Fictional crime is fun. Clandestine, extra-legal shenanigans have a special place in my heart. However, some criminality simulators are just built different. With the right combination of style, finesse, and risk, crime games can be elevated from the merely naughty to the truly memorable. This is exactly what Crime Boss: Rockay City, a new first-person heist simulator from Ingame Studios, attempts to achieve.
Crime Boss is an ambitious combination of frantic first-person heists and roguelike gang-management elements; delivered through a roguelike single-player campaign, supported by a roster of co-op modes. In order to get to the center of exactly what Crime Boss has in store for us, I spoke to Jarek Kolar, Ingame Studios’ Head of Development, and Damion Poitier, writer and voice actor for the game.
Crime Boss’ main campaign follows the story of Travis Baker (played by Michael Madsen of Reservoir Dogs fame) in his quest to become king of Rokay City’s criminal underworld. However, as Kolar was keen to stress, Crime Boss shakes up the traditional formula with an emphasis on roguelike elements. In addition to the first-person, team-based heists themselves, Kolar stressed that: “there is also this management layer above [the heists] and permadeath which makes the missions interesting.”
Should Travis Baker, the eponymous Crime Boss himself, kick the bucket on a mission, your campaign will come to an abrupt end. Though you’ll get to keep XP between playthroughs, your quest to dominate the streets of Rockay City will be set back to square one. This is why, as Poitier put it, the developers have aimed to make it “absolutely impossible” for you to “play the same playthrough twice”. This is done through the creative use of AI and procedurally generated content.
Poitier was keen to echo Kolar’s sentiments: “there are so many different moving parts… the AI is working at the same time as you are, so you’re not even presented with the same choices, so even if you tried to do exactly [the same thing] each game, you’re going to have a different [outcome].”
This mentality applies to both the strategy layer and the missions themselves. As Kolar put it, when it comes to the strategy layer: “the goal of all rival [AI-controlled gang] bosses is to get influence over the whole city [through]... open war between factions in the streets.” He continues: “the AI is completely systematic, reactive to what is going on” both when it comes to the strategy layer and Crime Boss’ heists.
While the game’s rival gangs duke it out in a strategy layer that seems reminisicent of XCOM, the levels themselves also benefit from procedural alterations. “It’s actually quite hard to retry levels in Crime Boss”, said Kolar. “There are branching paths [in our levels] that players need to traverse [which] change based on the events and decisions of previous polotlines [while incorporating] built-in variation of the environment and position of elements.”
In practice, this amounts to a wide range of ways in which your heist (and wider criminal enterprise can go wrong). As Kolar states: “you will beg for moments where everything went according to plan and no one died, and we love that for this game, it’s a unique challenge, I think.”
Back in the '90s
Perhaps the cherry on the sundae, however, is how, for all it’s ambitious use of AI and roguelike elements, Crime Boss seems to utterly revel in its schlocky 90s aesthetic. Neon lights, excessive violence, and oversized mobile phones. “We KNOW what type of game we are, so we’re doubling down on that 1990s aesthetic”, says Kolar. “Those 90s action movies, by their very nature, made us not take the shooting and gameplay too seriously. And the body count too – that’s as high as you’d expect from the era! It feels completely in keeping with what we’re trying to achieve.”
In keeping with that spirit, Crime Boss is full of 90s action stars, including Michael Madsen, Danny Trejo, Kim Basinger, Danny Glover, Michael Rooker, and Chuck Norris. When asked what it was like to work with these veterans, Poitier replied: “they’re all legends man… they’ve been doing this for so long [and] have so much they can bring [to their roles] because [of] the wealth of experience [they bring].”
Crime Boss is committed to a very specific aesthetic and feeling. The trappings of the 90s as well as the game’s star-studded cast are, according to Kolar, “at the heart of Crime Boss.” This shameless commitment to the genre, combined with an ambitious attempt at a roguelike campaign suggests that Crime Boss may well bring something truly novel to the genre. In contrast to the Saints Row reboot, which seemed, at every moment, to be ashamed of its flirtations with gratuitousness, Crime Boss seems committed to being unapologetic; “[even] the body count… [is] as high as you’d expect from the era!”
Whether or not Ingame Studio’ ambitious new title will hit the mark remains to be seen. However, it is certainly refreshing to see a crime game that pushes the boat out, not only in terms of game mechanics but also when it comes to its unwavering sense of style. According to Poitier and Kolar, Crime Boss is absolutely unashamed of what it is and that, to me, seems like a triumph.