Crime Boss: Rockay City takes Payday’s potent formula and plops it in the middle of the decade that brought us bleached hair, dial-up internet, and the ’92-’93 Dallas Mavericks. Unfortunately, just like bleached hair, dial-up internet, and those 11-and-71 Dallas Mavericks, Crime Boss looks awful, is technically outclassed, and is full of embarrassing performances. Hard to outright hate thanks to the compelling, car crash quality of some of its cutscenes, it’s nonetheless impossible to recommend right now on account of regular bugs, repetitive missions, and bog-standard blasting that’s unmemorable at its best and exasperating at its worst.
At face value, Crime Boss looks like a hearty deal. There are three separate ways to play, including a dedicated single-player campaign and two co-op focused modes. On top of that, Bon Jovi’s second-best song about cowboys is on the soundtrack, and Michael Madsen is here as leading man Travis Baker – and in a dapper hat, no less. Madsen isn’t a prolific video game voice actor but he has demonstrated an ability to pick quality winners in the past – certainly with the likes of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Dishonored, and a 2001 game you may have heard of from the makers of Christmas Lemmings called Grand Theft Auto III. Unfortunately, his winning streak is now broken.
Heist to Know You
It’s actually tricky to pinpoint precisely which pillar of Crime Boss is the weakest, although a shooter with combat as scrappy as it is here is always going to be on a hiding to nothing. Melee attacks are hopelessly unconvincing and the shooting itself is annoyingly imprecise and ineffectual, with the slimeballs of Rockay City capable of absorbing punishment like their chests are made of Kevlar. The explanation here likely has something to do with the fact the roguelike single-player rations out perks that negate aiming sway and increase the stopping power of your rounds as rewards for levelling up, but that doesn’t really help. If anything, it makes it seem like it’s just been arbitrarily made to feel like garbage until you can level up for the chance to make it less so.
The roguelike approach to the solo campaign, dubbed Baker’s Battle, is an interesting slant but it ultimately becomes exhausting. Completing Baker’s Battle requires us to take over all territories in Rockay City. Taking territories requires surviving a chaotic but largely vanilla turf war against a wave of opposition gang members. Defending territories requires surviving a chaotic but largely vanilla turf war against a wave of opposition gang members. Funding all this requires stealing stuff from a modest assortment of warehouses, strip malls, and other secure spots that always look pretty much the same. What I mean is that pushing through the campaign is already an exercise in repetition. Making it a roguelike feels like putting a treadmill in a hamster wheel. Beyond that the only real change to the formula comes in the form of some incredibly left-field side missions, like a Vietnam War flashback or a baffling trip to a snap-frozen Russian airbase, none of which have been particularly enjoyable thanks to tiny maps and unsatisfying action. Black Ops did this better 13 years and two console generations ago.
Making it a roguelike feels like putting a treadmill in a hamster wheel.
The other ways to play Crime Boss are either via a quick play menu where you can drop into random jobs, or a series of so-called mini campaigns called Urban Legends. Both of these can be played online with co-op partners or with bots. Both of these also seem like the missions I already played in Baker’s Battle, only this time with friends who’d probably rather be playing Payday.
Crime Boss unapologetically lifts most of its heist systems from its tried and true peer, even down to its automatic drills and saws with little computer screens (which would have seemed less wildly out of place in this ’90s setting had Michael Mann ever put one of them in Heat). The upshot of this thievery is that Crime Boss’s heists are easily the better part of proceedings, even if working with the lax AI often means bagging up the goods for them and tossing them a duffel rather than trusting them to do it themselves. It’s like going on vacation with a toddler.
For the most part, the shonky stealth means things descend into identical firefights time after time. Occasionally, and mostly in the final moments of a successful heist, I would get glimpses of Crime Boss at its most competent. There is a certain satisfaction to be gleaned from having the crowd subdued and the loot secured, even if it is highly derivative of Payday’s long-established formula. On one particular job my crew and I had quietly and completely cleaned out a jeweller, after some patient initial skulking about had rewarded me with a store full of dead CCTV cameras and trussed-up security guards. However, just when things threatened to go south, our getaway vehicle had what can only be described as a seizure as soon as I tried to climb in. This was an isolated bug but others are much less so, including random freezes that last for several seconds and regular instances where character models fail to load in at the start of a mission, leaving guns floating around and shooting you until their owners blink into existence.
[There are] regular instances where character models fail to load in at the start of a mission, leaving guns floating around and shooting you until their owners blink into existence.
At any rate, I was still able to successfully escape the jewel heist with the take a few minutes later, but having the van flap around like a Fallout corpse and peel away as we were literally trying to enter it isn’t exactly an elegant bow to tie on a mission.
Equally inelegant are the lion’s share of voice performances from its otherwise highly recognisable cast, most of which feel like they were email attachments sent back to the studio the same day the contracts came through. I’ll happily admit seeing Michael Rooker and Danny Trejo digitally de-aged and straight off the set of Days of Thunder and Desperado, respectively, was a powerful novelty at first, but Crime Boss otherwise squanders its kitsch cast.
Vanilla Ice is here as a rapping drug lord who is either beatboxing between his sentences or has someone else doing it for him. I can’t tell. Danny Glover is here and doing his best, despite the fact they didn’t exactly push the boat out when naming his character, which is Gloves. The always terrific Danny Trejo is here, but I’ve only heard him speak once. He has a bigger presence on the box art than in the game itself.
The worst celebrity by a country mile, however, is Chuck Norris, who appears quite regularly – either gloating over your dead body at the end of a run, or showcasing his incorrigible lack of trigger discipline by continually waggling his pistol at his partner. I like Chuck Norris movies as much as the next guy who grew up lurking in video stores throughout the 80s and 90s, but the only thing Missing in Action here is his ability to speak naturally. I guess it makes sense for a game about stealing everything that isn’t nailed down; someone has pilfered half the punctuation from Chuck Norris’ script.
There is absolutely nothing about his delivery here that works. Indeed, he doesn’t sound like he’s even delivering it. He sounds like he’s either been Bowfingered in a restaurant, or is dictating handwritten napkins to his phone to print out in a larger font later. What’s particularly baffling, however, is somehow Norris still isn’t the worst sounding actor in most of his scenes – that victory belongs to his partner, who appears to be a Sonny Crockett cosplayer voiced by a Fraggle.