Developer: Haemimont Games
Publisher: Kalypso Media
Haemimont Games will be trading their medieval trappings and tropical dictatorships for 1920's Atlantic City with their next strategy title, Omerta: City Of Gangsters. Prohibition-era America is a ripe yet under-used setting for strategy games, barring Zynga's Mafia Wars, and Omerta plans to make the most of the seedy battles over bootleg liquor.
Taking its cues from various popular gangster stories including The Godfather and Boardwalk Empire, Omerta starts with a familiar setup. Players assume the role of a young Sicilian immigrant who arrives in Atlantic City to make his fortune, ending up becoming a small-time player in the sleazy organised crime underworld. Things are quickly complicated in fine melodramatic fashion by their younger brother enrolling in the police force, leading to a complex family dispute that will see family ties strained to the limit.
From a gameplay standpoint, Omerta is essentially going to be two games in one. Constructing a thriving underworld empire through underhanded dealings and massive corruption will require some high-level strategy simulation, while dishing out mob justice boils down to tight and tactical turn-based battles. If a 1920s fusion of Tropico and X-COM tickles your fancy, perhaps Haemimont are about to make you an offer you can't refuse.
Though sandbox and skirmish modes are available, the main meat of Omerta will be found in the story campaign. Upon selecting an area to expand into, you'll be treated to an isometric 3D view of the district, as individual citizens bustle around the streets doing their daily errands. In the middle of the chaos lies your hideout, from which you'll expand by tapping into a network of shady contacts. Every district plays home to numerous independent breweries, speakeasies (secret bars that sell illegal alcohol), distilleries, warehouses and places of interest (such as city officials and police headquarters), all of which can be treated as valued partners or potential rivals. Using a slick and streamlined interface, you'll rent properties, construct your own network of money-making enterprises and decide whether to buy out the opposition or crush them under your patent leather heels.
As a mafioso, naturally, drive-by shootings, raids, ambushes and even shopping rivals to the police is all in a day's work.
Each mission has a preset objective, such as amassing cash, running out rivals or crushing an enemy faction like the KKK, but you'll always need to construct a profitable foundation. Specifically, you'll need to amass several different currencies and resources to succeed: dirty money, clean money, beer, liquor and firearms.
Dirty money - earned by selling booze from Speakeasies, illicit boxing rings, protection rackets, counterfeiting and other pleasingly nefarious methods - is your primary income, used to trade goods and construct underground operations. Alternatively, you can employ accountants and launderers to convert it into clean cash, which can be spent on legitimate construction jobs and above-board business deals. Breweries and distilleries (not to mention brazen warehouse raids) churn out beer and liquor, which can be bartered on the black market or sold through your speakeasy infrastucture. Firearms, though valuable as a commodity, can also be consumed to carry out drive-by shootings and other offensive actions. There's a lot to keep tabs on in Omerta, but becoming the don is much less complicated than it sounds.
In order to keep things as streamlined and simple as possible, Haemimont have put the focus on individual gangsters. Each member of your family is represented by a portrait on the bottom of the screen, which yields instant access to their statistics or provides a simple way of tasking them with your legal and illicit activities. Upon commanding them to conduct a deal, buyout or drive-by-shooting, you can sit back and watch them go about your business. By doing away with insanely complicated menus, Omerta plans to make players feel like a mob mastermind rather than a glorified accountant or micro-manager. On the flip-side, though, this can lead to long periods of waiting around while all gang members are actively on-mission.
You won't be the only criminal in Atlantic City. Numerous mobsters and independent operators inhabit the seedy seaside town, all of whom boast their own personality and offer a range of services. Some will trade resources or offer to influence how much you're liked and feared by the populace. Like real people, however, they're prone to surprising and irrational behaviour, which will lead to all manner of emergent random complications. Perhaps a socialite will offer to expose you unless you reduce your price. Maybe a corrupt cop will fancy taking you in rather than selling you contraband. The random nature of these encounters is set to keep players guessing and ensure that the experience remains fresh throughout.
The police will also be a constant thorn in your side. Illegal actions increase your heat level, eventually resulting in a full-blown investigation. If the cops manage to complete their investigation, it's game over, meaning that finding creative ways of circumventing their sleuthing becomes an essential part of the game. Resident deputies or city officials living in your area can be bribed for future favours, or backhanded payouts slipped to the investigating offers. More adventurous types can even try to break into police headquarters, while canny players will manipulate the heat level by building safehouses, employing lawyers and limiting their ambitions.
Sooner or later, though, you'll have to get your hands dirty. Whether you're assaulting a police station, breaking a compatriot out of jail, administering some rough justice or pulling a daring bank heist, Omerta eventually offers up a selection of isometric turn-based battles for four of your gang members. Taking between five and fifteen minutes to complete, these missions are a welcome dose of surprisingly hardcore action.
Once again, Haemimont do their best to ensure that things are kept simple and straightforward. Gang members and enemies act in order of initiative, expending movement and action points to run between different cover points and fire their weapons. Each enforcer, depending on how you decide to specialise them, have access to a small selection of weapon-specific skills (such as crippling foes with a baseball bat or laying down suppressive fire with dual revolvers), while the refreshingly accessible interface highlights cover locations and visible foes.
Ease of use shouldn't be confused with ease of play, however. The AI is incredibly ruthless even on default difficulty settings, providing a stern challenge and punishing players who don't position their troops effectively. Factor in the depleting courage meter, which can lead to your team becoming panicked under fire, and you've got a recipe for some incredibly tense firefights.
Interestingly, despite the tough challenge, gang members can't be killed outright. If critically damaged and not revived before the end of a skirmish, your mobsters will be apprehended and incarcerated by the police, becoming unavailable until the next mission. Deciding whether or not to risk yet more imprisonments (and increased heat level) to break them out will be another matter entirely...
These short and sharp combat encounters provide the basis for Omerta's multiplayer element, which will allow players to compete or cooperate in matchmade battles. Completing missions will accrue persistent currency to purchase new weapons and increase the power of your troops, a doubtlessly addictive draw.
All told, Omerta: City Of Gangsters is looking very interesting indeed ahead of its February 2013 launch on PC and Xbox 360. If Haemimont manages to infuse the simulation and strategy with an authentic gangster feel and fully unite the two disparate gameplay styles, they could well be on to a winner.