I have spent many years dreaming of a game like Omerta. In my mind, the concept of a Crime: Total War of sorts, that allows players to take over a city’s seedy underbelly through a mix of strategy and combat was extraordinarily appealing. So when I heard of Omerta, I was more than a little excited. But can the reality live up to the dream?
Aesthetically, Omerta is quite pleasing. Though the visuals are more cartoonish than realistic, this fits with the semi-farcical approach the developers have taken. Even so, the rain effects as a downpour drenches the city streets are downright beautiful. Like Tropico, the music is immediately catchy and memorable, with some of the best jazz and swing I’ve heard in a game (as well as an acoustic guitar track that would have been insane in Guitar Hero).The resulting atmosphere is at once charming, even romantic, blended with a darker, grittier feel just under the surface.
This surface is the strategy half of Omerta, wherein players set up illegal businesses, arrange heists, bribe or blackmail public figures and generally try to make as much cash as possible. The interface is fairly simple and intuitive, though the way the camera automatically jumps to a character any time they finish an assigned task can get a little annoying. The option to disable this would have been nice, especially as players can already jump to a character any time they like simply by clicking on their portrait.
Businesses are designed to be used in conjunction with one another, either by consuming a resource that another provides—as with a brewery and speakeasy—or by offering boosts to others’ efficiency—as does a bookmaker to casinos and boxing clubs. Businesses’ efficiency also depend on whether players are liked, feared or both, which result from the actions and choices players make. This both encourages a specialised approach to business, while at the same time leaving players free to play however they like.
Combat is where the city’s darker and more violent side comes out. Turn-based with tactical control of the entire team, the combat events are somewhat reminiscent of Fallout: Tactics. Weapons are varied and each type remains useful throughout the campaign, allowing players freedom of choice in how to build their team. I got through most of Omerta using an all-melee squad, within which I still had unique builds for each character. I was, however, disappointed that I could not modify the look of any gang members, not even my protagonist.
However, combat can become a bit of a grind at times, and itself offers no benefits such as experience, so players may be tempted to automate as many combat events as possible toward the end of the game to save time. Difficulty spikes enormously in the last couple of levels, with the sheer number of enemies sent against the player making many strategies—such as stealth/melee or blitz attacks—suddenly worthless. These levels can be extremely frustrating, especially as success or failure often hinges on luck; missing on 95% hit chance happens all too often, and at the worst possible times.
The Japenese Incentive (TJI) add-on is a separate campaign set within the original, which immediately improves upon the base game. All gang members from the main campaign carry over, though without any of their weapons or perks, forcing players to start from scratch. However, TJI makes up for this by providing five new gang members designed to wield the three new badass weapons types—the versatile but critical-dependent katana, the panic-inducing flamethrower, and the machine gun for players who can’t choose between a rifle and a tommy gun.
The most important addition, however, is the new gang wars. Previously, the so-called seedy underbelly of Atlantic City felt a little too peaceful, with nothing able to threaten players other than police investigations, regardless of who the supposed enemy was in each mission. TJI introduces AI opponents that aggressively competes for the same territory and try to run the player out of business.
This makes for much more defensive but engaging gameplay, as you won’t be dropping three grand on a labour union unless you’re sure you’ll be able to defend it. It also increases the use of firearms to attack enemy businesses, which were previously little more than a high-value resource. However, the AI’s rampant aggression drives away independent businesses, making any kind of strategy that depends on these—for protection rackets, insurance companies, trade or police scapegoats—all but useless.
Despite its frustrations, Omerta remains a charming and highly addictive game with enough customisation options to ensure replayability. Hopefully developer Haemimont Games will learn from its few mistakes to one day create the game I continue to dream of.