Kalypso’s Atlantic City is an onion of many violent layers.
If I had to give Omerta – City of Gangsters my own commercial pitch, it would be that it weds the main elements of two recent efforts published by Kalypso Media: the urban macro (and engine) of Tropico 4 and the turn-based micro of Jagged Alliance: Back in Action. The result seems sure to please fans of yesterday's Kalypso games. Here you're cast as a young and resourceful mobster, fresh out of Sicily and cast into the Atlantic City of the 1920s. Booze is an illicit substance due to Prohibition, and you're more than happy to deal with (and thanks to) that.
Before reaching American soil you'll create your character's past by answering a few multiple choice questions. Your options are colorful. Asked what "the most ridiculous feat" of my youth was, I confessed to "stealing the key for the village mayor's wine cellar and drinking most of it" before getting my ass caught. Boys will be boys.
All this makes for a welcome bit of mythology even before the first cut-scene, text, or voice-acting. Your answers also impact your character's six statistics (e.g. "toughness" and "smarts"), which seem rather faithfully calqued on the d20 System.
Once in Atlantic City proper you'll recognize that strange rhythm so central to Tropico. Initiative is yours to take; though the next decision to make is often cut and dry, the world will keep turning with or without your gangster aspirations. Ted Brockwood, head of PR at Kalypso, shares part of the game's appeal: "Instead of building out a city, you're taking it over. It's already there. You're converting buildings into your illicit business so you can build up your finances."
All of that is done from a bird's-eye view of the city. Your decisions as The Boss will keep one of your henchmen unavailable for a few minutes. Upon his or her return, various metrics are impacted. Rob a speakeasy, for instance, and you'll now have more beer and dirty money to your name, as well as increased attention from the police and a more fearful reputation.
About the turn-based gameplay, you'll play through missions on the ground level, picking a team of goons (and joining them if you like) to get the ugly job done. This is where the Jagged Alliance elements come in, though the combat is a bit simplified. You can't go prone and you'll never need to reload, for example. It's a logical decision on the devs part, seeing as there's only so much a player wants in one game.
In fact, Brockwood explains, "you could play this as a straight management sim if you wanted," auto-resolving combat instead of chewing through it. "Mind you, I hope you have a really good sense of picking the right team members to win those auto-resolves, but you could do it." Pyrrhic victory is also an eventuality. You might get the job done at the cost of losing henchmen, or even an eye and a limb on some of them. Those won’t heal.
Ultimately, I think Omerta's success will depend on how well the macro snowballs, and on how satisfying and unique the mission set pieces are. (Oh, and there are also co-op and competitive multiplayer options I didn’t get to try out.) The settings here are various, involving both indoor and outdoor environments, staircases, crates, and countertops. One later mission has you driving the KKK out of town: "They're in full regalia, and you take them down. There is no better feeling than taking a ball bat to one of them. Pull out that Louisville Slugger and hit a home run."
Here's hoping that Omerta – City of Gangsters does the same when it releases—on PC and Xbox 360—in early February 2013.