Crime Boss: Rockay City Is a GTA Wannabe Bogged Down by Too Much Cringe
Inverse Score: 6/10
Chief Norris skims through a folio of local crime lords, using the tip of his massive Magnum handgun to turn the page, despite the fact that he’s riding in a helicopter during a rainstorm, barely listening to some butt-kisser thank him for coming to help clean up Rockay City.
“Alright,” he says after the helicopter lands. “Let’s ride.” He says this with the same enthusiasm one might have for driving to the hospital for a colonoscopy as he steps out of the copter. Never does he stow the Magnum.
Somehow, this isn’t Chuck Norris’ weirdest scene in the newly released Crime Boss: Rockay City. Game Director Jarek Kolář isn’t afraid to make Chief Norris ride a horse through a nightclub or deadlift a cop car. Publisher 505 Games has billed Rockay City as “a star-studded co-op organized crime game FPS,” which is technically true in this spiritual successor to the Payday series. While the game’s more ridiculous beats do elicit some chuckles, consistently cringe writing and wooden performances had me laughing at Rockay City more often than I found myself having much fun in this uneven fever dream.
“Let’s Take a Few Turfs a Day”
The titular Rockay City is a former fishing village in Florida that eventually became one of the biggest international ports in the United States, second only to New York. These days, competing criminal empires have transformed it into a neon-drenched sin city of “vice and crime,” where nobody asks whether or not these are the same thing.
Cutscenes make it look like Las Vegas meets Miami, but the actual gameplay is dour, dark, and repetitive. It’s Gotham City without a Batman or colorful villains to keep things interesting. Instead, we get a collection of crime boss stereotypes that fails to effectively leverage a legitimately solid cast.
Michael Madsen stars as Travis Baker, a vaguely southern kingpin with a grating voice who wants to take over the city. But like the rest of the cast, we never learn much about his motivations, goals, or backstory. Though Rockay City offers a “Crime Time” mode full of quick solo or co-op heists and six mini-campaigns in the increasingly difficult “Urban Legends” mode, the real flagship here is “The Baker’s Battle.”
A procedurally generated roguelike campaign, The Baker’s Battle puts you in Baker’s shoes as he vies for total control over Rockay City after its previous “king” is blown to smithereens at a party. Conceptually, the flow of Baker’s Battle is surprisingly brilliant and fun with a lot to do: You recruit new crew members, take out loans, sell your various stolen goods and drugs for cash, make investments and, of course, embark on high-stakes missions to take turf and eliminate the competition.
“You’re being attacked? By whom? Rappers!?”
The tutorial does a solid job at establishing the core gameplay loop, regardless of what mode you’re playing: With your squad of up to four, you’re given a task that typically involves infiltration, intimidation, and theft. You can scream at anybody with a gun drawn and force them to the ground to be zip-tied. You can also destroy security cameras to make infiltration smoother, but there’s really no simple way to do that.
More often than not, mission objectives say you have options and should attempt a stealthy approach, but doing so is impossible when enemies cluster together. Shoot a camera? Everybody is suddenly on full alert, and the cops get called in. Virtually every mission amounts to a chaotic gunfight where bullet-sponge enemies blend in with the surroundings, which makes for a challenge that too often feels unfair. Why can’t I cut the power to freak out enemies? Why can’t I blow something up on the other end of the pier to distract them? Why can’t this be a little bit more like Hitman?
If the gunplay were better or the character perks a bit more interesting, things might be different. But as it stands, every time you step into the FPS portion of the game, it’s the same smash-and-grab job with janky getaway van animations. The deeper you get into Baker’s Battle, things get more interesting — particularly if you can scrounge up a few real-life crewmembers to assist.
I have to imagine that there’s a legion of crime-loving gamers out there who may delight in Rockay City’s glorification of vice. But I can’t help but wince when Vanilla Ice’s crime boss Hielo (which means “ice” in Spanish, by the way) turns to call a woman a “bitch” while in his recording studio. She’s high off some drugs Hielo stole from Baker and keeps interrupting him. This happens repeatedly, and the game seems like it wants us to be on his side. 10 years ago this would be surprising, but in 2023 it is downright disappointing.
Games like Grand Theft Auto still haven’t managed to tastefully incorporate female characters with agency, and Rockay City is yet another disappointing example of that. Even Kim Basinger’s Casey, Baker’s sultry financial manager he constantly objectifies and flirts with, seems deliberately engineered as little more than eye candy. The dialogue across the board is littered with campy little comments as if every other sentence is a character testing out a new catchphrase.
Michael Rooker’s football-loving Touchdown is Baker’s general, managing the frontlines of the turf war. Rooker does a solid job with the delivery throughout, but the poor writing doesn’t do him any favors. Even if you love puns, you’ll wince when he says, “See you in the end zone, mofo!”
Rockay City has something interesting in its novel campaign structure, and its modest price tag currently discounted to $31.99 makes it an outright bargain. But there’s not enough to appreciate that warrants anybody to stick around for more than a random night with some buddies. The whole project is clearly a loving homage to the glory days of ‘90s action flicks, but the tone-deaf execution misses the mark. But how long can that hold your attention for when your multiplayer game time is far better spent elsewhere?
Crime Boss: Rockay City is now available for PC via the Epic Games Store, which is the version Inverse reviewed. It will be released for Xbox Series X|S and PS5 sometime in June 2023.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.