Crime Boss: Rockay City Review: A Star-Studded Disappointment

Crime Boss: Rockay City is a really unique and slightly ambitious game from developer Ingame Studios, but it unfortunately lacks the depth needed to make it stand out. You play as Travis Baker (Michael Madsen), a crime boss who has set up shop in a Miami-esque city known as Rockay City, while attempting to flee the clutches of Sheriff Norris (Chuck Norris) and navigate a chaotic power struggle with other crime lords. It's a proper rags-to-riches story as Baker attempts to build his crime family and become the dominant name in Rockay City.

In terms of the actual gameplay, it's very reminiscent of a stripped down version of a first-person shooter like Payday. You're not going to be elaborately planning out your heists by trying to figure out what tools you need, what doors need keycards, or anything that may require you to be more thoughtful with your approach. Everything you need is given to you and you'll largely find yourself shooting your way out of most of your heists. 

However, while there's a lot of shooting and thievery, the most interesting part of Crime Boss revolves around all of the management elements. In your base of operations, you have a wide array of choices to make. You have various materials (drugs, precious metals, electronics, etc.) that you can sell on the black market at various rates, loans that you need to take out and pay back, soldiers to manage for turf wars, and so on. One of the biggest things to manage is your crew. You can hire various people who come with their own pros and cons, though it will drain you of some of your ill-gotten gains. Some of these pros and cons are as simple as a crew member requiring a higher cut from jobs they go on, but it's balanced out by the fact they have better weapons than other potential hirees. However, you have to be wise. You can't just spend every dime on hiring people and leave yourself with little money, because there's an inherent risk: death means something in this game.

Each character can die a couple of times on jobs before they're actually permanently killed off and removed from your crew for good. Baker, however, doesn't have this option. If he dies, it's quite literally game over. The entire operation hinges on him, so if you choose to take him out on a mission (which you don't have to most of the time if you'd rather not take on this risk) and he dies, you'll have to start the game over from the very beginning. If Baker never goes on a job, though, he will never properly level up. 

Crime Boss has a great emphasis on risk versus reward, though it lacks the depth one might hope for. Before you go on a job, you'll be given an estimated value for whatever you're about to steal, however there's usually a little extra to steal once you're in the field. These are the kinds of things in a game like Payday that can give you a huge score or lead you to your ultimate demise due to greed. However, in Crime Boss, it rarely feels challenging. There's barely enough extra loot to even make it worth going back for and if you do it, it can be done so quickly and effortlessly, you're not going to be that worried that the cops or rival gang members are going to take you down.

This lack of depth can be found just about everywhere in the game and that really drags things down. The aforementioned black market changes its prices for materials based on a random percentage that tells you if it's worth less than normal or if its value has gone up. However, you have seemingly no control over these prices and there's no way of being able to understand when the prices may get better or worse. It would make more sense to give players jobs that allow you to impact the rates for these items in some way, similar to Grand Theft Auto V's stock market where you can target businesses to manipulate the value of shares.

(Photo: 505 Games)

When it comes to the jobs themselves, there's also not much to them. There isn't much planning beyond selecting who will be in your crew, so you're forced to just make it all up as you go along, which isn't exactly a strong recipe for successful heisting. If you're lucky, you can do it stealthily, but rarely does it feel like the levels are actually designed for that to be possible. You'll have to shoot your way out more often than not. If you somehow manage to do a job stealthily, your AI allies will probably cause a lot of headaches for you by cluelessly standing in front of cameras that can result in the cops getting called.

On paper, these jobs are varied and interesting ranging from turf wars, armored truck heists, strip mall burglaries, and so on, but they all feel like they boil down to doing some pretty run of the mill shooting every time as a result of the lack of play styles. The level designs also start to happen in the earliest hours of the game, making Rockay City feel quite small. 

Unlike something like Payday which has very unique jobs with all kinds of play styles, options for planning and executing the heist, and very specifically designed locations, Crime Boss' jobs feel repetitive and uninspired. Perhaps even worse, it's not even that hard. You really don't feel much of the heat because enemies don't put up a terribly tough fight and you can complete jobs within a few minutes without even having to rush much.

(Photo: 505 Games)

Perhaps all of this would be easier to look past or accept if the game's main gimmick – the celebrity performances – were good, but they're actually quite bad. With no disrespect intended to any of the legendary talent involved in Crime Boss, most of them are giving quite possibly the weakest performances of their careers. Chuck Norris and Michael Madsen stick out as the worst offenders with the latter feeling like he's being fed his lines as he records them. There are strange pauses mid-sentence or weird line readings that make it feel like they had to awkwardly stitch together different takes. It also seems fairly clear that they didn't record his scenes with some of the other actors and even if they did manage to do that, the fact it feels like they didn't is probably worse.

That's not to say everyone is bad, though admittedly, some are just phoning it in at a level that is just passable. Michael Rooker appears to be making the most of it and brings a level of energy that you'd find in his other work like Guardians of the Galaxy or The Walking Dead, which is refreshing. However, it feels strange to invest in all of this talent instead of using that money/resources to beef up the game's lackluster mechanics and underdeveloped ideas, especially when InGame Studios struggled to get worthy performances out of them.

Crime Boss: Rockay City isn't a terrible game, but it is one that fails to even scratch the surface of its own potential. Sometimes mediocrity is worse than being bad, though, especially when all of the game's most unique concepts feel half-baked and the core gameplay experience is average at best. For a game that draws immediate parallels to other highly successful co-op crime games, Crime Boss fails to make itself stand out and tries to cover that up with gimmick-y Hollywood performances.

Crime Boss: Rockay City is out now Epic Games Store. It will release on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, and PS5 later this year. A review copy was provided by the publisher for this review.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5