Sandy Beech, my latest gang boss, is a complicated capo. Before breakfast (mine not his) he torched a speakeasy and a casino, shot three men in the gut and two in the feet. After breakfast he set up a soup kitchen, built a clinic, and rescued a nightclub owner from the klutches of the Ku Klux Klan.
I’ve no idea whether Sandy enjoyed his morning of slaughter and social work, but I know I did. Though Omerta lacks the humour and economic subtlety of Haemimont’s Tropico 4 there’s ample compensation in the engrossing campaign and cracking turn-based combat.
Sometimes unavoidable story events, sometimes the result of a botched heist or drive-by, the Action Point-funded skirmishes provide lots of tactical chin scratching and memorable lead trading. Shotgun blasts shatter furniture and send clustered foes reeling. Molotov cocktails loop through windows. Hoodlums lean from cover cradling chattering Tommy guns.
A combination of distinctive weapons, solid AI, plausible friendly-fire risks, and interesting damage twists (concussion, panic, blood loss... ) mean Omerta can hold its head up in the company of XCOM, Jagged Alliance and Silent Storm.
Most weapons boast several attack modes. At times it pays to trade accuracy for speed or spread, or to attempt to disable or discourage rather than dispatch. With a few extra outdoor maps, a less rigid cover system, and a ‘dead means dead’ difficulty setting (at present, defeated teams end up captured or convalescing) the violence would be almost unimpeachable.
More Capone-calibre harshness wouldn’t go amiss on the economic front either. At present, whether you’re playing the pleasingly varied and deftly tale-flecked campaign or the not-especially-sandy sandbox mode, it’s a bit too easy to go from struggling street punk to comfy crime-lord. Usually, once you’ve established a few businesses, hired a few hoods, and figured-out how to keep the law off your back, it’s plain sailing. Rival gangs tend to be passive, watching from the wings while you muscle in on their rackets.
Those with prior tycoon experience may find the simplistic supply chains, limited upgrade opportunities, and lack of ledgers disappointing. Gazing down on the atmospheric maps with their beetling streetcars and cruising jalopies, it’s sad to think that individual Omertians can’t be selected, mind-read, or caught in crossfire. This isn’t a game for avid anthill watchers.
Or for anyone with a tin ear. The scandalously uncredited soundtrack is a brilliant melange of period jazz, ragtime and klezmer. While police sirens wail and Chicago pianos riff, clarinets and Steinways are often doing the same.
Not as tough or as deep as it could be, Omerta is still a destination well worth a visit.
Expect to pay: £25
Release: Out now
Developer: Haemimont Games
Publisher: Kalypso Media
Multiplayer: Versus or co-op combat, 2 players