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Artwork of RoboCop with Detroit in the background from RoboCop: Rogue City Image: Teyon/Nacon

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RoboCop: Rogue City is at its best when it’s violent or mundane

The first-person shooter has underdog charm and personality, but not enough originality

Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Developer Teyon has carved out a niche for itself creating video games based on ’80s action classics like Rambo: The Video Game and Terminator: Resistance. Its latest, RoboCop: Rogue City, continues the story of the beloved cyborg of Paul Verhoeven’s ultra-violent satire in a game that’s rife with reverence, but short on refinement.

RoboCop: Rogue City mostly gets at what’s great about RoboCop. The shooting is solid, the satire is mostly on point, and it tries to be as much about the pain of Alex Murphy, the man inside the RoboCop suit, as it is about busting street slime. But Rogue City sticks too closely to the themes and story of RoboCop and RoboCop 2 instead of delivering something truly original.

Rogue City is set after the events of RoboCop 2, a film in which uber-corporation Omni Consumer Products had developed a new RoboCop to deal with the city’s police problem and the spread of a highly addictive designer drug known as Nuke. That drug’s spread and OCP’s still-in-development plan to build the gleaming Delta City over Old Detroit are at the heart of Rogue City’s story, which starts with a gang of Nuke dealers known as the Torch Heads welcoming a new power broker to the city. He’s called The New Guy in Town, uncreatively, and serves as one of RoboCop’s many antagonists in Rogue City.

The early hours of Rogue City are pure RoboCop power fantasy, as Murphy and his partner, Anne Lewis, storm a TV station where the Torch Heads have taken the entire staff hostage. Armed with his powerful burst-fire Auto-9 handgun, RoboCop trudges his way through waves of easily disposable Torch Heads, shredding their limbs from their bodies and popping their heads clean off with an infinite stock of bullets. Objects in the environment also serve as throwable weapons; RoboCop can throw computer monitors that blow up with a burst of electricity, and later in the game, there’s no shortage of full gas cans and propane tanks with which to explode your foes.

RoboCop shoots up a TV station office in a screenshot from RoboCop: Rogue City
RoboCop: Rogue City has plenty of things to destroy
Image: Teyon/Nacon

The heavily armored RoboCop can also simply and safely walk up to many enemies, grab them by the neck, and throw them like a ragdoll.

The opening moments of Rogue City deliver the kind of “shoot first, book ’em later” morally questionable action that makes RoboCop so fun. The wanton death and destruction reminds me of the original film’s convenience store bust, in which RoboCop does so much damage to the owners’ shop that they likely lost more money than the stick-up would have cost them. Either way, it’s satisfying to slay a bunch of sadistic goons, regardless of the bill.

As you sweep through the hallways of the TV station, guns drawn, RoboCop will occasionally encounter hostage situations in which he must act (read: shoot) quickly to save lives. Rogue City presents these moments as slowed-down “bullet time” shootouts, and RoboCop’s skill in these moments affects his overall evaluations from OCP officials throughout the game, which in turn affects RoboCop’s XP gain.

After the opening rescue mission, RoboCop and his fellow officers head back to a skillfully recreated version of the police station from the original film. At Detroit PD, Rogue City becomes more than just a run-and-gun first-person shooter. Players can freely explore the police station, practicing their aim at a shooting range and taking on side missions for RoboCop’s fellow police officers. These little diversions include things like manning the front desk and listening to citizens’ complaints — aka serving the public trust — and cute fetch missions, like having a “Get Well” card signed for another officer.

Dr. Olivia Blanche interrogates RoboCop during an evaluation session at Detroit PD in RoboCop: Rogue City
Characters will remember your choices
Image: Teyon/Nacon via Polygon

At the police station, RoboCop must also interact with a psychologist, Dr. Olivia Blanche, who has been hired by OCP to investigate why its celebrity cyborg cop is experiencing glitches. These conversations with Blanche and other characters are presented as Mass Effect-style dialogue sequences in which players have a range of possible responses. Players can be empathetic, standoffish, and confrontational, and their choices can have (often unclear) ramifications for how others perceive RoboCop.

These dialogue moments are intended to explore RoboCop’s humanity and identity. Conversations with Dr. Blanche lean into RoboCop’s sense of self: Does he perceive himself as just a machine programmed to uphold the law? Or is he foremost a human being, with free will and immense power to mete out justice by any means necessary?

Out on the streets, RoboCop can similarly interact with the people of downtown Detroit through dialogue, whether they be fellow cops in need, law-abiding citizens, or minor offenders. As he chases down The New Guy and various gang leaders, he’ll visit downtown Detroit, investigating leads and gathering evidence. These overarching missions are interspersed with smaller side activities: writing tickets for illegally parked cars, issuing warnings to graffiti artists and drunks, and clearing out gang stashes of drugs and stolen goods. During some missions, you can choose whether you want to strictly enforce the law by issuing tickets or let people off with a warning. These choices determine how NPCs feel about you; in one example, I came down hard on a graffiti artist, for which he later retaliated by putting up an elaborate “Robo is a dick” mural.

RoboCop speaks with a pair of hooligans outside of a convenience store in RoboCop: Rogue City
“Cloth-eared hooligan” is one of the game’s many curious language choices
Image: Teyon/Nacon via Polygon

These kinds of decisions can also extend to much more impactful choices, including whether RoboCop sides politically with one of two mayoral candidates and whether to assist a citizen journalist in tackling corruption at OCP. Some of these choices can be frustrating in the moment, as their impact might not become clear until much later in the game, if at all.

Downtown Detroit is one of a handful of self-contained locations you’ll visit multiple times. It’s a tiny open world that’s just big enough to be believable, thanks to RoboCop’s tank-like walking pace and a variety of small businesses and other interiors you can visit. The game’s other locations are more traditional FPS levels: a prison during a riot, an abandoned slaughterhouse, and the Old Detroit steel mill from the original film. The game’s locations are all meticulously detailed, matching the rundown grit and grime of Verhoeven’s film.

There’s a decent amount of variety in the weapons you can use, but nothing feels quite as good as RoboCop’s thundering Auto-9. An amusing, puzzle-like upgrade system for the Auto-9 helps to break up the monotony of using that particular gun, however. RoboCop can find (or is given) multiple motherboards for his sidearm, which can be customized and upgraded with collectible components. One motherboard layout might offer more armor-piercing power, while another gives RoboCop an autoloader for the pistol, meaning he never has to reload.

Beyond the street-level scum cannon fodder, there are a few unique encounters and boss-level battles. Yes, you’ll fight an ED-209 multiple times, but the most interesting run-in with OCP’s attack dog is when you’re paired with it during one mission. As you fight alongside the ED-209, you’ll be pitted against it to see who can take out the most foes in a short window. These little moments of differentiated action are few and far between, but like the mundane fetch quests that help humanize RoboCop beyond highly efficient crook-killer, they give Rogue City a distinct personality that taps into what makes the first two RoboCop movies so enjoyable.

An ED-209 fires bullets in a warehouse scene from RoboCop: Rogue City
Hey, remember this guy?
Image: Teyon/Nacon

Rogue City often leads too hard on those films to mine the depths of its own premise, though. The plot is mostly a rehash of the first film’s story of an evil corporation trying to squeeze the poor out of Old Detroit. Even the game’s main villain has a confusing tie-in to one of RoboCop’s big bad guys, and his evil plan is never quite cogently explained. Dialogue is full of one-liners that reference lines from the original film, including a particularly painful delivery of “Bitches, come” from Rogue City’s stand-in for the aggressive OCP exec Bob Morton. For some reason, Clarence Boddiker’s line “Can you fly, Bobby?” is elaborately spray painted on multiple walls. Many of the jokes don’t land, and much of the acting is pretty flat.

RoboCop: Rogue City is also rife with technical issues. On PlayStation 5, even in performance mode, the game’s frame rate can be choppy, slowing down to the point where I was sometimes unsure if I’d somehow gotten stuck in its slo-mo bullet-time presentation. Enemies often get stuck in (or pass through) floors and walls. In dialogue scenes, the game has a consistent, distracting visual hitch that appears whenever the camera switches. Even prerecorded video segments have glitches, as dialogue will desync and sometimes loop incorrectly. I had one full-on crash, but thankfully didn’t lose much progress thanks to Teyon’s frequent checkpointing and autosaves.

Despite its performance problems, RoboCop: Rogue City’s heart is in the right place. It’s trying to be the RoboCop 3 we should have gotten, featuring the return of original RoboCop actor Peter Weller as Detroit’s cyborg supercop. But it’s the mechanical half of Rogue City that’s often a letdown, with performance and story problems that get in the way of making RoboCop’s new game a truly great shooter.

RoboCop: Rogue City will be released on Nov. 2 on PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a pre-release download code provided by publisher Nacon. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.