Welcome to Atlantic City: America's Playground, where the boardwalk is bright, and leisure is always the number one activity on the minds of its inhabitants, except there's a seedy underbelly to it all, and once you peel away the illusion of the American Dream you find a criminal underworld rife in the age of the prohibition, welcome to Omerta — City of Gangsters.
Omerta is management meets turn based combat strategy, think Tropico meets Jagged Alliance, except rather than building an empire from the ground up, you are shaping an empire with the two main tools at your disposal; land and businesses. After buying lots you can convert them into joints and establishments where you can raise clean or dirty money, produce precious illegal beer and liquors, or gain valuable storage space, and guns.
There's a clear divide between the management and combat portions of the game, with the clear focus on management that is carried out in real-time where your actions are only limited by the money in your pocket and the amount of gangsters in your team. Your wise guys can be sent out to take on drive by shootings, schmoose with informants, rob establishments and set up joints to kit out your business all very standard gangster routine, but occasionally a deal may go sour, and this is when fisticuffs get involved.
Now the turn based combat in Omerta is not as it seems, whilst it may look like the deep and complex Jagged Alliance, looks are deceiving, and developers Haemimont don’t want players engaged in a battle for hours on end, so they've streamlined combat, now don’t go gasping just yet, Omerta contains a very comprehensive turn based combat style. The combat is fast-paced, tense and rich with disposable cover, and each character gets three action types dependent on which type of weapon you give them, ranging from pistols to brass knuckles, shotguns and Tommy guns, allowing you to use each weapon tactically to your own advantage, and making no two fights the same.
In a confrontation you can bring four of your gangsters into the fray, and occasionally one for support giving you the chance to gain the upper hand before you even lay a finger on another person. Rather than play out in team based turns, each character will take individual turn determined by their initiative, so faster characters may get a few turns in before the slower ones! Confrontations are brought about by your actions in the management portion of the game, some fights can be auto-resolved and story fights must be played out, but if you’re wily enough, some conflicts can be avoided altogether.
Now a particularly unexpected choice is that in Omerta you'll never have to shed a tear for a lost gang member, as there is no permanent death in the 20 hour campaign, so each gang member that you pick and choose from the roster of dodgy guys and gals will stick by you no matter what, they just might spend a few weeks in prison if they happen to get caught wounded on the battlefield.
If there's one story we don’t get tired of, it's the climb to greatness, and Omerta has the good old classic thrown in there of two young Sicilian brothers with barely any money to their name that just about manage to scrounge up enough for one ticket to the promised land; 1920s American. Penniless and with nowhere to go, the older brother moves to Atlantic City working his way up the gangster scene, the question is, how will he do so? And what will this mean for his future? Which is where you come in.
Success won't just come to you however, and relations with respected members of society and other outfits are key to a striving business; the more liked you are the more effective certain establishments like boxing arenas and speakeasies will become. Not all of your friends are happy to have relations with dodgy-dealers which is why you can disguise your dirty, dirty money with a variety of fronts just like the gangsters in the 20s used, such as Soup Kitchens, house rental, even Pharmacies.
Now gangsters are never untouchable, and no matter how deep your money flows into the pockets of city officials and police commissioners there'll always be a troop of the boys in blue that are ready to pounce on you and launch a full investigation into your operation. Your heat rating governs this, and will increase as you continue your dirty transactions, inquiries can be remedied with fall guys or simple bribes, if you are owed a favour you can even call up on them, or if you're as tough as they say, you can go after the evidence right in the heart of police headquarters, but trust us on this one, you won’t want to go up against a force of policemen!
However in the world of gangsters there's always the chance that a deal will go belly up, and there is often a gamble had in anything that you carry out, occasionally a job will come up that promises a good sum of money for a few goods sold, but perhaps the buyer no longer wishes to buy as many as he originally stated, the deal was a setup all along, or in a proposed buy, the goods get stolen by some other crooks, the possible spontaneity of the game is refreshing, and we hope that the whole of the campaign and sandbox remains so impulsive.
With a 20 hour campaign, a sprawling recreation of Atlantic City, token sandbox mode and a multiplayer on the cards Omerta has a lot to show for, at the moment it is missing a bit of pizazz, but if you've yearned for the return of the gangster management sim, Omerta is looking like an offer that you can't refuse.
Omerta - City of Gangsters is scheduled for a release during February 2013 with a simultaneous release on Windows PC and Xbox 360, we sampled a good few hours of the game, but cannot wait to get some more time with it.