RoboCop: Rogue City, the latest retro movie tie-in from the makers of Terminator: Resistance, is a likeably gory shooter-RPG hybrid. Our hands-on preview:
I knew I was in for a good time when, shortly after the demo started, I shot a thug in the dick. Whereas most games would simply have a stricken NPC stiffly keel over, RoboCop: Rogue City showcases a level of gore that can only be described as ‘ungodly’. Cut to my victim writhing around on the floor, clutching at the place where his manhood used to be.
“You’re the first person I’ve seen do that,” the PR behind me commented. Oh yes, I thought. These guys are true RoboCop devotees.
Homages to infamous scenes from the original 1987 film aside, I should have expected this level of attention to detail, given that 2019’s Terminator: Resistance ended up being one of my favourite games of that year. It was drenched in cameos, lore and Easter Eggs primed to stoke my love for T2: Judgment Day. Similarly, it’s clear from the three hours I spent with RoboCop: Rogue City that the team at Teyon has poured just as much time, care and effort into creating a game for RoboCop fans.
Having just tackled one iconic 80s franchise, director Paul Verhoeven’s cult classic seemed ripe for the FPS treatment. “RoboCop is very well known and [was] the next logical step,” game director Piotr Latocha tells me. “We looked at different options. It wasn’t the only one that we’re thinking about. But we knew that we could do it good because we had something based on Terminator: Resistance, and we felt like this could be a suitable project for us to do some RPG stuff”.
Previously, Teyon’s licensed game tie-ins have emphasised shooting over all else, but RoboCop contains some RPG elements that will allow players to explore Alex Murphy’s machine side. These appear to come into play during hub-like sections where you’re free to patrol a location, undertaking side missions that can span from ticketing an ill-parked car to chasing down a punk for spraying a wall with graffiti. In most instances, there comes a point where you can choose to empathise with the people responsible or uphold the law as written. In other words, are you more machine than man?
“We stick to the single-player, story-driven game, wanting to keep those RPG elements, because this is kind of our thing,” Latocha continues, who goes on to describe a typical skill tree system where RoboCop’s abilities gradually improve over time. “We believe the games are deeper this way. It could be just a first-person shooter, but it’s much more than that.” This small hint of a karma system, Teyon says, can even subtly affect the outcome of the story, but in a way that still neatly leads into the events of the less fondly-regarded 1993 sequel, RoboCop 3.
Setting Rogue City after RoboCop 2 was an easy decision for the developers, if only for certain narrative purposes; the 1990 sequel also marked the last point where original actor Peter Weller – who returns to voice the titular cyborg here – was still involved in the films. “The lore is richer by the end of 2,” says Latocha. “We wanted to keep the mood of the first one because the Paul Verhoeven version is the one that we love the most. Also, when it comes to the story, we found a thing that could be very suitable for a good new story within the lore that people already know”.
Aside from being sandwiched between the original film’s sequels, Teyon is hesitant to give too much away about where Rogue City’s story will lead. That said, even in the game’s opening mission where I got to storm through the Channel Nine news building occupied by a gang called the Torchheads, callbacks to Murphy’s pre-Cyborg life flickered into view more than once. If handled delicately enough, this alone was enough to convince me this could be the studio’s most sophisticated video game narrative yet.
It’s important to ride that line, too, given that the original 1987 film has become notorious for its satirical portrayal of news, corporations, and policing. Fortunately, RoboCop: Rogue City so far stays true to Verhoeven’s vision in this respect, without forgetting that it needs to play and look as a fun shooter too – even if RoboCop doesn’t function as your typical FPS hero. After all, he can’t run up walls, he can’t climb and can barely sprint. Teyon was therefore forced to be more creative in terms of how RoboCop physically handles, and find an approach that wouldn’t annoy players.
“That was one of the biggest challenges of the game,” Latocha chuckles. “He cannot crouch, he cannot stealth, but he can control heavy objects. He can breach through walls. That was more along the lines of our thinking”.
Also taking the edge off RoboCop’s lack of manoeuvrability is the sheer amount of hits he can take. Being clad almost entirely in metal has its benefits, it turns out, and it’s nice to not have to worry about instantly being cut down as you walk over to a car to then launch it at your attackers. You’re a tank in more than one sense of the word.
I’ve yet to mention just how detailed each of RoboCop: Rogue City’s locations are. Being built on Unreal Engine 5, it represents a huge step up visually compared to Terminator: Resistance. And while the faces of NPCs won’t fool you into believing you’ve avoided the uncanny valley, both interiors and exteriors look appropriately murky in that degraded, retrofuturistic way that RoboCop devotees have come to expect. Grime oozes from every inch of this digital Detroit city.
Another thing that makes Rogue City like a RoboCop story is its level of gore. As alluded to earlier, every gunshot from the Auto 9 handgun will paint the wall behind your enemy red, and Latocha says such an approach was planned from the start. “We knew we wanted to go brutal. To be able to do the same images shown in the first film. We didn’t want to go softer than that… [Nacon, the publisher] understood that we wanted to do that, and they were totally fine from the start”.
I left my RoboCop: Rogue City preview session impressed by the significant step up in both tech and story compared to Teyon’s last effort. In every aspect, it looks like the RoboCop game fans have been waiting for. And while it’s not quite triple-A, a game like this can get away with having a mid-tier budget because it makes perfect sense for the type of world it’s set in – if anything, it only adds to the retro-futuristic charm. Where the story goes remains to be seen, but I already can’t wait to patrol the Detroit city streets as a half man, half machine, all cop.
RoboCop: Rogue City launches on PC, PS5 and Xbox Series X|S this September.