Come quietly, or there will be… trouble
If you’re anything like me, and you should be because I’m cool as hell, you hate cops but love Robocop.
Robocop to me is one of those perfect movies that came out at the exact perfect time watched by me at the exact perfect time in my life. It’s perfection that can only come from the era where the resources of the studio were limited by reality and you dealt in outlandish premises and bought into them with equal ease.
Robocop is a perfect cyberpunk dystopia to me. I’m not in love with a sleek, modernist future where everything is glass-towers, white sterility, and smooth, rounded designs. Cyberpunk to me is about the grim near-future, or even the present, with the ‘cyber’ part jammed in like a sharp bit of rusty rebar.
I want to see the decay I experienced growing up. I want the dilapidation I saw living in a dying town for most of my life. Toxic industrial estates ran decades past their prime filled with people who had the prime of their life stolen from them. Greed propagated by propaganda by all levels of wealth. I want concrete, cables, neon and chrome.
I want Robocop.
Robocop represents that best idea of what I’ve always loved in Cyberpunk. There’s something fucking real about it. I’m not, by any means, someone who thinks all media before the 90s was better by virtue of limitation. Upgrade is a fantastic contemporary example of what I like to see in Cyberpunk. Still, I feel like the more and more film making advances the more of that grit we leave with it.
It’s a movie about a robot cop for fuck sake and it manages to just feel real. It’s everything, from the premise of OCP just buying the police to RoboCop himself on a quest to hunt down Red from That 70s show.
I could keep writing about what RoboCop means to me until the editors remind me this was prompted by a game I’m supposed to review. There’s a genuine love in my heart for it. It’s one of the movies my late grandad let me watch with him when I was far too little to be watching a guy get obliterated by ED-209. It could be special for that reason alone, the feeling that memory gives me, but it isn’t. There’s so many.
RoboCop: Rogue City helps me recapture the feeling of all those memories. It’s a game where the developers had to contemplate authenticity to RoboCop and gameplay. They did this for what I can only imagine was about five minutes at most.
Rogue City is a faithful, breath-of-fresh air from a studio that is absolutely awesome at delivering authenticity on a budget. (and maybe this constraint is where the authenticity comes from) Rogue City is a little bit of a confused RPG Shooter based around being RoboCop. This isn’t a themed shooter in which you are playing as RoboCop but rather an attempt at delivering the experience of Robocop.
You are slow. RoboCop stomps around the maps with a ponderous, thudding gait, exaggerated by the use of the original footstep doof-doof-doof used in the original film. It changes pitch and echo as you step from concrete to metal to whatever else you tread under foot.
You aren’t very maneuverable. You have access to a dash, if you upgrade into it, but for the most part your gameplan as RoboCop is to walk forward at the slimebag and kill it. There’s no jumping, or ducking behind cover. RoboCop stands in front of danger. He is the danger.
You are limited. RoboCop can use other firearms as he finds them, and some are truly effective, but you will be engaging most of the scum you encounter with your Auto-9 Pistol. It comes with its own upgrade system that provides a fun little minigame to optimise your output with it and change its handling. The most difference you’ll feel will be auto-fire, burst-fire, or single-fire.
You are RoboCop. You might be Alex Murphy. This is an RPG, make no mistake, and fully-voiced acted by the iconic Peter Weller. You’re in the driver’s seat of RoboCop finding his place amongst the violence and chaos of Detroit. Are you still Alex Murphy under there? Are you OCP’s lapdog? Do you enforce the law as it’s written, or do you try to serve the public? It’s a fun and thoughtful element, especially in the side quests, but it can feel a little binary with its choices of Be A Bastard and Be Not A Bastard. There’s not enough moral ambiguity in it to make it that sorta interesting. I don’t really think there can be.
You’re a privately owned cop, killed on the job, resurrected against your will and classified as an object rather than a person. It’s hard to root for the option where you go ‘yep, that’s fine, I like that’, especially when you’re in control. It’s how it’s meant to be. It’s not as if Verhoeven was keen on letting the audience walk away thinking OCP were actually the good guys.
I respect the developers, and I respect their decisions for the most part. This is a game made by people with the same type of love I have for RoboCop. I felt that. I felt that in Terminator: Resistance too. It’s a passion project delivered by people who I feel like are improving with each release.
I’m not in love with the gameplay of Rogue City. I might have skewed my experience by playing it on Hard, but in fairness, I play all games on Hard the first time around for the most part. I don’t think it changed the experience that much.
I was exhausted by the slog of gunning down mooks who, for the most part, couldn’t harm me. (and if they could harm me, they’d nearly instantly kill me no matter how much I invested into my defence attributes.) It’s to do with the authenticity vs gameplay aspect. Robocop obviously shouldn’t be hurt by a goon with a gun… but the world is filled with goons with guns.
Special enemies and Bosses are the only things that try to engage with this part of the gameplay, and it’s imperfect at best. Sometimes they’re spammed at you and it just gets annoying. Sometimes there’s just a couple and once you take them out you’re left to make your own fun with the leftover mooks.
You don’t really do much interaction with bad guys apart from shooting them and talking to them in cutscenes. There’s no arresting anyone for bonus points or anything like that. The only incentive in the form of challenges you get for EXP is how many more bad guys can you kill than the other cops on your team. I guess I can’t expect much from a cop, even RoboCop, but there were missed opportunities for more engaging gameplay I think.
When you do get to interact with people outside of gunning them down by shooting their nuts, hands, and whatever other limb off, the game is at its best. Peter Weller’s voice is iconic, whether he’s doing RoboCop’s stilted, robotic delivery or his pre-programmed one-liners, and he’s the star of the whole thing. A lot of the other voice actors, those in particular emulating characters from the original movie, have ups and downs in their performance throughout the game. It’s nothing to take me out of the experience entirely but it did make me pop a brow when some delivery seemed more robotic than RoboCops.
When you’re neither talking or shooting, the game’s visuals work perfectly for keeping you engaged. Rogue City isn’t a graphically amazing game but the visual design they lean on truly wowed me in some moments. The entire Steel Mill section was glorious, this barren, toxic-laced wasteland with rusted metal and abandoned infrastructure. It had an atmosphere I haven’t felt in a game like this since STALKER.
Overall, it’s good the developers knew when to end Rogue City’s story. It was becoming tedious, the gameplay, and the bright spot of feeling like RoboCop was fading enough to make me notice it. A lot of games outstay their welcome and it taints your memory into something negative. Like a ‘thank god its over’ type of feeling. Rogue City ended at the right time.
Rogue City is a diamond in the rough. Where it sparkles, feeling and emulating RoboCop, it shines bright. Everywhere else is a little scuffed up. That’s okay though. The gaming world needs 1000s more Rogue City type games than it does another Open-World Action Adventure RPG with Crafting and Survival elements trend-ticker.
I don’t think there’s anything here if you don’t love RoboCop. I think the same if you’ve never experienced RoboCop before as well, but unlike the former, you have the ability to fix that.
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