On paper, Crime Boss: Rockay City is bombastic, star-studded, and promises a city-spanning adventure about a criminal organization’s rise to the top. The actual game, however, is anything but. The gameplay is unbalanced, buggy, repetitive, and boring. The celebrity-filled cast is exciting at first glance, but crude and humorless writing weighs down the already-phoned-in performances of characters voiced by Michael Madsen, Michael Rooker, Vanilla Ice, and more. The single-player roguelite campaign lacks any of the genre’s typical hooks, and bugs can prevent progress at critical points in a run. Multiplayer works, but the two cooperative modes offer up the same mindlessly dull rotation of missions you’ll play dozens of times throughout the campaign. All of this combines to create an aimless package not worth playing with experiences executed significantly better in other games.
The star of the show, for better or worse, is the cast of Crime Boss. Kim Basinger, Danny Glover, Chuck Norris, and more lend their likeness and voice to these characters, but instead of feeling like the great 1980s or ‘90s action B-movies the game is clearly aiming to invoke, where the corniness and cheese are played intentionally, the performances feel hollow. Put simply, the writing is bad. Rooker’s Captain Touchdown and Madsen’s Travis Baker are the worst offenders, constantly barking lines like, “Who’s the losers? They is! Who’s the winners? We is,” and calling rival gang members “fruitcakes.” Other barks, like characters referring to the Khan criminal organization as just the “Asian gang” or calling that same gang “savages” and “commies” feels lazy, at times offensive, and very much like a ‘90s action movie in the worst way.
These celebrity performances attempt to enhance an otherwise predictable and drab story about Baker’s gang rising to the top of the organized crime empire, but they don’t. Instead, they make the buggy and repetitive gameplay, where you’ll hear them in cutscenes often before and after missions, all the more excruciating to play through. In the single-player roguelite campaign, your goal is to take over more and more territory throughout Rockay City, attacking rival turf, defending your own, and completing robbery missions to obtain money, drugs, jewelry, and more. But rote gameplay, bugs, and a lack of balance make this impossible.
After selecting a crew of gang members, some of which are the same models with color-swapped clothes, you begin a mission. Your objective might be to rob a bank, a warehouse, an armed vehicle, or a shopping center – you’re always taking goods or money from someone. The missions would have you believe Crime Boss requires a healthy bit of immersive sim stealth and action, but none of its systems support that. Sometimes, I can waltz right into a place, take what I need, and escape in my van in just a minute. Other times, I’m nudged to engage with the game’s rudimentary stealth systems but then I’m immediately scolded by the man-in-my-ear, Nasara, for doing so. At any rate, most missions either end with a laughably quick and easy getaway or a long and unfair firefight. Crime Boss’ Grand Theft Auto-style heat system brings in swarms of cops, SWAT members, and more to take me down and sometimes, it felt like they were made of cardboard – other times, steel. When I failed, it rarely felt like there was something I could do better next time to improve my chances of survival; it just felt like the game had failed me.
When I wasn’t robbing banks and armored vehicles, I attacked or defended turf from rival gangs. Here, the worst offending bug appeared nearly every time, but not before the game’s “soldier” system made an already buggy task feel impossible. To defend and attack turfs, you need money to cover the cost and soldiers to bring the risk down from high to moderate or low. Each new day in the campaign, which brings more money to my organization, I’d be attacked by more gangs in different turf areas than I had soldiers and money to defend, and I always lost turf by default as a result. But even when I had the soldiers and money to defend my turf, a recurring bug made completing these missions impossible. To defend your turf, you must defeat a set number of enemy soldiers and sometimes their captains. But the enemies would be invisible each time I loaded into one of these missions. All I could see was their weapons floating in the air. So I almost always lost these turf wars.
If you lose enough turf, you won’t make the money you need to complete missions, and as a result of that one constant bug, the entire run is ruined, like a row of dominos predetermined to fall. And annoyingly, at the end of a run, a cheesy Sheriff Norris cutscene plays where he breaks the fourth wall and asks me what I did wrong this run. I could see this being a cute meta-addition to the game, but when failing rarely feels like my fault, hearing Norris ask me these questions is especially cruel.
Various other bugs further weighed down the experience. For certain tasks, you must pay a set amount, usually $40,000 or more, which is a lot when you might only have $150,000 on hand. After paying, the cutscene would repeat, and the game would ask me to pay again. If I declined, I was booted out of the cutscene conversation and back to square one. Sometimes, pausing a scene would pause the cinematics but not the audio, ruining the sync for the rest of the duration. Menus would freeze, forcing me to exit to the main menu, and captions were often incorrect. After doing one multiplayer mission, almost every time I’ve booted up the game since, the game asks me if I want to join my previous session, except I can’t because that session was hours ago, or even the day before.
Even when bugs didn’t plague my experience, I was still left to play through repetitive, agonizingly boring missions with unremarkable gunplay, uninspired stealth, and lackluster action. Strange interstitial missions attempt to break up this monotony, like one where I lived through one of my gang member’s Vietnam War nightmares, but they flounder just as much as the main missions. The game attempts to shake things up in a few other ways, but every time it tries to veer from the path is a reminder that the core of Crime Boss – its systems, gameplay, and characters – don’t work. And as a result, everything else buckles under.
Crime Boss: Rockay City is proof that star power isn’t everything. In fact, it’s a reminder that a celebrity cast does nothing for a game when it’s void of anything interesting or fun to support it. When run-ending bugs appear, Crime Boss is miserable, but even when I’m running a mission bug-free, I lay witness to a painfully dull take on organized crime. At its best, Crime Boss functions – I can shoot weapons at enemies, empty bank vaults and warehouses for loot, watch cutscenes with recognizable faces and voices, and grow my empire – but it never captures my attention in a meaningful or memorable way. Instead, it pushes me further and further away, leaving me with no desire to ever return to Rockay City.