payday. You don't have multiple ways to tackle a job, it's very linear in how things play out, and the stealth systems are so badly adapted that it is near impossible to do a job without all hell breaking loose.
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Fortunately, the gunplay is pretty excellent. If you've played a Far Cry game, you'll see a lot of similarities with how Crime Boss feels to play, as the weapons come across as a bit heavy and tough to handle, but at the same time deliver a realistic impression in the hands of a criminal that hasn't been trained by the military to operate a fully-automatic firearm. It's not the actual gunplay and controls where Crime Boss struggles, it's rather in the activities and elsewhere.
And I say this because Crime Boss: Rockay City is a one-trick pony if I have ever seen one. If you like heading into a small level, smashing crates, lockpicking safes, and busting vaults with drills, all while holding off hordes of incredibly dumb police AI, then this game has all of that in droves. In fact, it basically exclusively has this. Every robbery mission (be it a bank, jewellery store, warehouse, strip mall, etc.) can be boiled down to doing exactly this same thing every time, which means that Crime Boss' campaign and other game modes become very repetitive very quickly. And before I touch on what at least attempts to save the campaign from this purgatory, let me tell you that the Urban Legends and Crime Time modes are just ways to play these robberies without the campaign's choice suite backing them up. They lose their charm almost instantly.
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But anyway, the campaign. This is where you will spend most of your time in the game, and thankfully, the roguelike nature and the choice suite does at least keep things interesting here. As you can't let boss Baker die on a mission as the game will be over and you'll have to start from scratch, there is gravity to your choices, even if the roguelike nature does make the game easier as you continue to play (that being said, I almost beat the game on the first run and only lost due to getting greedy when robbing a jewellery store, which shows just how pathetic the AI and challenge is). The player choices add to this by allowing you to decide who you recruit, which turf you attack, which weapons you own, which job to take next, which assets to buy to increase your wealth and reputation, and a whole slew of other things that make being a boss more exciting. It all combines so that you can get lost in the campaign, even if the voice acting, characters, and narrative does it's best to dissuade you.
To many, the star-studded cast of Crime Boss: Rockay City is probably its biggest draw, but with that comes a lot of disappointment, as some of the characters are just exhausting. I'm a huge fan of Michael Rooker but his character, Touchdown, is such a caricature that it becomes tiring to deal with him, as he speaks exclusively in American football rhetoric and metaphors, and when I say exclusively, I really do mean it. Add to this Kim Basinger's Casey who simply exists to be eye-candy and to sexualise the game, the rival bosses like Vanilla Ice and Danny Trejo who have very little impact on the story whatsoever, and then worst of all, Chuck Norris' Sheriff, which is a character that really does feel like Norris put 10% effort into it, as the lines are delivered robotically and about as dull as they can get - granted the dialogue is pretty horrible itself, so it's not like he has much to let down here.
The narrative is also unmemorable and flat and if the gameplay loop of gunning down cops, filling bags with drugs, gems, gold and cash, and then transporting them to an exit vehicle (which I did find fun for the four days I have had to review the game) doesn't grab you, then Crime Boss: Rockay City doesn't really have anything else whatsoever to hold your attention and entertain.
Still, the game seemed to play well on my PC (RTX 3090 and 11th Gen i9 CPU), with the title holding a solid and fluid frame rate while playing on the maximum graphical settings. But just because it has a rather striking presentation and works well at a fundamental performance level doesn't change the fact that certain aspects, like the AI, are quite frankly atrocious. If you intend to play solo, just know that you will need to bark orders at your squad to stop them from walking out into the street to get gunned down by police, and that you will have to tell them to do anything that requires a bit of initiative. The police do at least level the playing field a bit by attacking you in an unbelievably predictable formation that requires very little thinking and strategy to overcome. The solution to one of these problems is, of course, to play cooperatively, but as we all know, finding and scheduling a play session with three friends isn't always the easiest thing to arrange.
All in all, Crime Boss: Rockay City is not a disaster of a game but it is also definitely not a title that we'll be shouting from the rooftops about either. For anyone looking for a glitzy, 90s-inspired Payday (because there is enough of a heisting focus for me to want to compare the two) that doubles down on its first-person action shooter gameplay, then this will give you at least a few hours of fun before you want to devote your time to something with more longevity.
5 / 10
Gunplay is solid. Good performance. Striking graphics. Gameplay is generally fun.
Gets repetitive quickly. AI is atrocious. Characters are poorly imagined. Lacks exciting additional game modes.