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Crime Boss: Rockay City preview: quick, chaotic, action

Crime Boss: Rockay City is a much-needed new game in the heist genre that focused on quick missions and chaotic action

The world needs more heist games, I’ve always believed that. Payday is undoubtedly the king of the genre, but occasionally a game like Teardown comes along to show you a new way of doing things, and it gets those fires burning for something different. That’s what Crime Boss: Rockay City is attempting to be, giving us a good mix of familiarity and novelty.

Like Payday, you and three teammates are trying to infiltrate a place, loot to your heart’s content, and get away before you’re overwhelmed. However, unlike Payday, there are no extended drawn-out heists in Crime Boss, as every level is a brisk five to ten-minute smash-and-grab. In the game mode I got to play, which is the most co-op-focused mode, three heists are strung together for a campaign.

Crime Boss Rockay City money truck spilling cash onto the street

There’s a lot to like about it. Each character is distinct, with unique weapons and utility items, be they bricks, remote explosives, or performance-enhancing drugs – there are apparently no doping regulations in organized crime. On top of that, they all have a limited number of revives, with permadeath being a factor within each campaign. It creates a good feedback loop where poor performance in one level will give you a harder time in the next, and with such short levels, the incentive is always there to go back and do better.

It’s easy to get into as well. The shooting is simplistic and arcade-like, but that’s what you want in a chaotic game like this. Stealth is always an option, but the intention is that eventually, things will break down into a shootout. Members of rival gangs will viciously defend their goods, and the local police force will stop at nothing to take you down, so the ability to blast them away without too much trouble is the point.

That said, there’s also an emphasis on caution that conflicts with the over-the-top vibe of missions. Alongside the limited revives, the characters are all pretty fragile too. They have regenerative health, which stops it from being too bad, but if you get taken by surprise and don’t immediately find cover, you’re probably going down. If you can find the sweet spot between cautious and aggressive play, then you can get a lot out of it, but that’s not something most players will stumble into.

Crime Boss Rockay City, gang member

Plus, the short missions can sometimes leave you a little deflated when they end far too soon. Having them put together in a campaign helps, but there were several times when I’d just sunk into the rhythm of a shootout and was starting to really enjoy myself, only for it to suddenly end. I can’t help but wonder if the mission lengths should be a bit more varied. You don’t need to go to the lengths that Payday does, but a more drawn-out finale to each campaign would be far more satisfying.

After playing, the development team explained that this co-op mode wasn’t really the main event, with that instead being the single-player campaign. It’s an interesting direction to take this kind of game, and I can’t help but feel it will live and die on how competent the AI allies are in combat, as that’s something many co-op games could never get right.

The story and ‘80s action hero and crime movie cast are clearly this game’s selling point, and there’s a fun overall tone. It plays out a little like a spoof of a heist movie, playing into all the tropes and turning them up to eleven. You’ve got the cool protagonist who doesn’t take any crap, the overeager gang members who just want to blow everything up, and the hardline sheriff tracking them down – played by Chuck Norris.

Crime Boss Rockay City map

The overall parody vibe lands, but not all the cutscenes do. I didn’t get to see many during my time with the game, but what I did see was rather cringeworthy. It’s a lot of the stereotypical dialogue you’d expect from the genre, but without much work done to turn it into anything special. It feels like the game can’t decide how seriously it wants you to take it.

Still, the core of Crime Boss is the fun shootouts and over-the-top action, which shine through when you’re charging around with your group. If the campaigns can inject enough variety to create memorable set-pieces and lots of chaotic action, then I think fans of games like Payday will have something they can sink a lot of time into.