Hard-hitting heist action mixed with Hollywood stars of the 90s and an extra portion of Grand Theft Auto – Crime Boss: Rockay City sounds great and already plays promisingly. So what”s the problem?

“If you play Crime Boss, you will fail!” – is one of the first sentences of Lennart Bobzien, Senior Global Brand Manager at 505 Games, with which he greets us at the hands-on of Crime Boss: Rockay City 

Then you try again, try a new approach, choose a different team, you learn – and eventually it works. And then comes the next mission, and it all starts again. Sheriff Norris will always be breathing down your neck – and if you give him the slightest chance, he”ll get you!

Sheriff Norris is not just anyone, for he is portrayed by Chuck Norris. He ended the announcement trailer of the game with his patented roundhouse kick, which is not the only thing he will do to you in the game. A gameplay clip from the game shows a boss fight against the Badass Policeman:

By the way, “You” is embodied by Michael Madsen, known from films such as “Reservoir Dogs”, “Sin City” or “Kill Bill 1&2”, who as Travis Baker in the solo campaign wants to seize control of the violence-infested city of Rockay City. And in the process has to deal with illustrious figures such as “Dollar Dragon” (Danny Trejo, “Machete”), “Casey” (Kim Basinger, “L.A. Confidential”), “Touchdown” (Michael Rooker, “Guardians of the Galaxy”) or “Hielo”, played by early 90s rap icon Vanilla Ice (“Ice Ice Baby”).

All these stars were visually modelled on their real-life idols, sometimes as they looked in the 90s, sometimes as they walk around today. And they have also recorded their roles in person – either in the studio or, as in the case of Chuck Norris, directly at his home. Which somehow sounds like a modern Chuck Norris joke: “Chuck Norris doesn”t do voice recordings. When he talks, everyone hears it anyway!”

With Tulips Against Dracula

The solo campaign “Baker”s Battle”, however, did not play a role in the hands-on. Instead, we had the opportunity to play two complete missions from the “Urban Legends”: This is the main multiplayer mode of Crime Boss, in which four keyboard gangsters go off in a highly cooperative manner to master six mini-campaigns consisting of three missions each – framed by real-time cutscenes in which the aforementioned stars make their appearances.

In themselves, however, they only play supporting roles, because the inner-city legends revolve around characters with names like Runaway, Jester, Flat Foot, Nighthawk, Dracula, Cracker, Tulip, Cherry, Stinger or Mr. X.  These are very diversely designed characters who not only carry different weapons, but also have very divergent focuses.

(In Urban Legends, you make up the most efficient teams possible from ever-changing characters.)
(In Urban Legends, you make up the most efficient teams possible from ever-changing characters.)

One is a specialist in silent killing, another is really good at door-cracking, the next can carry more loot, another has extra lives. As in the point-and-click classic Maniac Mansion, the choice of different team members should make for a very different game experience. Only from the first-person perspective and with a gun in your hand.

In the end, most of these missions come down to a very similar sequence: 

  1. Fight your way to the first objective.
  2. Get the respective loot.
  3. Make your way to the escape transporter.

Between points 1 and 3 you will encounter dozens of enemies, divided into five strength waves in GTA style: In the beginning, you”ll have to deal with simple gang members or policemen who usually fall very quickly, and you can also sneak up on them and take them down inconspicuously by takedown (and then put them in a handy sack) if you have the patience for it.

However, the further you progress in the mission, the crisper the adversaries become. For example, heavily armed SWAT units with thick shields and even thicker armour approach. Or very Miami Vice-compatible police special forces who, despite their airy jackets, can handle absurd amounts of lead.

(In the course of the missions you will have to deal with stronger and stronger opponents: The gangsters, who are light at first, quickly become heavily armed SWAT teams.)
(In the course of the missions you will have to deal with stronger and stronger opponents: The gangsters, who are light at first, quickly become heavily armed SWAT teams.)

Crime Boss played: The shooter has what it takes to steal the show from Payday 3

The Legend of Fat Booty

These enemies race into the game with cars, vans or helicopters and attack from all directions – entrenching yourself somewhere doesn”t work, Crime Boss builds up considerable permanent pressure especially in the later course of the mission.

You face this problem primarily with your character”s chosen weapon: Every fighter is limited to the gun he or she has from the beginning – other guns that fallen enemies leave lying around, for example, may not be picked up, unlike their ammunition. Translated, this means: main weapon, pistol and a few grenades – that”s it. In some missions, however, there are still stationary guns around, which you may of course also use.

To make things even more difficult, there are no crosshairs here, you always shoot from the hip or with a rear sight if you want to be a bit more precise. If your character is hit, its life energy goes into the basement, but it regenerates quickly if you retreat briefly. If, on the other hand, the enemies land a direct hit, you fall to the ground and slowly bleed out.

While a team mate hopefully notices this quickly enough and comes to the rescue, you can still defend yourself with the pistol. If the resuscitation does not work in time, the lost character is kicked out of the game and cannot be selected for the rest of the mission. If, on the other hand, you are successful and bring home rich loot, not only your bank account is happy, but also your squad – because additional characters can be unlocked for a corresponding amount of in-game cash. However, it will not be possible to design your own fighters.

The missions build on each other in terms of content and each offer three goals. One of them must always be fulfilled – such as stealing drugs, money or jewellery or taking out a certain boss. The fulfilment of the other two, however, is up to you: You get the bonus for a “Clean Execution” if you are accurate enough to complete a mission without harming civilians walking around. And optional objectives, such as completing a mission in less than five minutes, are best for Achievement hunters looking for an extra challenge.

Depending on how well you do in the respective categories, you”ll receive between one and three stars per objective at the end of a mission – and the more you have, the more characters, weapons or equipment you”ll unlock.

The smart thing is to try again

The basic structure of the missions always remains the same – but in details they are changed a little bit each time you start the same mission again, just like back then in Left 4 Dead. For example, there may be a ladder at the back of a building that gives you easy access to it – or not.

(Recurring element in the missions: You have to steal something.)
(Recurring element in the missions: You have to steal something.)

The drugs distributed in a warehouse are always in other boxes, which you must consequently open and search. Sometimes there are a few extra blue packets in a matryoshka, which you have to remove layer by layer, whereby each layer funnily shows a different facial expression – and sometimes not. This doesn”t change the mission itself, but it still keeps the flow of the orders exciting, even on the fourth try.

Each character is allowed to fill a maximum of two bags with loot: If you are in a hurry and only have one with you, you move a little slower but can still use your normal gun. If both bags are filled to bursting, the running speed is considerably slower, and then you only have the pistol at your disposal for defence.

Of course, the prospect of more money at the end of the mission is a very good motivator. But is it still high enough when you suddenly find yourself facing a two-legged tank with only a pea spitter? But if in doubt, you can quickly throw the loot on the ground to defend yourself with full power, then collect everything again and move on.

(Cut-scenes are designed to a high standard.)
(Cut-scenes are designed to a high standard.)

Ice Ice Baby!

Rockay City is a fictional city, but visually very clearly inspired by Miami: beaches full of joggers, yogis, dancers or bodybuilders, neon-coloured illuminated hotels, palm trees, thick skyscrapers – occasionally you feel a bit transported back to Vice City.

However, in a Vice City of the present day, because what the ingame studios based in the Czech city of Brno get out of the Unreal Engine 4 is remarkable: the realistic scenarios are varied and atmospheric, the characters are well animated, and the stars look impressively like their real-life models.

(Rockay City is clearly visually inspired by 90s Miami.)
(Rockay City is clearly visually inspired by 90s Miami.)

Crime Boss won”t be knocking down any technical milestones, but it looks good on a PC that isn”t exactly match-fuelled. Unlike Vice City, however, Crime Boss is set in the 90s, which is most evident in the thick brick mobile phones that are whipped out every now and then in the cutscenes.

Crime Boss: Rockay City will be released on 28 March 2023 exclusively on the Epic Games Store – console versions for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S are scheduled to follow later in the year.

Conclusion: Played Crime Boss: The shooter has what it takes to steal the show from Payday 3

Editor”s verdict

If you”ve played Payday, GTA: Vice City and GTA 5 before, then you should have a very good idea of what to expect in Crime Boss: Rockay City – albeit not in an open world, but level-based. No, the first work of Ingame Studios will certainly not win any innovation prizes, but it doesn”t have to. Absolutely solid action awaits in an interesting crime scenario full of stars of the 90s, which gives the whole thing a bit of the feel of a playable Tarantino film.

In a team of four, it”s already a lot of fun – well coordinated action against a heavily armed superior force made for a very big hello at the hands-on. But of course two questions remain: 1.) How well will it work online? 2.) Will it also be fun alone, in case of doubt with bots? The campaign was kept very quiet at the event, but the keywords “roguelike” and “permadeath” were mentioned several times.

Well, yes. I”m very curious to see whether Crime Boss has what it takes to at least take some of the water away from the great crime role model Payday, whose third part is also due to be released in 2023. It has the potential! And if in doubt, Chuck Norris will provide the liberating roundhouse kick. Apart from that: Hahaha, Vanilla Ice! I never thought I”d see him again!