Crime Boss: Rockay City Feels Like A Celebrity-Stuffed Payday 2
I hope you like shooting cops because that's most of what you do.
Crime Boss: Rockay City seems to be trying to fill a Payday-sized void I'm not sure exists. Payday 2 will be a decade old this August but it's still getting new content in 2023, with the latest expansion, Hostile Takeover Heist, releasing in February 2023. Much like the Payday games, Crime Boss is a co-op first-person shooter where groups of four tackle heists and have to mow down waves of cops whenever things go wrong. Unlike those games, however, Crime Boss doesn't seem to offer as much freedom in how you plan a heist--it makes for a not-very-engaging experience, though I'm hopeful the story-driven campaign rectifies that shortcoming with its roguelite inspirations.
Developed by Ingame Studios and published by 505 Games, Crime Boss is an organized crime game you can play solo with bots or in a group of up to four. Prior to the start of a mission, you select your team of four from a roster of several characters, each with their own skills, expertise, and weapon loadout. There's some customization in terms of gadgets--you can switch out a collection of guard-distracting rocks for explosive frag grenades or information-gathering scanner grenades, for example--but the characters themselves cannot be altered. You work with the pros and cons you got.
At a preview event, I got to play about an hour of the game's Urban Legends mode, in which a group of four tackle small, three-part stories. The first thing I noticed about the mode was a lack of a planning stage, which felt like an odd omission. There are no maps to pour over, security cameras to hack into, or intel to discuss with your team. Each mission does feature a briefing during character selection, but they're not very informative beyond detailing what task you're attempting to do, whether that's stealing bags of cocaine from a yacht or shooting your way across a bridge.
This pushes every heist away from stealth, even if the voice talking to you via the radio in your ear suggests it's the ideal way to approach the mission. It's difficult to sneak your way through a level without a little bit of recon to inform your decision. This might have been alleviated if there was a way to scout a level once you're in the thick of it, but I didn't see a way to. Enemies in Crime Boss are also unreasonably observant--they spot you quite easily and once they do, every enemy in the area somehow knows the exact location of every person on your team, removing any chance to return to stealth. Once stealth is broken, the game transitions into a frantic first-person shooter where you have to shoot dozens of cops that swarm the area in seconds, hauling whatever you've managed to steal back to your escape vehicle.
Again, if you've played Payday 2, you're familiar with this formula. It's the same practically beat-for-beat. The big difference is that Payday 2 affords you more opportunities to plan prior to the start of a heist and then find numerous ways to gather additional information once the mission is underway. In Payday 2, abandoning stealth and going guns blazing is an option. In Crime Boss (or at least, Urban Legends specifically), it feels more like a necessity. Every mission I played resulted in a shootout with the cops, which is fun the first two or three times but after six or seven missions in a row, it begins to feel repetitive. The game doesn't do a very good job encouraging players toward stealth either given how easy it is to kill the cops--the challenge they present is found in numbers more than anything else--begging the question as to why my team should even bother committing to stealth. Sure, the game feels same-y if you don't try to mix things up with stealth, but there's no punishment for messing up and just finishing the assignment in a storm of gunfire.
I'm hoping Crime Boss' single-player campaign, Baker's Battle, is a lot better. While I didn't get a chance to try it, I was shown a video of what the story mode will look like. In it you play as wannabe crime boss Travis Baker (played by Michael Madsen), whose quest to overtake Rockay City is opposed by rival gang bosses Hielo (played by Vanilla Ice), Dollar Dragon (played by Danny Trejo), and the self-righteous and sword-wielding Sheriff Norris (played by Chuck Norris). Travis has a little help though--right-hand man Nasara (played by Damion Poitier), gang crew captain Touchdown (played by Michael Rooker), love interest Casey (played by Kim Basinger), and dirty cop Gloves (played by Danny Glover).
There's a stacked cast of talent voicing and providing mocap in Crime Boss' story but if the handful of scenes I saw in Urban Legends are any indication, they're working with a script that isn't all that compelling. The far more intriguing element of the story mode is how it will apparently evolve depending on how you tackle missions. The preview video said that Sheriff Norris will respond to your actions, coming at you harder if you leave incriminating evidence against Travis in earlier levels. Once Norris catches or kills you, it's game over and you'll have to start the whole campaign over. Borrowing from roguelite games, your next run through the campaign will apparently be slightly different, however. Levels you've played before will feature altered layouts and events in the story will play out differently, but any permanent perks you've unlocked in previous runs will carry over and hopefully allow you to get a little further than you did previously.
Baker's Battle sounds very cool and if the writing is better than what's in Urban Legends, I think that's where Crime Boss can most differentiate itself from Payday 2 and stand out as a compelling organized crime first-person shooter. We'll find out soon enough--Crime Boss: Rockay City is scheduled to launch for PC on March 28, releasing for Xbox Series X|S and PS5 at a later date.
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