RoboCop: Rogue City Demo Review
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Contributed by DJMMT
I went into RoboCop: Rogue City as a self-identifying fan of the franchise with no serious expectations based on a foundation of diehard fandom. When I first saw footage of the game, when it was revealed back in July 2022, I thought it looked like an interesting tech demo that probably wouldn’t be able to hold my attention long enough to justify a full game. But I wanted to try that tech demo. Thankfully, they finally released a free demo on Steam.
The first thing I’ll say about Rogue City is that it feels very authentic. As in it feels like an experience that’s directly inspired by what a game based on the 80’s film would/should feel like. I don’t think everyone will enjoy that aspect of the game, but I found it quite endearing. The graphics look dated. Not in a lack of resources way, but in an intentional art style choice to make the game feel retro with a campy, low budget veneer sort of way. For instance, the dialog menus use that green computer block writing reminiscent of pretty much every 80’s movie technology sequence. When you go into RoboCop’s scan mode, it brings up scanlines and data similar to how they look in the movie. Similarly, the game’s hyper stylized version of Detroit as a city awash with crime is directly inspired by the old movies. There’s an attention to detail from RoboCop’s body to the places he goes and the people he interacts with that all feel like an 80’s movie, for better or for worse. I personally found it hilarious and fun. I don’t think everyone, especially people who didn’t grow up watching 80’s movies, will feel that way.
I have to say that I found the dialog in Rogue City to be pretty amazing, all things considered. Not amazing like dramatic storytelling worthy of awards. Amazing like some of the funniest ironic dialog I’ve ever heard. The writers clearly knew the source material and the audience it was intended for. The NPCs talk like old 80’s cliché characters. And there’s a lot of throwaway dialog that’s only there for atmosphere; but it’s so impactful to the experience. For instance, there are lots of hobos standing around in Rogue City. When you get close to them, you can hear their conversations. One conversation I found particularly funny was a guy giving two other guys investment advice while they stood around a trashcan fire to keep warm. It was the type of dialog you could imagine a guy in a suit at a bar saying to some woman or potential client he’s trying to impress. Then he ends his spiel by saying something along the lines of “follow my advice and you can’t lose.” To which one of the other guys replies with “But like, you’re homeless, man.” I laughed so hard during this entire exchange; and it wasn’t important at all. It didn’t lead to a mission or allow for a direction interaction for me as the player. It was just something a cop might overhear while patrolling the city.
RoboCop has some pretty funny dialog too, all things considered. While they maintain his robot demeanor, his dialog options do include some snark and irony. In many ways it’s made better with RoboCop’s deadpan delivery. One of the things I really appreciated about the writing in this demo was the dichotomy of how people talk to and about RoboCop. Some NPCs treat him like a person, while others treat him like an object. However, it’s more than just the language they use. Their demeanor, tone, and context play major roles in how you perceive their feelings about RoboCop. Some characters only call him Murphy or Officer Murphy. Others call him RoboCop. Still others call him “Tin Can” or other such nicknames. But the word choice doesn’t automatically define if they like RoboCop or not. The character who calls him Tin Can is a drug addict and police informant who opens up and shares a lot of personal information with RoboCop. I really liked how so many of the other cops in the precinct treat RoboCop like a fellow officer, rather than a machine. These things may not seem important to everyone, but they really stood out to me as a player.
In general, the plot, as shown in the demo, is very sensible for the material being adapted. A new crime boss in town wants to work with the biggest gangs, so they’re all competing to get his attention. It’s simple, ridiculous, and perfect for an 80’s action movie adaptation. The game starts out with a gang taking over a news station and hijacking a broadcast. If that’s not an 80’s action movie reference, then I don’t know what is. But what I like is how practical a lot of the storytelling is. This is a game about being a cop. I’d argue it’s borderline copaganda. While yes, you do have a main mission of trying to identify and locate a new crime boss, much of the game is built around practical police proceedings. You get tasked with writing tickets, looking for stolen vehicles, interviewing/interrogating people for information, and even negotiating with criminals to give you information about other criminals. You have dialog options that expand based on how you level up your character and the information you currently have about a given subject. NPCs can be coerced, intimidated, and even guilted into helping you, based on which dialog options you choose. While I can’t give the writing in the Rogue City demo a high score for originality, I can happily give it an A+ for quality and authenticity of adapting the source material.
I often overlook the audio in games, because it doesn’t always stand out to me. I’m happy to say that it does stand out in Rogue City. For starters, Peter Weller is doing the voice of RoboCop. For those unaware, he is the original actor who played RoboCop back in 1987! It’s funny because I didn’t even know they got the original actor to do the voice until after I finished the demo; but it sounded just like him while I was playing. It was shocking how perfect the dialog sounded. Even as a casual fan, that really stood out to me. But it’s more than just the voice acting that impressed me in this demo. The effects are good and well mixed. When you walk, you hear every heavy step that RoboCop takes. However, you can choose to walk slower so your steps don’t make noise. I wasn’t able to verify if the noise actually makes a difference to encounters with enemies, but I appreciated that you could actively choose to walk quietly. The gunshots and explosions all sound great. It’s definitely fair to say that RoboCop is as much an audio experience as anything else. Funny enough, the music probably left the smallest impression on me, even though I love 80’s tunes. Mostly, it’s ambient arrangements rather than actual songs. At least in the demo anyway.
There are a lot of things about the Rogue City gameplay that I like, but I’m confident that a lot of people will hate it. Especially younger players. The gameplay feels much slower than most modern FPS titles. RoboCop’s movements are clunky. This is not a design flaw though. It’s an intentional choice to simulate the character as shown in the movie. He’s powerful, but he’s also quite heavy. He’s accurate, but he can’t react quickly. For example, you can hold the left trigger to enter aim mode, as is common in shooters. But moving your aim around while in aim mode is much slower than you want it to be. Again, this feels intentional while playing, but it’s very noticeable and often irritating. Walking, which you do a lot of, is slow. You can run, but it’s not much faster. At the same time, I feel way more accurate when playing this game. Aiming, though slower, feels much more precise without having to be a master gaming marksman. You have a giant crosshair in the middle of the screen and it’s precise. When you’re specifically trying to shoot an arm, if it’s in the crosshair, you hit the arm. If you’re trying to get a headshot, you get a headshot. That’s not to say that you can’t miss shots. This isn’t an auto-aim kiddie game. But it is much slower than other FPS titles, allowing you to play and feel like a more accurate marksman. This is great when doing stuff like shooting fuel tanks to cause explosions.
A large part of the slower pacing comes from RoboCop’s armor. When you get shot, you lose shielding, which can be restored with consumables. However, getting shot doesn’t throw off your aim or anything of that sort. RoboCop is a tank. He can’t take an unlimited number of hits, but the hits he does take won’t throw him off balance. Your aim doesn’t get knocked around. Your body doesn’t fall over and shake from taking damage. You just weather it and keep firing accurately until you die or choose to move behind cover. There are physical attacks, but I very rarely got to use them. I say got to because I didn’t usually end up getting that close to enemies. RoboCop can kill enemies with a single punch to the skull. He can also throw them and snap their necks in the process. These physical kills look cool, but they’re inconvenient and come with a great amount of risk. Letting your gun do the talking is just more practical.
Like with many classic shooters, RoboCop has a standard police issued automatic pistol. It comes with unlimited ammunition, because that’s how games work, and I’m not complaining. I have to say, this is one of the very rare games where I didn’t mind using the pistol, because it doesn’t suck in this game. That said, I almost never used it, because there are almost always better weapons available. Every enemy carried gun can become your gun, once the NPC carrying it dies. You can only carry a limited amount of ammo at any given time. It differs slightly based on each gun. The largest number of bullets I could carry at once seemed to be 100 rounds, and that was with a heavy machine gun. Ammo refills are specific to guns. Meaning that the only way to get more ammo for a certain gun is to find another enemy carrying that gun and kill them. Most guns are pretty common, and there aren’t too many different types of guns in the demo. The one exception being the heavy machine gun. Those are pretty rare. Generally speaking, I never felt low on ammo, so I could mostly stick to the gun I preferred, rather than having to constantly change weapons. Similarly, the amount of health consumables scattered around the levels felt fair. At least while playing on the normal difficulty anyway. In fact, I don’t think I died a single time during my playthrough of the demo; but I did get down to low health a few times.
I really like the way this game is structured. You are a cop patrolling the streets of Detroit in a specific district. You have a main objective to pursue, but as you walk around the city other optional side missions pop up. Usually, they don’t take very long, but they do often require multiple steps to complete. It’s not as simple as stopping a gunfight or a car theft. You’re more like a street level detective than a regular beat cop. For instance, I was walking down the street and a cop stopped me to help him interrogate a drug dealer. With the correct dialog options, I was able to get that dealer to tell me how to find his supplier. I then had to find a payphone to contact the supplier. The supplier figured out that I was a cop, because I, presumably, chose the wrong dialog option on the phone. But then some rival dealers attacked the dealer, and he asked me to rescue him, so he gave me his address. Then I had to find his apartment and investigate it for clues. Using the scan mode, you can find clues. Depending on how you have leveled up the skill tree, you can learn more or less from clues in various ways. By using those clues, I was able to figure out where the dealer was and rescue him from the rival dealers. The mission didn’t end there though. I still had to talk to the dealer and convince him not to run. This is how much of the game works. You solve cases that can tangent off into mini adventures while making your way towards the main objectives.
It's really cool how dialog options play a major factor in this game. You get to make choices like issuing tickets versus letting people off with a warning. It’s not always clear which one is the right decision. For instance, I caught a kid tagging a wall with spray paint. I let him off with a warning and he said he’d “never get caught tagging again.” I took this to mean that I made the wrong choice, because I hadn’t actually reduced the amount of crime on the streets. Whereas I also encountered a small-time drug dealer and refused to let him go. In that instance, the game notified me that I “served the public trust,” which is stated multiple times in the game to be RoboCop’s prime objective.
While the demo wasn’t long enough for me to fully assess the replay value, I do perceive there being a decent amount of motivation to replay the game multiple times, if you’re into that sort of thing. For starters, the skill tree has quite a lot of variety. Obviously, I don’t know what the level cap is at this point, but there are eight different skill paths to choose from, each with really interesting and seemingly useful benefits. Even in the demo, I could see the potential uses of several of the later skills in the tree. Creating different RoboCop builds in subsequent playthroughs could create radically different experiences. Each major mission ends with you receiving a grade. So if you are the type of person that wants to get the best grade across the board, you’re almost certainly going to have reason to replay this game, or at least portions of it. On top of that, your choices and your performance affect the outcome of both missions and your overall score.
For example, there was one side mission I played through twice, by using the extremely convenient autosave system. In one of my playthroughs, I managed to save a hostage who was also a criminal that I was looking to arrest. After saving him, I still had to negotiate with him and convince him to turn himself in. Since I successfully convinced him, the mission ended in him safely being driven away in a police car. Presumably, if I chose the wrong dialog options, he would have refused to turn himself in, tried to escape, and possibly gotten injured or killed. In my second playthrough of the mission, I failed to save the hostage in time. His captors murdered him during our shootout. The mission ended with that hostage being driven away in a body bag. I really like this aspect of the game, because, short of RoboCop dying, there is no mission failure. The game just continues on with you forced to deal with the consequences of your actions and failures, like a real cop. Obviously, you can reload saves, but those who choose not to will potentially get radically different experiences with each playthrough. As the game is still in demo, I can’t say how many hours the full campaign will take, but I can say that the demo took me more than two hours to “fully” complete, assuming I didn’t miss any of the available side-missions.
Generally speaking, I was very impressed with the RoboCop: Rogue City demo. I went into the game expecting to get bored rather quickly and not liking the gameplay much. Instead, I left the demo wanting more. Not so much that I felt compelled to preorder, but I definitely added it to my Steam wishlist, and will keep an eye out for a sale. I really enjoy games that adapt classic movies and actually capture the spirit of them. It’s one of the reasons I love Alien: Isolation so much. After playing this demo, I feel like RoboCop: Rogue City may end up being the Alien: Isolation of first-person shooters. Definitely try it out.