RoboCop: Rogue City

RoboCop: Rogue City

Dead or alive, you're coming with me. Dead most likely.

RoboCop: Rogue City

Those that are of a certain age are going to be all over RoboCop: Rogue City – it screams 80’s nostalgia, and hits all the right notes for people like me that grew up on a diet of over the top action, unlimited stuntmen concealing gallons of fake blood in exploding packs, and dystopian future sci-fi.  Though, and this is the depressing part of the time continuum, it wasn’t far off 40 years ago and the world has moved on.  A lot.  This means that Teyon have a challenge on their hands in not only taking on an immensely iconic character and doing him justice, but also finding a way to walk the fine line between staying faithful to the source and not alienating newer generations of potential fans.  If they can find the right blend of action, intelligence and sense of time and place like they did with Terminator: Resistance, there’s every chance Robo will finally find his place in the gaming landscape.  I’d buy that for a dollar… but will any one else?

Whilst RoboCop: Rogue City does sort of recap the events of the Paul Verhoeven masterpiece and its follow up, it does it without much depth so here’s a primer for those not familiar.  Detroit police officer Alex Murphy is gunned down brutally during an attempted arrest of a gang.  The private company that runs the police departments, Omni Consumer Products (OCP), save his brain and a selection of organs and install them in a cyborg body, bringing Alex back as RoboCop, albeit without any memories.  Corporate politics come into play during the programme’s success and rival executives at OCP battle it out to discover who’s automaton is better – RoboCop or the more military focused ED-209 (the latter being mightily flawed and likely to see civilians as disposable).  Of course our hero wins out and clears the way to continue serving and protecting all the way to the sequel.  In comes RoboCop 2 which introduces the drug Nuke and sees OCP try and mirror Alex Murphy’s reanimation with questionable results.  You can guess the outcome of that pretty easily – these films aren’t known for their highbrow leanings, though don’t overlook the fact that the first film is Verhoeven’s retelling of the story of Jesus – and that brings us to where Rogue City stands.  It’s a great stepping off point for a new adventure, and neatly avoids the abysmal work that is the third film in the series.

Taking place some time after the second film, RoboCop: Rogue City has Alex Murphy still working out of Metro West in Detroit, clearing up the tail end of the Nuke problem.  With most of the major criminal gangs leaders taken care of there’s a power vacuum that has the local smaller gangs all vying for the top spot.  Of course, nature abhors a vacuum, and in steps “the new guy” to fill the gap and coerce the gangs into working with them instead.  What starts as a seemingly straightforward grab for power is anything but, and it’s not long before Robo is dealing with vendettas, disappearing police officers, and the secretive “Project Afterlife”; whilst simultaneously serving the public trust.  There are twists to be had, and an element of you as the player directing where some of the threads will lead, but mostly it’s a vehicle for moving you between baddie blasting action and methodical investigation.  It’s a solid, dependable story that manages to remain pretty compelling throughout, and for fans of the movies you’ll be toured through some iconic locations and scenarios, meeting familiar people and shooting many, many others in the face.  Yes, Teyon haven’t just brought in the human characters, they’ve brought the 80’s gore along for the ride too.

Core gameplay is split into two: shooting and investigation, and there’s a surprising amount of the latter.  The game kicks off with a superb set piece in a TV studio that really nicely sets up the story, and from there you’re effectively playing as RoboCop doing his day job.  This means wandering the police station talking with officers, gathering evidence, and even manning the reception desk.  With a familiar mission/side mission structure, RoboCop: Rogue City isn’t quite the linear experience expected and in many of the missions you’re given an open area to explore and solve crimes as well as fight hordes of enemies.  Whether it’s giving tickets for misdemeanours like parking in front of fire hydrants, or tracking down a killer, there’s a good variety of detective work available to take your mind off the main quest.  They’re all optional too, though seeing some of the side quests through will have impacts further down the line, as well as the benefit of experience boosts and fleshing out the world of Old Detroit.  Some of the core missions in the campaign are interesting as well, leaving you to figure out if you’re any good at bomb defusing, or psychologically analysing suspects.  All in, it’s a welcome structure that breathes life into the character and the small sections of city that you visit… and adds a break from the process of slowly walking through corridors and shooting everything that moves.

Murphy’s walking pace might not be up to much seeing as he weighs about the same as two fridges, so his signature Auto-9 gun makes up for that lack of speed.  Put simply it’s a beast, and even though you can pick up and use any weapon that’s dropped, you probably won’t because this is so satisfying.  Combat situations are pretty much you acting as a bullet sponge and picking off anyone in your crosshairs, with how much damage RoboCop takes dictated mostly by the difficulty level and the amount of grenade spamming going in (and it’s worse than most Call of Duty games).  You may think that being able to absorb hundreds of bullets fired your way would be boring, though somehow it’s not.  It’s fully in keeping with the character, and he’s not invulnerable – recharge packs and electrical breakers provide sources of power – though lower level foes aren’t likely to bother you too much.  Plus, we’re not talking having an agile character here with the movement skills of a ninja.  By the time you’ve got into any type of cover, that gang member firing at you with the submachine gun is going to have reloaded twice, so there has to be a balance.  Should they get within grabbing range then you can use your augmented strength to joyously hurl them into the air or against walls, or simply punch them very hard.  Whatever method of despatching used is going to be messy though.  Limbs get shot off, blood splatters in slow motion with punches, and headshots genuinely redecorate walls and leave chunks of flesh all over the floor.  Objects also disintegrate or explode and very quickly you’ll be looking at a room that’s going to need serious remodelling to remove all traces of the slaughter you’ve committed in the name of the law.

You’ll experience lots of those bloodbaths in the early stages even before levelling up both Alex’s skills and the Auto-9.  Awarded XP builds to convert to skill points that can be ploughed into a selection of branches on the tree, ranging from damage dealt to intuiting emotional responses in suspects, and opening up special abilities like slowing time or temporary shields.  There’s a lot to go after and focusing on side quests and finding documents yields the best way of gaining extra points.  It never feels like there’s a right or wrong direction to go in, it’s presented to allow that element of customisation and making RoboCop your own, but points are fixed once they’re assigned.  With the weaponry, PCB’s are found for the Auto-9 that enables stat increases and special effects, and these are unlocked by completing mini puzzles that route power around the board.  I like the way it works so that it’s combination of deciding whether to take a perk at the expense of a penalty, wait until you discover a new puzzle component, or sacrifice spare pieces in the hope of creating a new one that does what you want.  That said, once I had the board that enabled full auto fire and no reloading there wasn’t much incentive to swap anything out until the later stages of the game and the enemies got tougher.  Man though, was it fun mowing down rooms of bad guys with that monster.  Not that precision isn’t called for at times, there are snipers to contend with, weak spots on bosses, and hostages to rescue, so you can’t just blast continuously.. well, in theory, it’s not like the game punishes you for innocents getting caught in the crossfire.  Oops.

Coming back around to the movement speed, the slow walking pace means you get the chance to take in the sights created in Unreal Engine 5, and there are a lot of times where it looks absolutely stunning.  The application of detail, lighting and ray tracing make the soaked streets impressive to stomp through.  What is great though, and Teyon nailed this with Terminator, is putting in the recognisable locations and giving them the attention they deserve.  Metro West is brilliant with the entryway to the front desk and the locker room; a trip to the Steel Mill and the spot where Murphy was butchered is surprisingly harrowing; and any drug lab assault makes feel like you’re in the second film dismantling the Nuke empire.  Colour palette, film grain, clothing styles, grime, graffiti, radio adverts – it all combines to look and feel like you’re in that fictional version of Detroit.  The level of destructibility when fighting really helps cement the chaos going on with everyone trying to kill Murphy at once with the worlds supply of bullets.  RoboCop himself is wonderfully realised in the cutscenes and in dialogue sections throughout the game, and the reflections and rendering level means he blends beautifully into the backdrops.  The same can’t be said of the NPCs unfortunately, and even though character likenesses are good (like Lewis and Reed), they are sometimes a bit emotionless and static.  Think Starfield style conversations rather than Cyberpunk 2077.  RoboCop: Rogue City does however boast Peter Weller’s likeness and voice acting, so there’s an authenticity that really does pay dividends throughout the entire game.  In fact, all the actors do their roles justice, performing lines with just the right amount of 80’s brashness that makes them fit their clear stereotypes.  It really is a tonal fit for the movies.

I’ve been skirting around this part because I really have enjoyed RoboCop: Rogue City a lot and think there are loads of ideas that work, including it not outstaying its welcome with a respectful-of your-free-time game length… but it is a bit janky.  It’s good jank, granted, and doesn’t adversely impact how you play, it’s just a bit distracting and lends itself to the AA production moniker.  Mainly the issue is around textures and them loading in.  They’re slow to resolve right from the opening sequences and sometimes don’t manage it before the virtual camera has cut to another view.  Given during gameplay I saw no problems at all it’s a bit of a mystery, and must be something in the way the engine is being used to render the story building sections.  Every now and again something goes a bit screwy with the NPC animations or their location in a static chat.  I had two inhabit the same space at one point, creating either a homage to another 80’s classic John Carpenter’s The Thing, or just getting the positioning co-ordinates wrong.  There are the usual floating objects and weird ragdoll physics too, and given the level of intensity in the firefights I’m not too surprise, or critical for that matter.  None of the visual glitches have reduced playability or caused any form of crash, and it really is an aesthetic thing that people will either not care about, or make into an issue bigger than it is.  I would recommend steering clear of rest mode where possible as that appeared to cause a framerate hitch, though again it wasn’t distracting enough to cause problems.

If you’ve seen the original movies and want to pretend this is the third entry instead of the dumpster fire that is RoboCop 3, then have at it without hesitation.  RoboCop: Rogue City is a great game where the source material has been treated with respect and it’s pleasing to see that some developers are given the creative freedom to really put across their understanding of what an IP embodies.  The action, the gore, the corporate shady dealings, blue collar workers being oppressed, as well as the societal satire have all made it from celluloid to hard drive, and it’s been one of the most compelling games I’ve played in 2023.  Equally, you don’t have to have seen the films to enjoy what Teyon has crafted, that unfamiliarity should mean a few surprises crop up on the way, and missing Easter Eggs won’t detract from the experience.  However, if you’re looking for a cerebral examination of existential crises and musings on the God complex, it’ll not be found here in the hundreds of expended rounds of ammunition rolling in the pools of blood you leave in your metal clad body’s wake.

A PS5 review copy of RoboCop: Rogue City was provided by NACON’s PR team, and the game is out now on PlayStation, Xbox and PC for around £55 depending on platform.

The Verdict

8.5Great

The Good: Faithful to the character and setting | Variety in the experience | Solid story fitting with RoboCop

The Bad: Can’t hide it needs some optimisation | Those looking for deep and meaningful won’t find that here

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Matt

Co-founder & Editor at Codec Moments

Gamer, F1 fanatic, one half of the Muddyfunkrs DJ duo (find us over on Hive Radio UK), MGS obsessed, tech geek.


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