It may sound like some bad parody movie, but today I want to talk about a couple of games I have been playing a fair amount of recently in between mass mining in Eve.
XCOM Enemy Unknown & Omerta City of Gangsters
They both fit into the same genre, that of a Meta-game “empire” building process with turn based combat missions. They are also both made by studios with a history of games where empire management is the key to the game.
XCOM being by Firaxis who are the guys responsible for what many will say is the finest series of Empire building games in gaming history, the Civilization franchise. Then you have Haemimont Games creators of Omerta and also the latest in the Tropico franchise as well as other titles like Imperium Romanum & Glory of the Roman Empire.
The thing that really surprised me off the bat is how given the history of being empire management game builders, One of the contestants today clearly wins the meta game and the other has more flaws in theirs but have created a very sound turn based system.
So lets get stuck in and see how these two games stack up against each other and what came before them.
Omerta: I think the easiest way to nutshell the concept of this game is to say Boardwalk Empire/The Godfather: The Game. You play the role of an immigrant from Italy recently arrived in Atlantic City. Where step by step you start your own gang and rise through the ranks of the underworld taking on rival gangs and building an illegal empire in prohibition America.
XCOM: Alien Invasion and the ensuing fight of humanity to take the Earth back. Given it is built on the back of one of the most successful Strategy franchises in gaming history it doesn’t really need much in the way of introduction.
XCOM: I have always had a problem with games that feel like they were made for the consoles and then directly ported to the PC with little or no extra work on the interface, and unfortunately X-com does fall into the category. There are many areas where things feel like they take to long to click through to areas, or the control doesnt feel quite responsive enough.
Omerta: On the other hand Omerta’s interface is pretty nice, I would have liked it to be a little more involved. An example is how if you double click the face of one of your gang, their bio sheet opens which then allows you to re-equip their weapon or level them up, however something I would have liked to see would be regardless of which character screen you are in, having it so clicking the portrait of another member would show the same screen for that member. As it stands there’s a couple more clicks involved, but still Omerta wins on the interface front.
The Meta Game
XCOM: Much to my surprise and disappointment with Firaxis, in this gamers mind this is the weakest area of XCOM and for me was almost an afterthought of the game, it needed more involved interaction for the research, manufacturing and expansion across the globe, just look at the original series of the X-Com series or the Idea Games trilogy of UFO games, whereby there was a concerted effort in the meta game to expand your area of influence and the boundaries of your knowledge and capabilities.
In the older games when there was a UFO alert in the early game, it was debatable as to whether you would be able to intercept the craft let alone shoot it down and start a mission, for this offering this is completely inverted, In my multiple play-throughs I failed at shooting down a craft once, I then quickly re-equipped my ships and never had the problem again.
Omerta: While Omerta wins in this round between the two games, it isn’t by a huge amount. This is primarily by the campaign nature of the game, each step consists of a small area of the city and the results of each stage doesn’t really affect your play in later areas of the city, surely if you completely hammer one area of the city creating a criminal empire generating obscene amounts of cash, this should make your cashflow better in later areas, than if in that previous area you barely scrimp past the finishing post with a network in dissaray.
As for the meta game within each segment I actually like it, you have to explore the area to find out what buildings are available, then you need to expend resources to get these under your control. Once under your control you can outfit and then upgrade them with businesses which generate further income and / or other benefits.
TURN-BASED KOMBAT aka the strategic game
Omerta: Each time you start a mission (with few exceptions) you can pick upto 4 members of your gang to actually take part and you can pick a support member that will provide secondary benefits, like meaning reinforcements will arrive later, or that some of your opponents will be drunk. Once into the mission each participant on each side is put into a timeline’esque queue for when they will act, the space between each time they act is based off one of their statistics, so a high statistic means you act more often.
You then have Action points and Movement Points, fairly self explanatory. Abilities of your crew are pre-determined by the character and the weapon you have equipped them with, using any weapon except your fists means you lose any remaining movement points. This works quite well, I would have preferred some kind of skill tree however. When your crew levels up however there are perks you can buy which will provide passive bonuses to combat.
My biggest complaint about Omerta’s missions is the stock variety of mission locations, there aren’t really that many of them and the only thing that seems to randomise on them is the starting locations of the “pieces on the board”.
XCOM: The core set-up here is that you move all yours, then all the aliens move. Each of your squad which eventually can be 6 strong, can either move twice, move and shoot, or just shoot. As the soldiers progress there is an either/or skill progression which allows for much more varied yet tailored skill sets than Omerta. XCOM really steals the round though with the AI, the aliens make great use of cover, flaking and other tactics which you would employ which results in a much more challenging affair.
On the front of the maps, while XCOM does have its fair share of pre-determined layouts, there are more of them and there are also maps which seem to have random elements.
I will be honest, neither game is really an outright winner, they both have good elements and bad, and excel in different areas, and if the studios continue the franchises they both have the potential to make great strides and be truly great games, of course only time can tell on this.