Omerta: City of Gangsters Preview (Xbox360)

Easily Kalypso's most interesting title of the year so far, Omerta: City of Gangsters is one of those games where it's surprising how well things just work. A combination of two very distinct game-types, this is a game set in the Prohibition-era USA, where you must set up a criminal empire in Atlantic City and make it to the top of the underworld. It does this through the use of a top-level, Tropico style economic and management game, and an XCOM style turn-based squad interface.

As far as the story goes, your character (which you create from scratch by answering a couple of questions about your backing, which defines certain traits) has a brother whom you are trying to bring over to the US to be with you, which leads you to a life of crime. A long the way you end up in a position to start your own gang, and you have enough money to bring your brother along as well... the only problem is that in the interim, he got himself a job as a cop. It's a classic Brother vs. Brother gangster story, but this only really serves as context for you to experience the world of Omerta. In the campaign, the entire city is divided into sections, and each section represents one mission or chapter of the story. These take place in fully rendered versions of that part of town, and this is where the first of the two game modes come into play.

Why do I have to be Mr. Pink?

Unlike in Tropcio, you don't actually do much building or influencing the make-up of the area that much, as it's mostly all pre-defined, but the interface and the way the world lives around you is pretty familiar. All the buildings in the area will be interactive in some way, and they are all divided up by ownership: Your business, other gang's businesses, celebrities, private citizens, local law enforcement, store houses etc... every single one of them will have some purpose, something that you can use them for. The basics of this portion of the game are a simple economical imperative – make money, and because there are many different ways you can do this, there are many different aspects to this part of the game.

Running your own distilleries and speak-easy's, taking bribes, pure old-fashioned stealing... a lot of different scenarios are available for you to get involved in, and each has an effect on the world around you. There are resources that you can buy, sell and use for your own purposes, there's 'Jobs' that you can take which can involve any number of things (and that can go wrong), there's a GTA style 'heat' metre that will determine how the police treat you, and if an investigation is triggered you have many different ways of dealing with that, you can recruit a gang of up to six people, each with their own traits and specialisations, and you can even influence how much you are liked or feared (do you want to be the cool gangster, or the evil one?)

Every building in this screen will be relevant in some way

Eventually though, no matter what choices you make and how you manage your empire, you'll enter into a situation where shit is about to go down, which means fighting. This is where the second half of the game comes into play. Taking a page from XCOM's book, Omerta uses a turn-based squad combat engine to handle its engagements (assuming you don't auto-resolve). You get to choose up to four gang members, including yourself, to take into the scenario, and you have to make your way through the map (which will be a rendered representation of the building or area you are in) and complete whatever the objective is, usually popping some fools. Think of all the staples you'd expect from a mode like this, and it's pretty much there. Movement and action points, inventory, different weapons, persistent wounds (that carry on to the outside world, you'll need a clinic for that) and much more... if you fail one of these combat missions (assuming it’s not quest-related), your gang-members can be killed or jailed.

Despite Kalypso’s inconsistent success rate when it comes to their games, you know Omerta is in relatively good hands with Haemimont (the creators of Tropico), so at the moment things are on the up-and-up. This game definitely took us by surprise, and is one of those unique, interesting concepts that makes you feel good about PC gaming. And that’s without talking about the online competitive AND co-operative gameplay modes the game is supposed to have, which we can’t talk about because we don’t really know a lot right now. Definitely keep your eye on this one folks. Omerta: City of Gangsters is due out sometime in November 2012 on PC and Xbox 360.

Most Anticipated Feature: Seeing how the game holds up in ‘late-game’ stages, whether it gets repetitive or whether it still holds up.