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Crime Boss: Rockay City is looking for a payday that ain’t coming

The upcoming co-op ‘organized crime’ shooter is anything but organized

A group of armed men approach another group in a dark alley in a screenshot from Crime Boss: Rockay City Image: Ingame Studios/505 Games

No matter how carefully you draw it up on the board, once an operation starts playing out, you can count on it going south. But adapting to the situation, and making the best of a mess, is what gives games like Grand Theft Auto Online or Payday 2 their emergent thrills — especially when you’re able to secure the bag.

Crime Boss: Rockay City from upstart developer Ingame Studios tries to emulate those moments with the vibe of a ’90s action flick, but the game itself is an example of an operation going south with little hope coming out of the other end with the bag.

I was able to get hands on with a little over an hour of Crime Boss, the four-player co-op first-person shooter that flexes its cast of Hollywood stars from yesteryear. After playing through five separate missions in the “Urban Legends” mode, I came away finding it tough to conjure up enthusiasm for the “organized crime” shooter. The game’s shallow mission design leaves much to be desired, and its foundational aspects — gunplay, encounters, and stealth — aren’t impressive enough to carry the weight.

My first mission started on a Miami-esque beachfront where my team of four had to eliminate a gang leader who’s posted up in a restaurant. Of course, it’s heavily guarded and it turns into a shootout. The target himself is a bullet sponge who I chased into a nearby apartment complex before wearing him down and getting the kill — standard shooter stuff. The next was an assault on a fortified warehouse, and four of us had to loot it for all its worth. It was an opportunity for a stealthy approach, but devolved into crouch-walking past guards in plain sight to start a shootout from the backdoor. Clearing a bunch of generic gangsters and lugging around bags of loot while trying to survive the swarm of a SWAT team had its thrills, but it underscored the floaty gunplay when trying to thin out enemies to make our escape.

A character portrayed by Vanilla Ice points in a neon-lit recording studio in a screenshot from Crime Boss: Rockay City Image: Ingame Studios/505 Games

The next two missions had my team reaching a supposed objective point, realizing it was all a setup, then trying to fight our way through well-armed mobs: an armored police force and rival gang members strapped up with assault rifles popping out of vans. It’s here where Crime Boss’ encounter design started to show its limits, sending enemies in large numbers without much care for challenging you tactically. All I could really do was hold it down at an extraction point or safe, calling upon my CS:GO and Valorant habits until it was time to move out.

The last mission felt like it could’ve been a highlight: raiding a yacht to snatch up tons of cocaine stashed in vases and statues — for money, not to get skied up. Cops guarded the obvious path forward, but an alternate path offered less resistance if you could find it. By this point, however, I began to see how the game’s stealth mechanics weren’t quite capable enough to support the notion that you can, and should, maintain a low profile throughout. And if you think you can slide between cover to get a silent takedown, just hope that the unreliable melee attack works in your favor, because as soon as you’re caught, all hell’s gonna break loose.

Image: Ingame Studios/505 Games

Compounding the problems with stealth and gunplay are Crime Boss’ operators — the characters you choose to play as in each mission. Each one has their quirks, perks, and nerfs, like damage output, movement speed, and how they’re affected when carrying loot, among other things. But they’re subject to fixed loadouts. If your roster of operators doesn’t include someone with silenced weapons, or at least a gadget to support a stealthy approach, expect to go in and get out guns blazing.

In the full game, due to arrive March 28 on Windows PC (PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X versions are also planned), you’ll theoretically build out that roster by hiring more operators with the money accumulated through missions. And if your character dies in a mission, then they’re gone for good. Although it’s a cool premise that adds stakes on top of a mission’s success, the lack of flexibility or depth with their loadouts in the demo left me with little to work with aside from a rifle or SMG that hardly makes a dent in the multiple SWAT squads barrelling down on my team.

While tasks and objectives changed from mission to mission, the overarching gameplay dynamic remained the same: Stealth it for as long as you can, then outshoot the swarm of enemies. There’s something to be said about improvising and adapting, using whatever you have and trying to make it work, but without the right tools (or any tools, really) to work with, you’re left with too few options.

A cowboy hat-wearing sheriff character portrayed by Chuck Norris holds an assault rifle in a screenshot from Crime Boss: Rockay City Image: Ingame Studios/505 Games

Whatever the hell is going on with the game’s characters isn’t going to make up for what Crime Boss lacks in gameplay, either. From the few voice lines I got to hear in brief cutscenes between missions, dialogue sounds like a table read for a script that never got revised (Chuck Norris being the worst offender). With the likes of Michael Madsen, Danny Glover, and Kim Basinger, I would hope for moments of dumb, self-aware fun to give a vibe of a cheesy crime thriller, but the tone and performances miss the mark. I struggle to imagine these aspects landing in a full story based on the preview’s snippets of corny dialogue and half-hearted delivery.

Crime Boss wants to hang its hat on a cast of Hollywood movie stars and celebrities past their prime, which is unfortunate when its core gameplay elements fall just as flat. The hope is that other game modes, missions, or characters create room for deeper tactical considerations, or at least lead to scenarios where objectives and maps set the stage for a better dynamic than the normal stealth-to-shootout-to-extraction flow. Because there’s space in the market for more four-player co-op shooters, especially the variety that encourages teamwork in moments of high stakes tension. I just don’t think I’m picking up what Crime Boss is putting down.

The next level of puzzles.

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