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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

RoboCop: Rogue City Hands-On Preview

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Over 35 years since he first stomped the streets of Detroit, RoboCop returns to the frontlines. Teyon, the studio behind Terminator: Resistance and Rambo: The Video Game, is primed for its most ambitious ‘80s action movie revival yet. Set between the events of RoboCop 2 and 3, with Peter Weller reprising his iconic role, RoboCop: Rogue City takes us back to Old Detroit once again to clean up the streets. Promising familiar faces, a huge helping of explosive violence, and the franchise’s gloriously stilted, cheesy humor, Rogue City is a bloody first-person shooter that takes us on an authentic trip to Alex Murphy’s old haunts to chase a new threat.

Rogue City opens with a now-familiar satirical news segment, which is interrupted by a gang of punky thugs dubbed the Torch Heads. This band of criminals is heavily tied to Nuke, the highly-addictive narcotic from RoboCop 2, and they proceed to take the Channel 9 news team hostage. Enter Detroit’s shiny robot cop and his partner, Agent Anne Lewis, who are called to quell the disturbance and hunt down the gang’s leader, Soot.

This being RoboCop, restoring peace is done with little subtlety. Armed with his legendary Auto 9, RoboCop trudges methodically through the building, popping enemy skulls with each well-aimed shot. Despite his slow, tank-like movement – I’ve never played an FPS with a protagonist as slow and deliberate as RoboCop, and it took some time to adjust – he feels practically indestructible. He’s so heavily armoured he doesn’t need to hide behind cover, he just soaks up bullets like a sponge. And if he runs low on ammo, no problem – just walk up to the nearest crim and punch a hole in his face.

RoboCop: Rogue City Preview Screenshots

As such, Rogue City immediately makes you feel like a boss level threat, and none of its early enemies really stood a chance against me on Normal difficulty. RoboCop can neutralize a room full of enemies within seconds and thanks to his scanning abilities, you can sweep and clear the surroundings with ease. While this combat loop was satisfying for a couple of hours – there’s no doubt that dishing out justice with a machine pistol to the RoboCop theme isn’t a memorable experience – I do question the longevity of it all. RoboCop will only get more powerful as the game progresses and in the brief time I had with the demo I didn’t face a single enemy that posed a real threat, so where does the challenge come from? Hopefully that will become apparent when we can spend more time with Rogue City.

Rogue City immediately makes you feel like a boss level threat


After a fiery first meeting with the Torch Heads, I got a brief look at how Rogue City will tackle RoboCop’s other duties. Alongside fights to the death with the main gang, you take on investigative objectives to poke around for clues at crime scenes and make arrests. RoboCop has no reservations about taking out hostile foes in one fell swoop, but some of Rogue City’s side quests have him restoring order by more peaceful means. In one case, I could choose a non-threatening dialogue option to convince a suspect to part with valuable information about the whereabouts of a drug dealer, rather than “making him cooperate”. So violence isn’t the only route you can take when chasing leads. In another side quest, my main contribution was simply carrying a drunk perp to a cell as a favour to another police officer. Furthermore, public trust is earned by interacting with Detroit’s inhabitants and there’s a skill tree option that allows you to open up new dialogue choices to aid in your investigations.

Detroit itself feels like a city in distress. The disheveled buildings and grimy streets are ripped straight from the movies, and the delinquents that lurk on street corners are more than just set dressing. Listen closely enough and you’ll pick up splinters of conversation that, when you piece them together, may provide clues about where to lead the investigation next or open up new side objectives.

Rogue City is built in Unreal Engine 5 and, despite a few frame drops and glitches in the preview build I played, its gloomy alleyways and neon-soaked shop fronts look slick and detailed. RoboCop himself looks fantastic too. Teyon has taken care to recreate every grill and compartment on his suit, and the city lights gleam on his armor when you stop to talk to other characters – even if there are moments where the lighting doesn’t hit quite right. Noticeable camera-shake and the heavy thud of RoboCop’s footsteps made me feel like a hefty tank when I was stomping through the streets. I also had a chance to briefly see what’s left of Alex Murphy behind his visor, which looks very close to Peter Weller’s striking face. Fans will immediately recognise other returning characters like Anne Lewis, but the majority of character models aren’t anywhere near as realistic as RoboCop’s. The Torch Heads have a selection of different hairstyles and outfits to differentiate them, but you won’t be paying much attention to their attire when you’re caught in a firefight anyway.

This rogue city is a grubby and authentic step into Paul Verhoeven’s dystopian Detroit, and it springs to life on your patrols


This rogue city is a grubby and authentic step into Paul Verhoeven’s dystopian Detroit, and it springs to life on your patrols. Between quests you can use Robo Vision to scan for nearby misdemeanors like traffic violations and disorderly conduct to ensure you clean up every nook and cranny of the city as you go.

Although RoboCop is still bound by his Prime Directives, I enjoyed the few occasions I was able to work around them to suit the kind of RoboCop I wanted to be. One side quest had me handling complaints at the police station, where I had the chance to decide whether to side with the individual or issue a ticket. In situations where things can turn violent, players will sometimes have the option to take a pacifist approach. There’s certainly room for empathy in your interactions with the people of Detroit, and keeping them happy will increase your public trust score. Nonetheless, in the few investigations I’ve conducted so far, I was still met with plenty of opportunities to exercise RoboCop’s silly humor, and sometimes that means being a little heavy-handed. For example, during one quest I had the chance to utter a stiff one-liner before smashing up someone’s radio because it was too loud. Was this unnecessary? Definitely, but justice was served.

RoboCop starts with a few base abilities, including night vision, a shockwave that mimics a flashbang, and the option to temporarily slow down time to clear a room quickly. Aiming down sights scans the surroundings to highlight nearby enemies to make them easier to spot, and he can also move faster, shifting from a slow, deliberate stomp to a heavy brisk walk. Additionally, these abilities can be upgraded to improve their effectiveness and, in some cases, turn them lethal. For example, continuing to invest points in the Combat branch of the skill tree eventually buffs Robo’s shockwave to instantly kill enemies, whereas sticking with Armor upgrades his suit so it deflects bullets to damage enemies.

RoboCop’s potent primary weapon, the Auto 9, has its own tab of upgrades that are unlocked throughout the game’s 20-30 hour campaign, but I didn’t get to see any of these enhancements in action. Players can also pick up firearms dropped by the city’s lawbreakers and use them for a limited time. However, I typically stuck with the Auto 9 due to its reliability and unlimited ammo. There are also exploding barrels, hefty CRT monitors, and more to fling around Rogue City’s destructible environments, all of which work well as makeshift grenades. I only encountered human enemies during the demo, a couple of whom wore helmets for extra protection and some that carried exploding barrels, but more recognisable enemies, including ED-209 who featured in the trailer, won’t appear until later in the game.

There’s no escaping RoboCop’s trigger-happy approach, and nor would you want to, but ultimately he’s still a police officer instated to uphold the law. As such, there are several skills that build on Robo’s eagle eye and lightning-speed processing powers, which come in handy when you’re searching for clues. Some objects and indeed people can be scanned to get more information during an investigation. There are also instances where you need to pause and collect a specific number of clues to analyze crime scenes. This is where Robo’s Deduction and Engineering skills shine. Deduction provides enhanced scanning abilities, which help you detect more useful information such as safe combinations. Then, if you’ve leveled up your Engineering skill enough, you can crack open the safes themselves.

The decisions you make throughout the game will impact Rogue City’s ending


Arguably the most interesting side of RoboCop is his Psychology branch, which leans into the game’s choices system. Investing enough in this skill doubles your public trust points and later lets you predict the consequences of certain dialogue choices. According to the developer, the decisions you make throughout the game will impact Rogue City’s ending, although we’re not sure to what extent just yet. Game director Piotr Latocha says that some choices will determine which side characters live or die, but we’ll have to wait to see how much of an impact this has on the story. Your choices also have consequences that may surface sooner than that. These can be almost immediate, such as coaxing out information that provides a lead in a case, to more subtle ripples later on. For example, letting a kid off with a warning for graffitiing may lead to you getting a favorable mention scrawled on a city wall down the line, opposed to something hostile.

One thing that Rogue City doesn’t shy away from is RoboCop’s flashbacks to his life as Alex Murphy. This surfaces almost immediately as an ongoing malfunction and it's something OCP is eager to fix. This side of RoboCop is clumsily handled in the movies and never truly reaches a satisfying resolution by the end of the second film, but the game’s developer assured me that this will be an important part of Rogue City’s story. Combined with the dialogue options and decisions players can make, I’m keen to see how deep Teyon dives into the lingering human fragments in RoboCop’s memories, and whether they’ll have a more meaningful impact on the story this time around.

Overall, Rogue City has the makings of a faithful homecoming for RoboCop fans. The demo immediately nails the franchise’s exaggerated badass tone and it’s pumped to the gills with humor, violence, and all the movie callbacks you’d hope for. However, I’m curious to see how Teyon plans to maintain RoboCop’s momentum to keep combat feeling fresh and introduce more of a challenge as players unlock new abilities and upgrades. I’ve only played through Rogue City’s opening missions and didn’t have a chance to test the game on different difficulties, but I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to see a wider variety of enemies, or face a real threat that forced me to use RoboCop’s full set of tools. While some of RoboCop’s abilities sound promising, it’s difficult to predict how much of an impact they’ll have on the game’s combat loop without trying them against tougher enemies.

After recently watching the movies, I was excited to step into the shoes of a powerful action hero and tear through Detroit. RoboCop certainly feels capable of doing so, but I’m concerned that simply bulldozing through enemies will lose its appeal quickly. I’m also intrigued by the idea of seeing more of RoboCop’s interactions with other police officers and the public, but it's too early to be sure how deep Rogue City’s choice system really goes.


Emma Matthews is IGN's Junior Syndication Editor.

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