RoboCop: Rogue City Captures The Vibe Of The Movies And Benefits From RPG-Inspired Gameplay
A nearly unstoppable movie hero does not make for a very exciting video game protagonist.
RoboCop: Rogue City feels like a game trying too hard to emulate the experience of its inspirations. Having played a few hours of the game at a preview event, I'm a bit conflicted regarding how I feel about the upcoming sci-fi first-person shooter. Rogue City captures the look and sounds and overall feel of the first two RoboCop movies exceptionally well, but by sticking so close to the general vibe of those movies, it creates several moments that aren't very fun to play. It has good voice acting and some intriguing RPG-inspired elements working in its favor, though.
In Rogue City, you play as Old Detroit cop Alex Murphy, who, after being fatally wounded, is rebuilt as a cyborg called RoboCop. Armed with enhanced strength and durability, advanced scanning technology, and other cutting-edge tools, you're tasked with bringing lethal justice to the growing criminal element of the city. After a hostage situation leaves you partially damaged, however, you begin to remember your old life and the wife you once had, causing you to accidentally hesitate in a dangerous situation. With your higher-ups wary of your mental state and the general public unsure if you can be trusted, you have to figure out how to proceed forward case-to-case to earn that faith back, all the while shaping the future of Old Detroit. You can punish every crime with aggressive force, for example, or take the time to resolve things more amicably.
This game emulates the visuals, sounds, and just the general vibe of the original RoboCop and its 1990 sequel--the two best entries in the franchise--very well. Much like Alien Isolation or Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Rogue City feels genuine to the storyline of its respective franchise, recapturing the aesthetic and then squeezing a brand-new story into a familiar narrative framework. Rogue City obviously differs from games like Alien Isolation or Fallen Order by not tackling its world from the perspective of a never-before-seen main character. This does mean--at least at first glance from the few hours I played--Rogue City sometimes feels a little too close to the original RoboCop movies. Those movies already explored themes of control and free will through the lens of Alex Murphy, leaving Rogue City feeling like it's retreading old ground. It's too soon to make a definitive call on the full storyline, but I am worried that the efforts to keep Rogue City faithful to the vision of the original movies may result in the story ultimately feeling "been there, done that."
At the very least, I saw how Rogue City's faithfulness to the RoboCop movies' action resulted in what appears to be boring, uninspired combat. RoboCop is regularly depicted as a juggernaut of destruction in the movies, tanking bullets and dispatching criminals with the slow but lethal precision of a machine. Rogue City gives you a similar degree of power, which means you never feel like your life is in danger. I played through whole levels where, after a fight erupted, I just stood in place out in the open and slowly turned to kill everyone around me one bullet at a time. The health I lost from the experience was trivial, and given the prevalence of healing items--it seemed like I couldn't go more than three rooms without stumbling on a small cache to refill my inventory--it left firefights feeling too easy. A room of gunmen isn't an engaging challenge in this case, it's merely an annoying speed bump slowing down the momentum of the game's story. All that said, I was playing the game at its Normal difficulty. It's possible the game presents a more interesting challenge on Hard.
It certainly doesn't help that the shooting mechanics don't feel all that good. Presumably in an effort to match the slower and mechanical nature of RoboCop, you also can't adjust your aim all that quickly, and the recoil of automatic firearms makes it tricky to land headshots, which are the best part of combat because pulling off such a feat rewards you with a wonderful explosion of blood and gore that splatters against the environment with a satisfying slap. The expansive skill trees at least hint at ways of improving your ability to land shots with presumably late-game capabilities--like ricocheting bullets off walls to strike enemies from behind--but I didn't see these in practice during the preview, so I don't know how much they actually help.
And even if they do, your skill points feel better suited elsewhere. Rogue City features side quests, interrogations, and other RPG-inspired choice-driven moments, and spending points to increase your skills used in these areas gives you more fun options. I liked that unlocking the ability to inherently know which responses in dialogue best appeal to the common good gave me some direction during conversations and that unlocking more efficient scanning technology made it easier to find the necessary evidence to proceed on certain cases. There just seems to be more nuance and challenge on the RPG side of the game, where RoboCop can fail certain interactions, not end up with an ideal outcome, and have to find an alternative solution to the problem at hand. I'm curious as to how this side of the game might expand and evolve further into the story. Whereas the gunplay feels lacking, it seems like there's potential for the RPG-inspired elements to impact gameplay and narrative in interesting ways.
The story of Rogue City is a good time even in its familiarity. Seeing RoboCop fight against drug dealers with lethal force, struggle with his humanity and with remembering his past, and aid a crime-stricken city is hardly new for the franchise, and the eerily stiff facial models make for some strange conversations. But the voice acting is good, leaning into that '80s action movie camp that made the first movie so beloved by fans. Familiar characters sound and act as you expect them to, while a handful of new faces hint that this game could maybe go in compelling directions that we haven't seen in a RoboCop story before. Whether it's enough to carry the game through its seemingly lackluster combat remains to be seen.
Rogue City sits in a weird place for me. I love the way it looks and sounds, capturing the vibe of the original movies. I'm less impressed with the gameplay, however, notably how immaterial the combat feels where the protagonist is so strong, there's never any enjoyable challenge to it. I do think the RPG-inspired side of the game has some promise, especially if those elements are used to tell a fresh story for the RoboCop mythos. But until we get our hands on the full game, we'll just have to wait and see. RoboCop: Rogue City is scheduled to launch for Xbox Series X|S, PS5, and PC in September 2023.
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