While arguably not as revered as Blade Runner, nor as influential as Aliens, Robocop certainly has its place in the canon of science fiction cinema. Developer Teyon, which had previously released the middling Terminator: Resistance and the poorly-received Rambo: The Video Game, has taken on the task of translating this cult classic into interactive form, and with Robocop: Rogue City, the studio has done full justice to its source material.
Staying true to the film’s themes, Robocop: Rogue City concerns the corruption of corporate greed in public services, with a rogue member of the OCP causing havoc in Old Detroit, via a punk gang pushing the fictional drug Nuke to its citizens. RC’s ‘take-no-prisoners’ approach to law enforcement certainly sits strangely in 2023 and can at times undercut the morality at the heart of the game’s narrative, but taken in the spirit of the film series, the game’s message is more anti-corporate America than it is pro-cop.
While there is strict devotion to the source material here, the game never feels workmanlike. Real care and attention have gone into crafting a story that not only fits within the world of Robocop but also follows through and expands on some of its more heady themes. Sessions with the Detroit Police Force’s therapist serve as debriefs after key story events, but they also provide a chance for the writers to dive into the psychology of this part-man-part-machine. There are some genuinely thoughtful responses to be found in the dialogue options, sold fabulously by the likeness and voice of Peter Wellers, who reprises his role as Robocop. And yes, these dialogue choices do have an impact on how the story plays out.
There’s wit to be found in the writing, too – the occasional one-liner from the tin man, an amusing sidequest where a thug tries to turn himself in to get the reward – but it’s mostly lacking in the absurd humor you might remember from the movies. The satirical news station is a recurring element but is underused in the narrative, and the zany commercials and TV show segments are mostly absent. While the spirit of Verhoeven’s irreverent satire is present here, I wish the team went a little further with it.
Combat is a slow, methodical affair, as you move through mostly linear shooting galleries gunning down thugs, enemy soldiers, robots, and the occasional ED-209. Gore is suitably scrungy, recalling the practical effects that gave the film’s violence a visceral heft. You are always strapped with RC’s trusty service weapon, a semi-automatic pistol that never runs out of ammo, but you can also scavenge a handful of weapons from fallen enemies, including assault rifles, micro-SMGs, sniper rifles, and explosive launchers. If an enemy gets too close, you can grab them and launch them at their friends, or simply show them your huge metal fist.
While rarely challenging, the combat is decidedly satisfying, with its slow and deliberate cadence offering a refreshing change of pace from the fast-paced cover-shooting we’re conditioned to expect from modern FPS games. Its gunplay calls back to an earlier era, sitting somewhere between a Call of Duty-style campaign and on-rails arcade shooters. You can unlock abilities through a basic skill tree, enhancing your combat power, armor, and vitality, as well as the more RPG-flavored skills like Deduction and Psychology, which will help you in dialogue sequences or allow you to access more clues during detective work.
And there is a surprising amount of detective work involved here. In between shoot-outs, you can help your fellow police officers complete tasks around the station, before venturing out to the streets to keep the peace in many multi-stranded sidequests. These side offerings vary in quality, some adding color to Detroit’s inhabitants and politics, while others are simple filler. I gave up on completing the station quests after THREE sidequests required me to practice shooting in the shooting range after I had already earned the achievement for attaining the highest score on my first attempt.
How far you engage with the side content and dialogue choices will affect the outcome of the plot – albeit only in a throwaway slideshow at the game’s end. One interesting thread sees your actions and public statements influence who is elected mayor. There are sound arguments on both sides, making for an engaging subplot. Many main story areas are explorable and offer additional objectives to complete. These free-roaming sections are hampered by RC’s slow walk cycle. His hulking gait makes it a chore to traverse environments, and with no option to commandeer vehicles or fast-travel, many players will likely skip over at least some side content.
Let’s be honest here – this is a mid-budget game, and it shows. While combat scenes look suitably explosive, character models appear rather dated, sitting deep in the uncanny valley. Checkpointing is also problematic, with one particularly irritating sequence tasking you with disarming a bomb. Fail the minigame and you’ll have to redo the previous combat encounter, skip through two dialogue scenes, and slowly scan four elements on the explosive before you have the chance to attempt the minigame again.
But for all its shortcomings, Robocop: Rogue City is incredibly true to its source material and is delightful as a fan of the films. Crucially, the action works, the visuals are authentic, and the story contains enough twists to remain intriguing throughout. If you have any nostalgia for the exploits of Alex Murphy, or an interest in pulling off some of the most satisfying headshots in gaming, this is worth your time.
Robocop: Rogue City captures the essence of the ’80s classic with over-the-top gunplay and a surprisingly engaging storyline influenced by player choice. It’s ambitious in parts, but repetition in its side missions and some jankiness hold it back.