Omerta is a code of silence and honor that most Mafioso types try to live by. It involves noncooperation with authority figures and law enforcement, even when you yourself have been a victim of a crime. Likewise, Omerta: City of Gangsters, seems less like a game that's trying to engage the player and more a game that's taunting the player with its own internal code of silence and noncooperation.
Your character, or The Boss, immigrated to America during Prohibition. In an attempt at a story there's some sort of background about a brother getting left behind while The Boss tries to establish himself in the new world. It's very undeveloped and is more flavor than anything else. Even when playing the story mode and advancing the plot, it seems very lackluster and in some cases unnecessary. Playing the main game is like playing a directed sandbox mode. You grow your criminal empire in the way the game dictates (because of 'story' issues) and then move on once you're done with your objectives. You either succeed or fail, with no interesting or engaging story development in between. The game basically boils down to a game of statistics.
For you strategists out there, no, a game of statistics is not a bad thing and is the basis for many great games. But Omerta takes the concept of a stat based game and slaps an obstructive interface over it that makes it hard to focus and aggravating to play. For example, one of the resources that you have to manage within the game are buildings that serve multiple purposes. You can create a distillery to make illegal liquor for your gang, or build a speakeasy to sell the illegal booze that you've gotten your hands on. But there are three types of buildings that can be built in the game, with a total of 28 different businesses' that can be put inside. The only way to see what type of business can be put into these buildings are to rent the building and then look at the options once you've spent the money. There is no convenient in game method of reminding you before you've blown your cash. Now, for a rich gangster with loads of dough to blow this isn't an issue. But for a small time guy (like your character when you start off) or for a neighborhood with limited property (like many of them are), this can be an issue. Now there is a Help interface in the game. But the Help interface doesn't actually give that information, it gives combat information. In order to get a listing of what business goes in what building, the player has to go into the Steam menu and open up the owner's guide. Adding insult to injury, the owner's guide doesn't actually list the function of each business, only its name. Surely there was room for an extra tab in the Help interface that could have given those lists in an easy to access manner.
When you do interact with businesses’, you can do it by clicking on an icon above the building it’s housed in, or by clicking on an icon on the bottom of the screen that shows all the buildings and business’ you own. This allows you to upgrade the business, check on its efficiency and so on. However, let’s say that I want to upgrade my distillery. While I'm doing that, I have my screen centered on a point of interest that I need to send a gangster to when I get one available. If I click on the icon on the bottom of my screen, the camera automatically zooms over to that building. I found this to be incredibly frustrating and annoying. I didn’t want to go look at the building, I just wanted to manage it. If I had the option of say, double clicking to center on the building that would have been awesome, but it did it automatically every time.
The camera for the game itself was incredibly odd as well and I found myself having a hard time getting used to it. Clicking in the mouse button rotated the screen and moving the mouse to the left or right…sometimes moved the camera up and down. The mini map of the game shows a green trapezoid over the map. The widest part of the trapezoid shows the direction the camera is facing, which is based on how you rotated the camera. When you move your mouse it moves it based on the trapezoid’s orientation on the mini map. Not the actual way your mouse is moving. So I had to adjust the trapezoid by clicking in my mouse wheel and get it facing in one direction only so that I could move my mouse normally and know which way I was going to move on the screen. With the camera constantly jerking around the screen I almost thought I was going to get whiplash. And it completely and totally took away from trying to enjoy the visuals. They put a lot of little details on the map. People are walking around and cars are driving on the streets. The buildings have nice little details and embellishments to make them more realistic. But I couldn’t even focus on them because I didn’t want to rotate my camera and then have to twist it around again so I could navigate more easily.
Clicking on buildings isn’t the only thing that re centers the camera. As you progress through the game, your character gets gang members who can help do missions and combat objectives. Each of these characters is fairly shallow personality wise and none of them do much to stand out. They’re distinguished by their portrait picture and stats, nothing more. But when they complete a mission, you have to click on their portrait in order to turn the mission in, which automatically centers the camera where that gangster is on the world map. The automatic centering completely takes away from any map exploring that the player might be doing.
Another point of contention is the resource management itself. The game had a very interesting concept and idea in terms of the goods that your character deals in. In order to complete objectives and earn money, you can buy and sell booze, liquor and firearms. You can also deal in clean money and dirty money. Multiple map missions rely on these resources and your gangsters can be sent on mini missions to obtain or sell these items for you by accessing a separate map. However, the missions on this map change at a rapid fire pace with no warning as to how long they will stay. So if I see someone selling 15 firearms for $400 and someone buying 10 for $600, I may want to buy those firearms and make a quick turnover. But I have no idea how long those missions will actually be available. By the time I’m done buying, the sell mission may have disappeared. This mini map also has interface issues. When you’re just looking at the available missions, you can look to your hearts content before clicking on an exit button. But if you select a mission and send one gangster to do it, the game kicks you out of the mini map and back onto the main screen when you’re done. You now have to enter it again if you want to send another gangster on a mission.
The game’s main focus and energy seems to be on the combat system. Each gangster has different stats and abilities that help them in the turn based combat system that you can enter to resolve certain conflicts. Some conflicts have an auto resolve button, allowing you to skip the mini game, but all ‘storyline’ dependent missions require you to control your characters. When I say the games main energy seems to be in the combat system, it’s because the combat system has the best and easiest to deal with interface in the game. You select your actions when it’s your characters turn, select the portion of the screen you want them to move to or the character you want them to attack and off you go. It’s simple and easy to manage.
However, even the combat system isn’t without its flaws, which start even before the game begins. When creating your Boss character, the game gives you a series of questions that help determine your stats. For example, it asks out of three options, which was the reason you left Italy to travel to America. Each option you pick changes your beginning stats. Because the game doesn’t indicate otherwise, I thought each question would influence your beginning stats and nothing else. This isn’t the case. When asked what weapon your character would prefer in a duel, each answer has stat changes underneath it, like -1 Toughness or +1 Smarts. It doesn’t indicate that your answer to this question also influences your starting weapon. If you pick fists, your starting weapon is fists. If you pick Pistol, there you go. It seems counterintuitive and obstructive to the player because if I want to start off with a Pistol, I may have to accept a stat change I don’t want in order to get a better starting weapon.
And the combat system continues to put unnecessary obstacles in the player’s way. Each character/gang member has Talents that they develop as they level up. They all vary and all of them give different cool abilities that can be used in game, such as the ability to throw a grenade or the ability to heal others. However, the game does not let you see what Talents each gangster unlocks as they level up. So it hampers your ability to put together an effective team because you don’t know what they’re going to be capable of. So when I have the option of choosing between two different level 3 Burglars, I have to look at their stats only and hope the one I’m picking has better Talents unlock than the one I’m leaving behind. It seems silly and strange that the game would not tell you what the Talents were so that you could make more informed choices when selecting your squad.
Omerta is such a disappointing game. All the basics were there and all the elements for a successful game, but they are so hampered by the interface and controls. The game plays fine and everything works, but so many little annoyances and aggravations with the interface made it not very enjoyable to play after a while. Some tweaking of the controls would have gone a long way towards making this game a solid hit. As it stands, Omerta is one of those games that falls tragically short of its potential.