For years and years, video games—especially shooters—have gotten faster and faster. RoboCop: Rogue City, out now on Xbox, PlayStation, and PC, bucks this trend and puts you in the clunky, lumbering metal boots of RoboCop himself. But the real surprise isn’t how much fun it is to be a slow-walking tank, but instead how much care and thought went into crafting this RPG shooter, even if it sometimes forgets the original film was a work of satire.
For those who care about timelines and lore, RoboCop: Rogue City is set after the events of RoboCop 2 but before the events of RoboCop 3. So Anne Lewis, RoboCop’s wonderful partner, is still around and Omni Consumer Products (OCP), the evil corp that created the tin-can cop, hasn’t been bought by Kanemitsu Corporation. It’s a perfect time to set a game, as there are enough characters and backstory to support a side adventure, but the movie’s universe hasn’t yet gone completely off the rails and turned into an overly silly mess.
Early on, RoboCop is called in to help stop a hostage situation inside a massive corporate news building. The gang causing all the trouble is doing so to get the attention of the “New Guy” in town, a rich and powerful criminal who needs goons. RoboCop arrives, shoots a lot of criminals, and eventually finds the hostages. But one of them reminds him of his wife, which leads to RoboCop having a hallucination and malfunctioning. OCP sends the slimy exec Max Becker over to Robo’s police station to install a monitoring chip inside him and oversee his actions. (I can’t imagine any nefarious reasons for this!)
Anyway, the rest of the game features RoboCop trying to figure out who this “New Guy” is, what his plans are, what OCP is hiding, and why he keeps malfunctioning so much.
It’s a solid setup that leads to a narrative with just enough twists and turns that I found myself invested in what was going to happen next. The writing isn’t stellar, with characters sometimes acting more like props spitting out exposition than human beings. But the cast of voice actors does an admiral job of imbuing the main characters with just enough personality that by the end, I was rooting for the heroes and cheering the villain’s comeuppance.
Peter Weller also returns as RoboCop and he does a mostly good job of recreating his iconic character’s tone and feel. Even better, his likeness is used in the game, so his perfect lips return under RoboCop’s visor.
RoboCop doesn’t need to run to have fun
If you’ve seen the original films, you might be curious how you build a game around being RoboCop. The character is, by design, not very agile or fast. He’s a lumbering and clunky robot housing the leftover remains of police officer Alex Murphy following a deadly shootout. Well, the devs don’t ignore this or try to come up with some lore explanation for why Robo can move around like a Fortnite character. Instead, RoboCop can’t jump, mantle, or wall-run around Detroit. By leaning into this aspect of the character, the developers have created one of the most unique-feeling shooters of 2023.
Most of the combat in RoboCop: Rogue City involves you walking slowly through waves of criminals as you blast them to bits with your outlandishly powerful automatic handgun. Because you are covered in metal, you don’t have to worry too much about bullets from small arms or melee attacks. So unlike most shooters built around managing your health and hiding behind walls every few seconds, Rogue City is all about pushing forward and obliterating anything in your way. And if you do take too much damage or step on a landmine, you can hit a button to heal yourself with healing kits you find around the world.
At first, I wasn’t sold on this concept. Early on, most levels and combat sequences feel far too easy. RoboCop is just unstoppable and while it’s fun, at first, to rip through a gang of criminals in seconds, the third or fourth time this happened, I started worrying that this was the whole game.
But eventually, once the game feels comfortable enough that you “get” how to play it, RoboCop: Rogue City starts increasing the difficulty, making later encounters far more interesting.
For example, you eventually start to face armored thugs who take more damage, well-equipped mercs who will chew through your health in seconds, and even robots who will push forward endlessly like RoboCop himself. And sprinkled between these harder encounters are moments where the game tosses some hapless gang of barely-armed criminals at you, just you so can rip through them in seconds to remind yourself that you are still a powerful Robotic Cop.
Not quite a satirical masterpiece
RoboCop: Rogue City’s commitment to letting you live out the power fantasy of being RoboCop himself is at odds with the original film. In that movie, RoboCop isn’t a badass, but instead a broken man struggling with his existence and place in the world.
Yes, it’s covered in 1980s action, gore, and violence, but like many of Paul Verhoeven’s films, the original RoboCop is a satirical takedown of power, technology, violence, and corporations. But like the later films and TV shows, Rogue City mostly seems interested in the idea that RoboCop and his police buddies are heroes, and the only ones who can truly save the day.
It’s not that I think you can’t enjoy playing as a badass cyborg or that liking the combat in this game is wrong—I love it, to be clear—but I do find myself wondering what Verhoeven would think of this game. Then again, the rest of the films beyond the first one suffered the same issues of forgetting RoboCop isn’t meant to be a cool hero, so it’s not shocking that Rogue City continues this trend.
To the game’s credit, it does spend more time than I expected digging into who RoboCop is and how much of Alex Murphy remains inside that steel body. These moments—which often happen during occasional therapy sessions—were some of the best in the game, as it felt like the developers and writers getting closer to the first film’s themes and vibes. But Rogue City holds back, never fully committing to this part of the narrative. It’s disappointing, but understandable. This is, after all, a semi-open-world RPG shooter about being a nearly indestructible cyborg. That we even get any introspective moments at all is commendable.
RoboCop says hello to Fallout fans
Oh and yeah, this isn’t a simple first-person shooter. Instead, RoboCop: Rogue City plays more like a smaller-budget Bethesda RPG, with stiff NPC facial animations and all.
As you complete missions, solve crimes, and take down baddies, RoboCop gains XP and levels up. You can then improve your stats or unlock new abilities or traits using skill points. Some of these are predictable, doing things like increasing your armor or making you deal more damage. But other traits improve your ability to investigate crimes or make it easier to talk to people and get the outcome you want.
Yeah, that’s another surprising part of the game; you spend a lot of time in Rogue City talking to people, solving crimes, and scanning locations for clues and contraband. It’s not all gory, explosive shootouts against drug dealers, bikers, and robots. A lot of Rogue City’s 11- to 13-hour runtime involves wandering around a small section of Detroit, helping people, solving small crimes, and even ticketing folks for minor offenses.
Though you don’t have to do most of this stuff, it’s worth doing, and not just for the XP you get. As RoboCop helps more people and even looks the other way for minor crimes, you can earn more public trust. This can help change the outcome of the game’s main narrative and what happens at the end, similar to how Fallout 3’s multiple endings are based on your in-game actions and choices.
By the end of Rogue City, I was super familiar with that small slice of open-world Detroit and its residents. I had helped them out many times, explored its alleyways and streets, and cared about what happened to them. In the final hours of the game, riots happen and really bad stuff occurs, and you are given the chance to take extra time before the finale to save the city. I did just that, not because I wanted a trophy or XP but because I felt that RoboCop cared about these people and their lives. And I certainly did.
When the credits rolled and I got to see what happened to the folks I helped, I smiled. I like to think Peter Weller’s gorgeous lips smiled as RoboCop saw how he was able to make the world a better place, even if he was created by a monstrous corporation to enforce an unjust system against the poor and the weak.
Bugs don’t change that this is something unique
While the side quests, RPG systems, and open world in RoboCop: Rogue City are enjoyable and the combat is a blast, it’s not enough to cover up how unstable this game can be. During my 12 hours with RoboCop, I ran into numerous bugs, performance issues on PC, and annoying quirks—like audio disappearing or menus not loading.
Most issues were fixed with a reset or reload, but they did get in the way at times. It also made it hard to tell if something in the game was a bug or a symptom of a smaller budget.
For example, there are levels where the music is just missing. Was that a bug? Or a sign of the game’s limited resources? I’m not sure, but it did lead to some moments that felt too quiet and awkward.
RoboCop: Rogue City isn’t likely to be my game of the year. But I’m still happy it exists and glad I played it. It feels like a game built by passionate people who cared a lot, not just about nailing the RoboCop aesthetic, but about making something ambitious on a budget that was likely limited.
And sure, it doesn’t always succeed. Its unwavering commitment to the RoboCop power fantasy limits its narrative at times and it suffers from bugs and pacing issues. But it mostly comes together to create a game that, thanks to its slower, more methodical combat, feels unique and different from most other shooters released in the last few years. So while it won’t win awards for being the best, it certainly won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
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