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RoboCop: Rogue City - title

In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • Patrolling the streets of Detroit
  • Ticketing people who park like assholes
  • Player-driven exploration of RoboCop's psychology
  • Maintains the cynical, anti-corporate satire of the movies
  • Enemies that require aiming at places other than the head
  • Staggered auto-saves bailed me out of un-winnable encounters

WHAT I DISLIKE

  • Lengthy combat gauntlets
  • Health and checkpoint distribution
  • Ineffective cover options
  • Sniper enemies
  • Performance problems
  • Poor writing and dialogue
  • How the hell does chip-merging work?!
  • Not playable in VR

Overall Impression : C-
Too many tedious shooting gallery gauntlets;
not enough "Robo-Narc" role-play

RoboCop: Rogue City - cover

Developer:
Teyon

Publisher:
Nacon

Platforms:
PC (via Steam),
PlayStation 5 < (via retail disc or PSN digital download),
XBox S | X (via retail disc or XBox Live digital download).
(< indicates platform I played for review)

MSRP: $60 USD

Original release date:
2 November 2023

Genre:
sci-fi first-person shooter

Player(s):
single player

Play time:
15-30 hours

ESRB Rating: M (for Mature 17+) for:
Blood and Gore, Intense Violence,
Sexual Themes, Strong Language,
Use of Drugs

Official site:
robocop-roguecity.com/en

If not for overall "nostalgia fatigue", I probably would have been a lot more excited about RoboCop: Rogue City. I, like every other young boy who grew up in the 80's and early 90's, loved RoboCop. But the old 8 and 16-bit games of the era didn't really do the character justice. I'm honestly surprised that it took this long to get a modern RoboCop shooter. I would have thought that such an idea would have been perfect for the PS3 and XBox 360 era of dull, brown, military shooters. Maybe there were RoboCop shooters then, and I just missed them.

In any case, I had other games that I was playing when Rogue City released, so I put it on my eBay watchlist and waited for a cheap, used copy to come available. Joke was on me, as the game went on sale and was $5 cheaper on the PSN like the day after I bought my copy. But I wanted the disc anyway, so that I could pass it around between a couple friends who were also timidly interested in playing it, but not so much as to pay full retail.

If Teyon and Nacon really wanted me to buy Rogue City, then they should have given it full VR support. The RoboCop property seems like an ideal candidate for a VR game, and this game in particular seems well-suited to the VR medium. I mean, you're playing a first-person perspective as a cyborg! Being able to simply turn your head to point your gun in different directions to take down enemies from all sides would be perfectly in-line with the source material. Heck, it would even allow for blind shots with your back turned to an enemy. The slow walking speed of the character means players would be less likely to get motion sickness from free movement controls or nauseatingly-fast motion. Eye-tracking software could have potentially been used for tagging or locking onto targets, for some of the game's detective mechanics, and maybe to assist in setting up trick shots.

RoboCop would be perfect for a VR game! Too bad this isn't a VR game.

But alas, RoboCop: Rogue City does not have VR support. The potential is squandered on a simple first-person shooting gallery, that occasionally stops to be a light RPG about narc-ing on homeless people and writing parking tickets.

Robo-Narc

Honestly, the narc-RPG was actually the stuff that I liked most about Rogue City. I was having the most fun when I was patrolling around Downtown Detroit, issuing tickets, resolving citizen complaints, rescuing cats from burning buildings, and occasionally shooting up a drug den. There's a cathartic wish-fulfillment quality to spotting someone parked like an asshole, and slapping a ticking on their windshield. I think all of us (who aren't cops) dream about doing that from time to time.

Ticketing homeless people for loitering or littering is significantly less fun, which is why I usually let them off with a warning. I mean, it's not like they can pay the fine anyway, and they have nowhere else to go. I appreciated the game for giving me the freedom to let people off with a warning, and to not punish me with poor performance reviews, or something like that. I think upholding the law grants more experience, but there's plenty of opportunity for gaining experience without feeling pressured to have to throw the book at every loitering teenager or hobo sleeping on a park bench. In fact, the game often rewarded me for letting people off with a warning, by improving my "trust" rating with the general public, which resulted in better story outcomes at the end of the game. Apparently people like cops a lot more when they aren't callously writing tickets or gunning down perps without a second's hesitation. Who would've thought?! I'm sure it also helps to be a really cool, shiny robot man.

Writing tickets for asshole drivers is so cathartic.

There was probably room for Teycon to put more pressure on the player to uphold the letter of the law. The public trust system would probably also be more interesting in a larger, more open game, in which civilians are more present, and in which civilians might help or hinder the player depending on the public perception of your actions. Maybe that's an idea for any potential future sequel?

There's even a handful of characters who have branching stories and different outcomes based on whether you throw the book at them every time, or simply play the role of good-faith friendly-neighborhood narc. There's even a set of still vignettes at the end of the game (Fallout-style), telling the player how all these side characters fared in the end, and how your decisions influenced them. This is some genuinely good stuff. The player is free to do some open-ended policing and make moral and ethical decisions about any given suspect's specific circumstances. I wish more of the game were this!

Unfortunately, this particular aspect of the game's design is scaled down and simplified to the point that it is much less effectual. We don't have a large, open-world Detroit in which to cruise around patrolling for crimes. Instead, we get a small map consisting of a couple blocks of downtown. This same map is re-used multiple times throughout the campaign, just at different times of day and with different weather effects layered on top. Downtown at night, downtown in the afternoon, downtown during the rain...

The same tiny map is re-used for every patrol mission.

Yes, this is an excellent job of getting the most our of a single small arena. Returning to the same spot frequently also means that the player gets to interact with the same characters each visit. This helps to get to know them better, and allows them to have their own little storylines.

It also gets rote and repetitive, especially if you thoroughly explored the whole area in your first visit to find all the secrets and loot -- as I did. Perhaps if Teycon can cut or shortened 1 or 2 of the corridor-shooter levels, they could have created a larger downtown map, or included a second patrol map to add a bit more variety. And there's no reason why some of the characters couldn't have shown up in multiple maps (particularly Pickles).

An early upgrade gives away the
location of all crimes on the map.

Also, the fun of patrolling around the streets and writing tickets is ironically undercut by an upgrade (that is accessible very early in the game) that highlights the locations of all ticketable offenses on the map. This defeats the purpose of actually patrolling around the area and eliminates any of the player's power of observation. The first time I visit Downtown, it's up to me to notice that a car is parked next to a "No Parking" sign or a fir hydrant, and it's up to me to notice that a hobo on a park bench is eating from the garbage and throwing the wrappers on the ground (littering). In every subsequent visit, all of those things (and others) are marked on my map the moment the game loads.

I get if the developers want to include a helping hand for players who might be less observant, or who might have a disability that makes it hard for them to notice these things. That's fine. But maybe have that be an actual accessibility setting in the menu, and make the default effect of the skill be that it triggers an audio or visual cue that a law violation is nearby. This gives the player a helping hand, but still asks us to rely on our own powers of observation and intuition to find the actual crime. The way it works now just degrades the whole patrolling mechanic into a boring checklist of places to go on the map.

There's also some apparent legal violations that the player cannot issue tickets for. For example, early in the game, I saw a car parked in front of red paint on the curb. This should be an emergency zone, and parking there should be illegal. But there wasn't actually a fire hydrant, and the game did not recognize this as a crime that I could write a ticket for.

The game would not recognize that this car is illegally parked, and I could not write a ticket.

Adapting the wrong scene, ad nauseum

The bulk of RoboCop: Rogue City is a series of mostly-linear corridor-crawling shooting gallery levels. I did not like the vast majority of these levels, in large part because I felt they consistently turned into grindy gauntlets of seemingly-endless waves of "scum". I know that the original RoboCop movie is infamous for its indulgent violence and gore, but I wish this game had a greater emphasis on trying to de-escalate situations, using non-lethal force, and arresting criminals, instead of just shooting them in the face without a moment's hesitation.

One of the early scenes in the RoboCop movie involves RoboCop confronting a rapist who uses his victim as a human shield. RoboCop scans the suspect and the victim, and shoots the suspect's dick through the victim's skirt without hurting her. The guy presumably survives (after receiving medical care) and is arrested, and the hostage is saved. I would like to have seen more of that in this video game -- instead of just wave after wave of shooting gallery bad guys. I was hoping to be using RoboCop's superhuman reflexes and computerized accuracy to take out kneecaps and shoot the guns from criminals' scummy hands in order to arrest them or interrogate them.

RoboCop confronting a rapist
RoboCop, ©Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Orion Pictures (1987)
I wish there were more gameplay inspired by this scene from the movie...

The game isn't completely devoid of such concepts. There are multiple hostage situations that expect the player to take out a room full of bad guys before any of them can execute the hostages. Hostages dying isn't a "Game Over" either. Failure to save the hostages simply results in a lower score for the player during the post-mission evaluation, and possibly also a decline in RoboCop's "public trust" score. As such, these hostage sequences are the highest-pressure set pieces in the entire game.

There are also plenty of opportunities for the player to try to get creative with your gunplay, by allowing you to ricochet bullets off of certain walls in order to shoot enemies behind the back (where they may be lacking armor) or enemies who are hiding behind cover. These are nice, but I often feel like trying to line up these shots (as opposed to just shooting the bad guy directly) takes longer and just results in me taking more hits and damage while I aim for the ricochet.

Instead, most levels take more inspiration from a different scene from the RoboCop movie: the one where he bursts into a drug lab and shoots up the place. Except in the game, we don't really get to do all the cool behind-the-back, over-the-shoulder, or no-look shots that RoboCop gets to do in the movie. Instead, we just get to shoot the bad guys directly, or shoot exploding barrels, or ricochet bullets off of specific walls. Again, this is where VR would have added to the game, because it could potentially have allowed the player to pull off some of the trick shots in this scene. This scene is incredibly cool in the movie, and it's also cool to execute scenes like it in the game. It just gets tiring when most of the game is just playing and re-playing this same scene over and over and over again.

RoboCop raiding drug lab
RoboCop, ©Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Orion Pictures (1987)
... and less gameplay inspired by this scene.

Save-scumming corridor gauntlets

There are just so many bad guys to shoot. Even in those more intense hostage and breach situations, there are often so many enemies that clearing the room without taking significant damage or letting a hostage die can often feel borderline impossible without save or checkpoint-scumming. Most of these hostage situations happen in the first half of the game, when the player probably doesn't have very upgraded skills. So there just isn't enough slow-motion time available to hit every enemy before time returns to full speed, and they kill one or more hostages. Perhaps these hostage scenes are not designed to be successfully completed in a first playthrough? Perhaps they are intended to be bonus challenges for a New Game + playthrough, when the player does have more of these skills leveled up?

So many of these levels degrade to absolutely abysmal combat gauntlets of shooting wave after wave after wave after wave after wave after wave after wave of enemies. I must kill well over a hundred enemies in any single hour-long mission, not including all the enemies that I have to kill again because I die and have to restart at a checkpoint. The checkpoint distribution is also questionable.

The game will have a checkpoint before fighting certain mini-bosses, but no checkpoint after the mini-boss. So if I clear a difficult mini-boss by the skin of my teeth, only to die to the gauntlet of enemies in the hallway after the mini-boss, I have to go back and re-fight the mini-boss too. Similarly, the hostage situations sometimes don't have checkpoints right before them, so trying to re-load the checkpoint because a hostage was killed usually means having to re-play the shootout(s) leading to the hostage situation. Again, perhaps this was an intentional design choice to discourage players from save-scumming hostage situations and live with the consequences of failure? But those situations just feel so annoyingly unfair without save-scumming.

Hostage situations are intense, with actual stakes, but often feel unfairly-difficult.

Health distribution might be even worse than the checkpoint distribution. Levels will provide an over-abundance of healing items early on, but then have lengthy sequences of hallways and rooms where there are no healing opportunities whatsoever. In the first half of the prison level, I must have walked past at least 6 or 8 health charges that I couldn't use because I was at full health and already had the maximum number of charges. Then, in the later half of the prison mission (after a point of no return that prevents me from going back and picking up those extra health charges), the heavily-armored and heavily-armed mercenaries show up, and it felt like there were hardly any health charges at all.

I got to one point where I had to fight a mini-boss with multiple waves of armored mobs, but didn't have any healing charges left, and there were none to be found in the arena. The game checkpointed me just before that mini-boss and closed off access to the earlier parts of the level, so that I couldn't go back and look any of those health packs that I had walked past earlier. After several failed retries, I had to give up and reload an earlier checkpoint save (thank goodness the game staggers its auto-saves!), losing 10 minutes of progress. In the reload, I managed to make it back to that mini-boss with 1 health charge to spare, which proved to be just enough to get me through.

Healing charges are poorly-distributed within levels.

This game is also really stingy with cover. RoboCop can't crouch, so waist-high cover is useless to me. There's also no cover mechanic, which leaves very little effective cover to hide behind during intense gun fights. And even if I do hide behind what cover is available, it rarely matters, because the enemies surround me and chuck grenades. I haven't seen this many grenades since Call of Duty: World At War! The game will often lock doors behind me, which also means that I can't backtrack back out the way I came and easily get pinned.

There's exploding cannisters and stuff like that, which RoboCop can throw. But the gunfire coming at the player is just so pervasive, and coming from so many different directions, that any explosive object I pick up usually just gets blown up in my hand as soon as I pop out of cover -- if there was any cover to begin with.

As I progressed later into the game, I did appreciate the game's effort to change up combat strategies. Headshots are optimal in the early game, except against the occasional helmet-wearing enemy. Then, as more and more armored enemies start spawning later in the game, the player should start targeting other body parts. For many enemy types, aiming for the thigh or groin is going to be the most effective option because they are just so heavily-armored from the waist up. Many armored enemies are also not armored in the rear, so using bullet ricochet to shoot them in the back, or blowing up explosives behind them, is an easy way to get quick kills.

Armored enemies force the player to change up your combat strategies in the later stages.

Other attempts to mix up the combat don't work as well. A set piece with snipers in the steel mill was borderline unplayable for me. The game's framerate dipped dramatically (almost to the point that it made me nauseous), probably as a result of the large, open areas needed to accommodate the long-range sniper fire. Worse yet, this set piece exposed a massive dead zone in the analog sticks that made it almost impossible to aim my sniper rifle to attack the snipers. I would have to push the stick almost halfway to one side or the other to actually get the cursor to move, and when it would move, it would dramatically overshoot the target.

This wasn't a sensitivity setting issue, and I hadn't had any problems aiming the guns up until that point. Since I was playing on an Edge controller, I was even able to customize the deadzone of the hardware. I reduced it all the way down to 0, but still noticed a significant dead zone in the right analog stick. Adjusting the settings in the Edge controller helped smooth out the movement of the cursor, and made later sniper encounters easier, but I was never able to completely resolve the deadzone issue.

Even without a deadzone making aiming more difficult than it needs to be, the snipers themselves are unfair in that first encounter. As soon as I would pop around a corner, they would shoot me, and knock out over a third of my health bar. I'd back up to behind corner and try to line up my own shot, only for them to be able to continue to hit me through cover!

After a few attempts, with the game performance seemingly getting worse with each attempt, and it getting harder and harder for me to line up my own shots, I gave up and just sprinted through the level, using my shield ability whenever I was exposed to fire. Maybe this is what the designers intended the player to do to begin with? Then, when I passed the snipers and made it to the next cutscene, I quit the game. I didn't want to have to go through the ensuing boss encounter with the game's performance being what it was, and I was hoping that a reboot would solve the problem.

This sniper sequence was one of several blatantly unfair set pieces.

Looking forward to a bigger, better sequel...

Now, I will confess that many of the problems that I had with the missions being too long, enemies being too hard to kill, and health being too sparse and limited, might be my fault. I probably put too many skill points into skills like Focus and Deduction early on, and not enough into Combat and Vitality. But I was playing on the Normal difficulty level, which really should not require bee-lining to max out combat skills in order to remain competitive. And the game didn't do a great job of encouraging me to put points into combat skills. I dumped a few points into Combat and Vitality early, because the tutorial was brutally hard and killed me multiple times. But after the first open world patrol section, combat was starting to feel too easy, I never felt like I needed to use any of RoboCop's advanced combat skills, and I was getting major damage modifiers from gun upgrades anyway. So I started diversifying my skills a bit more.

When I started running up against walls of difficulty in the mid-game, I had already spent my skill points in non-combat skills. The game does not allow RoboCop to re-spec his skill points -- not even at the police station between missions. The only recourse remaining would be to lower the difficulty level for particularly hard set pieces and try to catch up on combat skills later. Don't put a skill tree in your game that gives equal weight to combat and non-combat skills, if 80% of that game is just shooting things, and prioritizing non-combat skills is only going to make your character non-viable! The Deduction and Psychology skill branches, in particular, should probably have some of their filler nodes removed.

Rogue City explores RoboCop's psychology and whether he is a sentient being.

I also want to give credit to Teyon for trying to examine RoboCop's psychology. The first movie is actually a very psychologically-driven sci-fi allegory that deals heavily with trauma, grief, and guilt, and how those experiences can bond people who shared the experiences, while alienating the person from those who don't understand. Much of that is incorporated into the game, which even asks the player to consider RoboCop's humanity. The game frequently stops to flat-out ask the player whether RoboCop is human, a simple machine, or something distinct (and possibly superior) from either. It also asks the player whether or not RoboCop should have human rights, which is an issue that becomes a plot point later on. The player is even free to choose how deeply you want to engage with these themes, as it often provides the player with middle-of-the-road responses, or the option to outright abstain from answering. And if the player sweeps these questions under the rug, you're not quite off the hook entirely, as the game will make those social and political decisions for you, based on how you play and whether your in-game actions earn you the trust and respect of the voting public.

And of course, Rogue City maintains the cynical, anti-corporate humor and satire of the movies, but the game is nowhere near as cleverly-written. The plot feels like it goes around in circles and is a bit messy. The characters in the game (including RoboCop) are incredibly dense, and need the entire runtime of the game to figure out what I knew the moment the villain's crimes were first mentioned (a couple hours into the game). Dialogue quality is also all over the place, due to both shaky writing and some not-so-great performances by the voice actors. This is worsened by the lazy cinematography, which frames every conversation almost exclusively as a series of over-the-shoulder cuts and reverse cuts. Very few cutscenes or dialogue exchanges have remotely interesting framing.

There is cynical cosmetic DLC that should
have been in the game to begin with.

Though it is worth pointing out that, despite the story of the game having anti-corporate themes, the game itself engages in some sleazy corporate business practices that actively undercut the artistic integrity of the product. Despite the gunfights being so difficult, RoboCop never shows any physical damage on his character model -- at least not until the final boss fight. This is because the publisher decided to sell a battle-damaged character skin as paid DLC, even though this is a single-player first-person shooter in which the player only ever gets to see that character skin during cutscenes. If there were going to be DLC skins, it should be things like RoboCop with his helmet off, or the silver and black costumes from the 2014 remake movie, or an actual human Alex Murphy skin (since that character model even appears in-game, and could probably easily be re-purposed as the player model).

Throughout my almost 30-hours with RoboCop: Rogue City, I alternated wildly between loving role-playing as RoboCop, hating the tedious corridor gunfights and bosses, and liking some of the smaller shootouts. Almost everything about this game is competently executed. The shooting works well enough, the broader story is serviceable, the writers completely get the themes and motifs of the source material (even if they struggled a bit to effectively communicate them), and the side quests are alright. About the only thing that completely falls flat is the weird micro-chip combining feature of the gun upgrades, which feels completely random and makes absolutely no sense. But there's nothing that really stood out to me as exceptional either, in order to make up for the game's weaknesses, most of which involve level design, balancing, and challenge escalation.

I do think that a lot of these problems could be ironed-out in a sequel. Maybe a larger, more open world that allows the player to patrol around in RoboCop's squad car and respond to crimes reported over his radio. Maybe some playable car chases or police pursuits. Maybe let us stop crimes in progress or enforce moving traffic violations. Maybe scale down the number of enemies and require the player to actually have to arrest and interrogate gangsters to acquire clues about those gangs' plans and motivations. And maybe make the game playable in VR. I do think that a sequel to Rogue City, with this team taking their experience from this game along with a higher budget to create a more thoughtful campaign, could potentially be a breakout hit along the lines of Spider-Man 2. This, particular game just isn't quite there yet.

The cynical, anti-corporate themes of the movies are present in the game.

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Silent Hill HD CollectionSilent Hill HD CollectionSilent Hill: Shattered MemoriesSilent Hill: Shattered Memories
Silent Hill: The Short MessageSilent Hill: The Short MessageSilicon DreamsSilicon Dreams
Sillent Hill DownpourSillent Hill DownpourSimCity (2013)SimCity (2013)
SimCity BuilditSimCity BuilditSomaSoma
Song of HorrorSong of HorrorSpider-Man: Edge of TimeSpider-Man: Edge of Time
Spider-Man: Shattered DimensionsSpider-Man: Shattered DimensionsStar Trek ResurgenceStar Trek Resurgence
Star Trek TrexelsStar Trek TrexelsStar Wars Battlefront IIStar Wars Battlefront II
Star Wars Jedi Fallen OrderStar Wars Jedi Fallen OrderStar Wars SquadronsStar Wars Squadrons
StellarisStellarisStellaris mod: New HorizonsStellaris mod: New Horizons
Still Wakes The DeepStill Wakes The DeepStranded DeepStranded Deep
StrayStrayTacomaTacoma
The Amazing Spider-ManThe Amazing Spider-ManThe Amazing Spider-Man 2The Amazing Spider-Man 2
The Callisto ProtocolThe Callisto ProtocolThe Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimThe Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim DLCThe Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim DLCThe Evil WithinThe Evil Within
The Evil Within 2The Evil Within 2The Last GuardianThe Last Guardian
The Last of UsThe Last of UsThe Last of Us Part IIThe Last of Us Part II
The Outer WorldsThe Outer WorldsThe SaboteurThe Saboteur
The SwapperThe SwapperThe Twilight Zone VRThe Twilight Zone VR
The Witcher 3 expansionsThe Witcher 3 expansionsThe Witcher 3: Wild HuntThe Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
This War of MineThis War of MineThis War of Mine: the Little OnesThis War of Mine: the Little Ones
Tomb Raider (2013)Tomb Raider (2013)Total War: AttilaTotal War: Attila
Total War: Rome IITotal War: Rome IITotal War: Shogun 2Total War: Shogun 2
Total War: Shogun 2: Fall of the SamuraiTotal War: Shogun 2: Fall of the SamuraiTrineTrine
Tropico 5Tropico 5U-BoatU-Boat
Ultimate General: Civil WarUltimate General: Civil WarUncharted 3: Drake's DeceptionUncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Until DawnUntil DawnVirginiaVirginia
VisageVisageWhat Remains of Edith FinchWhat Remains of Edith Finch

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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Without Gravity

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Featured Post

The Humanity of NCAA Football's In-Season RecruitingThe Humanity of NCAA Football's In-Season Recruiting08/01/2022 If you're a fan of college football video games, then I'm sure you're excited by the news from early 2021 that EA will be reviving its college football series. They will be doing so without the NCAA license, and under the new title, EA Sports College Football. I guess Bill Walsh wasn't available for licensing either? Expectations...

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A New Dawn is a more elegant Civilization board gameA New Dawn is a more elegant Civilization board game03/21/2018 Sid Meier's Civilization computer game seems ripe for conversion into a board game. The PC game is, after all, basically just a computerized board game that plays out on a grander scale. Sid himself was inspired by many classic board games, including Risk and Axis & Allies. Fantasy Flight has already taken a stab at trying to...

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