- PC, PS5, Steam, XBOX Series X|S
- Action, FPS, Sci-Fi, Superhero
- Release date
- November 2, 2023
Paul Verhoven’s classic 1987 film, Robocop, is considered by many to be the definitive cyborg film. With its unique blend of satire and bloody violence and an inspired performance by its lead, Robocop’s spot in film history is well earned.
Robocop: Rogue City
In 2019, Teyon brought us Terminator: Resistance, which set the new standard for what a movie-licensed game could achieve. With Robocop: Rogue City – a love letter to the first two Robocop films’ dystopian vision of future Detroit, they’ve done it once again.
When the developers transformed the world of the film into a virtual space for players to explore, no detail, no matter how small, was missed. The story picks up where Robocop 2 left off. Omni Consumer Products (OCP) has successfully shed the blame for the failed “Robocop 2” cyborg going rogue, and they’re just as determined as ever to replace the decrepit Old Detroit with the corporate-run Delta City.
They also still have an outsized influence on the Detroit Police Department and control of Robocop himself. In the opening mission, a local gang attempts to get the attention of a new bad guy, creatively called “The New Guy,” by hijacking a local TV station and taking hostages.
At the culmination of the hostage rescue, Robocop experiences a memory that causes him to hesitate, requiring his partner, Detective Anne Lewis, to step in. As a result of this “defect,” Robocop is fitted with a new chip that will monitor and try to prevent these “glitches” from happening. If they can’t be stopped, OCP has promised to shut him down for good.
In this first-person shooter, players take on the role of the titular cyborg, Robocop, as he investigates this new threat to Detroit and tries to understand the nature of the “glitches” that are causing him to lose control. To do this, players will have to shoot and punch the hell out of a lot of bad guys and leave a gory mess of broken bodies in their wake. While combat makes up the bulk of the gameplay, players will also need to participate in other police work, such as investigating crime scenes, issuing citations, and even rescuing a cat.
Nostalgia Factor 9
Several locations from the films have been lovingly transformed from a series of disconnected sets into three-dimensional spaces for players to navigate. For example, the police station lobby, locker rooms, lockup, gun range, and garage all have real locality now.
For fans of the films, it’s like a non-stop easter egg hunt. Robocop works in some of his most popular lines from the films, but they’re incorporated, so naturally, it doesn’t come across as hamfisted. If you’re familiar with Robocop 2 (1990), it’s hard not to snicker as you hear him quote cheesy aphorisms when he issues citations. Everything’s here, from the 1986 Ford Taurus police cars to the “really $h!tty gas mileage” SUX 5000, from Robcop’s Auto 9 pistol to the Cobra Assault Cannon. Ever fantasized about going up against an ED-209? Now’schance.
Seeing Is Believing
Nearly every conceivable step was taken to recreate the atmosphere of the films. The set lighting and the lens filters are enough by themselves to convince you you’re in that world, but the developers went all out.
For example, when the player switches to Robocop’s scanning mode, they’re treated to a near-perfect re-creation of the first-person sequences from the films, down to the artificial scanlines which slightly darken the screen and the crosshair boxes that form around targets as the computer recognizes them. Even the streets of Old Detroit are filled with rain-glistening concrete and puddles that reflect the street lights. They’re strewn with litter and garbage that has convincingly collected in the corners and around fences.
In action, the re-creation is just as stunning. When you fire the Auto 9, its muzzle flash flares out in an X-shape. The impact of bullets hitting a soft target is just as wildly exaggerated as the overdone squibs from the films, as is the blood spray and gore that erupts as three-burst rounds chew through a body.
Standing Your Ground – Gameplay
Robocop is a bullet sponge. He doesn’t crouch, he doesn’t have a dodge mechanic (well, not really), And, while not invincible, he can take quite a lot of punishment before going down. This encourages players to stand their ground and rely on targeting and quickly taking out threats rather than zipping from cover to cover to survive an encounter. As a result, battles feel slower-paced and more contemplative than many other FPS games.
The controls felt tight and responsive. For the most part, the aim assist worked well and was nearly transparent to the experience. However, it does have the tendency to work against the player at times. This is most evident in situations where an enemy is standing next to something explosive. If you try to move the reticle over the explosive, you’ll feel the aim assist fighting with you to keep your weapon pointed at the enemy.
Do You Hear What I Hear?
Just as much care was put into the audible as the visible when creating this experience. Every little whirr and whine of a servo motor has been re-created, along with the unique sounds of each weapon being fired and the impact of its bullets. Perhaps the most delightful sound is the simple “thuck” of Robocop’s footsteps.
Musically, the soundtrack is brilliant. Most of it is original and fits the action beautifully. While they did license the original theme, they showed restraint when using it, which made it all the more impactful. It’s only heard in a subdued piano rendition that plays over the title screen and in full during a climactic battle at the end. This was masterfully done.
The game takes full advantage of multi-channel surround sound to create an atmosphere with constant low-level noise and effects. Character voices properly pan around according to the camera orientation.
Progress Not Perfection
Each action, whether it’s blasting a gang member, finding bits of contraband, or issuing a ticket for parking in front of a hydrant, earns players experience points, which can be spent on improving various attributes like armor or engineering. As these attributes are leveled up, there are also special abilities granted, such as being able to open a safe without finding the combination or revealing the locations of hidden items on the map. This fairly basic mode of progression gives the player a little control over things without turning them into chores.
Players will also have the ability to upgrade the Auto 9 pistol using “motherboards” salvaged from bosses and found in R&D labs. It’s not just about increasing damage or reload speed either – you can also get full automatic fire and armor piercing, and for no reason other than the fun of it, you can increase the amount of gore shown when you blow away a bad guy.
The balance of progression is so well done it’s hard to overstate. With many games, it’s easy to peak early and take all of the challenge out of the game or peak late and give you awesome abilities you can only use once or twice before the end. Here, it felt like you were able to make Robocop into an unstoppable juggernaut at just the right point that you were able to maximally enjoy it.
Glitching Isn’t Just For Robocop
It’s, perhaps, ironic that Robocop glitching is part of the story’s main plot because this game has its share of trouble with stability. The PS5 version has nearly constant visual artifacts and other issues. The PC version, which this review is primarily based on, fares a little better in that these issues are a bit more sparse. The way telephone cords are rendered is so hilariously bad it’s hard to tell if the rendering is bugged or the developers just ran out of enthusiasm. Most of these problems are benign and only occasionally distract from the action, but there is one progression-breaking bug where an NPC gets stuck in a floor if you approach the objectives in the wrong order. Our playthrough required reloading an earlier save that lost about an hour of progress.
Story: How It Started
It’s important to put the source material in perspective to understand what Teyon has done here. So let’s start with Robocop (1987), the film. Robocop’s veneer of ultra-violent action was so flashy that it nearly drowned out the themes that were really at its heart. For all of its gore, it was also a cynical admonition of corporate greed, capitalist excesses, and the dangers of corporate lobbying, along with an existential examination of what it is to be human.
Released during the Reagan years, when the US had emerged from an economic slump very reminiscent of the one we’re experiencing here in the early 2020s, Robocop’s writers were obviously trying to be critical of American Exceptionalism by taking some of the liberal bugbears of the day and extrapolating them to the level of ridiculousness. Good examples of these are the film’s fake commercials for cars with intentionally bad fuel economy and sunblock that will definitely give you cancer with repeated use but is the only thing to protect you against the sun now that the ozone layer is gone.
These criticisms were so unrealistic that they became comical and ironically resonated with many of the people the writers were trying to lampoon. Instead of a poignant morality tale, its anti-capitalist message became a parody enjoyed by capitalists the world round. As for the existential question of whether Robocop is still human, the emphasis on ultra-violent action sequences left only enough screen time to examine it in the shallowest of terms.
Story: How It’s Going
Teyon has succeeded at something very difficult with Robocop: Rogue City in that they have managed to faithfully re-create the film experience while still telling an original story that fits in perfectly with the themes of the first two films. The surface story is still that of a dystopian world of greedy men wielding the power of their wealth and corporations to play God. The cynical parodies of capitalist excesses have barely changed. This is to say that the writers stuck with the elements from the films without trying to legitimize them as serious criticism. There’s even a mission about Sunblock 5000, which is all the more hilarious, considering we all know the panic about losing the ozone layer was silly.
Where the story really shines is in the additional time the writers were able to devote to the existential question that Robocop faces about whether he is still Alex Murphy and whether he is still human. Rather than just telling you the answer, you’ll be asked to discover it for yourself – your responses will determine the outcome.
While the game offers you choices that have some impact on which epilogue scenes you’ll see, there are no branching paths or major divergences that would make a compelling case to keep playing after the credits roll for the first time. A low replayability score is not necessarily a negative in this case, as the game gives you ample opportunity to see and do everything in a single play-through.
Robocop: Rogue City is an excellent example of what time and passion can do for a video game. It’s a well-known stigma in the industry that movie-licensed games are generally crap, but this game defies that trend in all of the best ways. With tight shooter controls, a good variety of gameplay types, and a quality story that respects the source material and brings it to life, this game is a must-play for fans of the genre and fans of the films alike, and we are thrilled to mark it as Worth it.
It may be a bit controversial, but I’m going with “none” on this one. While there are definitely some anti-capitalist themes, they are hilariously disingenuous to the point where I believe they were genuinely intended as the parody they ultimately are, and much more so than in the original 1987 film. If the writers were trying to sneak woke elements into Robocop: Rogue City, I expect they would have tried to introduce more relevant criticisms instead of carrying forward with the ones that were already there in the twenty-six-year-old source material.
When the original film was released, Detective Ann Lewis’s depiction of a tough female cop was somewhat novel. Despite that, the character did not exhibit the woke character traits of being masculine, being the physical equal of a man, or being a lady boss. If the writers had wanted to make this story woke, they would have had to change those things, but they did not. In Rogue City, Ann Lewis is still a tough cop and commands the respect of everyone in the precinct, but she is still ultimately feminine and doesn’t have to be built up by tearing down the men around her.
Finally, I appreciate this game’s acknowledgment of Christianity. Many games about the future of the United States either pretend that Christianity never existed or stand up some thinly disguised surrogate for Christianity at which to lob one-sided criticisms. Rogue City doesn’t have a religious aspect, but there were three things it did to acknowledge Christianity indirectly. Firstly, there’s a mission where you’re asked to find a VHS tape in a rental store, and the clue you’re given is that the title has something to do with The Bible. The character who gives this clue does so matter-of-factly, as though he expects everyone to have a general working knowledge of biblical phrases. Secondly, during a prison riot, as you’re walking through empty rooms on the way to your destination, there’s a leather-bound Holy Bible sitting on one of the counters by itself. No context is offered. It’s not next to the Quran or other religious symbols. It’s not sitting next to a pile of drugs. It’s just simply there, acknowledging that it exists. And lastly, when the characters say “God,” the subtitles properly capitalize the proper noun. This doesn’t mean the writers are Christians or even theists, but it does mean that they didn’t intentionally use bad grammar just to be derisive.
Simon is a science fiction author, tech blogger and retro gaming enthusiast. He lives in the US Midwest with his two sons and wife of 26 years. Though he doesn't consider it a religion, he is unabashedly Christian. His heritage is primarily Native American and Scott/Irish. He is an outspoken libertarian (in belief, not necessarily in party) and values the principles of freedom and individual sovereignty above all else.