Saturday, January 20, 2024

First Play Review - RoboCop: Rogue City [2023]


I've made no secret of the fact that Paul Verhoven's RoboCop is my all time favourite movie. A violent sci-fi drama from 1987 fuelled with hilarious satire in a dark yet deeply prophetic vision of future Detroit. It's the story of Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) who is brutally killed in the line of duty and a nefarious corporation who turns him into a cyborg to prevent crime, and protect their investments. Throuhout the years I felt it would have made an interesting videogame but the franchise was only ever realised by the original Ocean side-scrollers of the 90's and something that only earned 22% in reviews from PC Gamer like Titus Interactive's RoboCop in 2003.

I was delighted in 2021 when I heard RoboCop was getting a real modern video game treatment from developers Tayon, who from all accounts nailed a Terminator game a few years back. Considering the state of a lot of AAA titles are released now, I was glad that a smaller AA studio would handle this as it can often be a labour of love and not something which demanded millions in sales for greedy shareholders. I followed the announcements and developments over the months and as soon as was announced, I signed up to be a beta tester for Robocop: Rogue City in the Summer of 2023.

We were given a three hour demo to evaluate, which was basically the first levels of the game. Using the power of Unreal Engine 5, it became quickly apparent that the interactive RoboCop simulator I wished for had become a reality!  The look and feel of Verhoven's vision had been captured beautifully, so 80's with the sights and sounds, satire and violence from not only the original RoboCop but also its 'adequate' but not as beloved sequel RoboCop 2; the game does thankfully not reference the abysmal RoboCop 3 except for foreshadowing at endgame, but only lore from RoboCop and 2 is included here and it plays like what a real RoboCop 3 should have been. I yelled audibly when an enemies head exploded in a shower of gore and cackled when I punched a perp through a glass window thirty storeys up! It was so impressive that I practically forgot I was meant to be evaluating it and recording bugs.

Crime is everywhere, including smokey backrooms of sleazy game arcades

The main bugs I did find in the beta related to some broken dialogue choices and an issue with some cutscenes and camera work on 21:9 Ultrawide resolutions but these were all fixed by the time a demo was released for the game in early October. This demo served two purposes: so people to evaluate if it would work on their PCs and I think it was also a calculated marketing move. It's relatively unheard of today to have a game demo and the way companies like EA release unfinished games like Star Wars Jedi: Survivor prove it's because they don't have confidence in their product. RoboCop: Rogue City publishers Nacon certainly had confidence and despite some early frame-rate issues (as with most UE5 games to be fair) these were fixed and the games eventual release in November 2023 was a massive success.

The full game is a work of incredible commitment on behalf of Teyon who clearly scoured over the movies, recording features and details at an extraordinary level in order to recreate the movie's style in the game. This is most evident in Metro West, Robo's police station. Many details are lifted from the movies and much is fabricated in the same style so that it feels just like the location on screen. Other locations seen are the disused steel mill where Murphy was killed and the industrial waste area where Bodikker and Robo had their showdown. While the game's story events are different, it's still in Old-Detroit and criminals invariably seem to gather in the same places, so seeing these familiar areas again was nostalgic.

RoboCop is not a chatterbox, but every line is delivered by Peter Weller himself

The game's audio isn't the highest quality. It was pointed out during the beta a few times that RoboCop's weapon the Auto 9 did not have the 'oomph' to the sound it had in the movies. The fact 100 testers agreed and it wasn't addressed has led to a belief that it was a permissions issue from MGM and Teyon/Nacon did not have free reign to use every exact sound lifted from the movies. One of the game's selling points had to be that Peter Weller was on board to voice RoboCop's synthesized dialogue. Despite his voice obviously being 35 years older, it didn't distract from his excellent performance. The talent for the other voice actors were somewhat mixed, VAs for Reed and Lewis were well imitated but others like Casey Wong and 'The Old Man' while well acted, sadly did not fit the characters well and it was a little jarring to the immersion. The game also benefits from many of RoboCop's original themes reused from the late Basil Poledouris' score but it was perhaps a little too subdued in places for where new music was created.

The game's gameplay will not be for everyone - but it should really be expected for anyone vaguely familiar with the character of RoboCop. This is an FPS and you are in the RoboCop suit so you're a slow moving tank making your way though pretty linear levels shooting everything that moves. No innovative gameplay here - but it's not needed as it would then not be true to the movies. The targetting and readouts of Robo's HUD are reminiscent of the movies but artistic licence was taken here as more game information needed to be displayed permanently than would have been necessary in the movies such as health, direction and combat info etc. It's not all mindless shooting however, there are some small open-world sequences allowing Robo to wander from one objective to another continuing the main investigation or side quests to follow his prime directives of serving the public trust, upholding the law and protecting the innocent by performing tasks like rescuing kittens from burning buildings or slapping parking tickets on illegally parked cars. There are many sequences which evoke the satire of the movies to varying degree, some of them are true gems.

While firmly an FPS there are some RPG-lite mechanics in so far as you have a 'quest list' of various objectives that help the main investigation and other associated police work. Level exploration reveals secret OCP ammo dumps to retrieve health batteries and upgrades for Robo's Auto 9 pistol (you do get the ability to pick up enemy weapons and used them like AK47s, Uzi sub-machine pistols or the Cobra Assault Cannon but 99% of the time you're shooting your upgraded Auto 9 because you rarely feel you need another weapon unless the game prompts you to use one at a specific time. You can also avail of a skill tree that allows RoboCop to become more defensive, offensive, better at deduction or technical tasks or reveal new dialogue options to gain more XP which in turn get you more points to spend.

Yes you are of course immune to fire

The story fits in nicely after RoboCop 2. The 'Nuke' drug is still the bane of the city, Mayor Kuzak is up for election and the arrival of a new criminal mastermind investing in the city's gangs have emboldened them to become more brazen and aggressive. Robo himself is still haunted by memories of his wife and son which caused him to glitch at a key moment so OCP put a chip in him to evaluate his performance as well as get him a psychiatrist to sort out his humanity and it becomes a theme throughout the game where you can make choices for Robo to either embrace his humanity as Alex Murphy or reject it to become a perfect product.

Final Verdict: RoboCop may not have the polish associated with AAA releases but it benefits from not having the bloat required by such higher profile games need to be successful. It also has what seems to be lacking ion AAA development of late: a team of developers at Teyon who unequivocally prove they adore the RoboCop franchise and concentrated on delivering an movie-quality experience without the injection of modern social politics. This is better than my expectations and if there's more to come, I'm there.

Technicals: 30 hours approx through Steam on Windows 11 with an RTX4070Ti @ 3440x1440 175Hz. Average  FPS: 160 with DLSS3

Bugs: Some crashes, about 5 usually after 3-4 hours of continuous play.

Purchase Options: Available on Steam for €49.99. Review copy purchased from GamersGate for €37.49 in Nov 2023.

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