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RoboCop: Rogue City understands its satirical subject matter

Your move, creep

When director Paul Verhoeven and writers Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner created RoboCop, they set out to comment on the issues affecting ‘80s America – rampant consumerism, corrupt politicians, gentrification, and the militarization of the police force, to name a few.

At the time, action movies were competing to see who could pull off the biggest set pieces, rack up the highest kill count, and film the most gory deaths. So, naturally, another target was the desensitization of violence. This manifests in both the movie’s fictional news anchors reporting on horrific stories with all the emotion of a mannequin and RoboCop’s own absurdist violence. In near-future Detroit, one bullet wound is never enough and genitals exist to be shot off.

This is also captured in advertisements for Nukem, a fictional board game that lets players bomb each other into oblivion. For a generation scarred from the quiet horror of the Cold War, it was a chilling prophecy about our complacency. Fast forward 30-odd years and Nukem looks tame compared to the games we play today, which leaves RoboCop: Rogue City in a bit of a weird place. This is an unflinchingly violent game, but does it manage to go just far enough that it tips into satire? Yes. Yes, it does.

I didn't see one of these machines in the RoboCop: Rogue City demo, but I can't wait to knock one down some stairs. 

I didn't see one of these machines in the RoboCop: Rogue City demo, but I can't wait to knock one down some stairs. 

I just finished playing the generously sized free demo for RoboCop: Rogue City on Steam and the developers at Teyon have nailed exactly how a RoboCop game should look, sound, and feel.

It opens with a news broadcast – the same dead-eyed anchors, completely deadpan – commenting on the return of a missing submarine. When it surfaced in the bay, onlookers opened fire out of fear and killed 12. “Welcome back to the US, sailors,” the anchor says. Then the broadcast is interrupted by a crew of anarchists who want to capture the attention of a local crime boss, so a cop is wheeled into the frame before he’s injected with an overdose of illegal drugs.

That’s the tone nailed, then. It also sounds like RoboCop, from the movie soundtrack swelling as you stomp through the media offices to the hiss of RoboCop’s leg pistons as he climbs a ladder. He doesn’t run, he doesn’t crouch, and he doesn’t wait for reinforcements – he is the reinforcements. Even the way squad cars catch on the too-steep off-ramp, kicking up sparks as they exit the police station is movie-accurate.

You feel heavy as this legally dead PTSD cop-bot. Every step comes with a stomp. You don’t cower behind cover – you just stamp and shoot as bullets ping off your chassis.

Entire rooms look messed up by the time you're done unloading rounds into them in RoboCop: Rogue City. 

Entire rooms look messed up by the time you're done unloading rounds into them in RoboCop: Rogue City. 

Your hip-mounted pistol spits out bullets like a sneeze and bodies crumple and fly back from the force of the impact, leaving massive blood spatters on the wall behind them. If someone gets close, you either punch their head off or grab them by the throat, from where you can use them as a human shield or throw them at their friends or through plate glass windows. Shoot them in the nuts and they’ll grab their crown jewels with both hands before keeling over sideways.

The environmental destruction is just as on point. Papers fly from desks, pillars crumble, glass smashes, water coolers leak, gas canisters explode, and monitors and other desk items ping across rooms as bullets whizz.

Once you’re done with a mission, you head back to the police station for a baseline check and a debrief that ranks your performance based on the number of hostages saved, evidence found, and some other factors that look like they’ll get more complex as the game progresses. You’re also able to upgrade your skills with an RPG-lite system, unlocking perks such as ricochet shots. Skills such as deduction and mechanics will also open up more options when you’re solving cases on the streets.

There's more to RoboCop: Rogue City than shooting perps. 

There's more to RoboCop: Rogue City than shooting perps. 

At the station, you even get to man the desk and deal with citizens’ requests. One man said his neighbors were harassing him every time he took the dog out, but I ended up choosing to fine him because his dog was called “Fire” and he kept yelling its name in the street. Depending on your choices here and in the larger hub areas around Detroit, you can skew toward either upholding the law or serving the public trust.

It might sound a bit lame being a cop in 2023, but this isn’t copaganda. Like the movies, there’s plenty of side-eyeing of the police force and their methods in the demo alone. A lot of the NPCs at the station are lazy frat boys who would rather pull pranks than save lives. As I stomped through an apartment complex in one side mission, I heard someone from one of the rooms tell their kids to hide under the bed “in case shooting starts again”. When I apprehended a bunch of drug dealers, I caught them debating economics ethics as it pertains to the narcotics trade. Rogue City understands the assignment.

Obviously, this is only a demo, but the only major weak point of what I played was performance. Every single fight was plagued with frame rate issues, but it’s a testament to the game’s quality that I suffered through the tech problems and still had an excellent time. I didn’t think I’d find myself excited about a RoboCop game in 2023, but I’d buy it for more than a dollar. 

In the meantime, check out our list of the best FPS games