When Robocop: Rogue City was announced, it was almost funny. Why in the world is a new Robocop game coming out in 2023? It’s a question I saw often. Sure, Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 film is an all-time classic, but it’s a miracle Robocop is even a “franchise” considering the deluge of transmedia duds that followed. But the narrative of bemusement and indifference changed almost overnight after a Steam Next Fest demo showed signs that developer Teyon has been cooking. And yeah, Robocop: Rogue City doesn’t just understand the assignment; this game rules.
As much as the world has changed since 1987, the themes that made Robocop’s darkly comical satire so effective are just as prevalent today. Corporate interests taking over America’s systems of governance and accountability are front and center in today’s media landscape. 2014’s Robocop remake took itself seriously and adapted to the times with contemporary mutations such as drone warfare and legislative sabotage. Rogue City attempts to juggle presenting Robocop to modern audiences and being a tribute to the original. The story here is set between the second and third movies, although you really only need to know the original to follow along.
It's Robocop 2.5, more or less
Rogue City’s premise maintains the status quo of Robocop 2 while making room for a new villain, aptly named The New Guy. Nuke, a deadly designer drug that drove the sequel flick’s story, is still hanging around and now every remaining criminal outfit is bidding for The New Guy’s cash. Robocop and his partner Lewis investigate a TV station takeover by one of the desperate gangs, but after taking some serious damage Robocop starts to have uncontrollable hallucinations involving his past life. These “glitches” give OCP a new justification to tighten the leash around the Detroit Police Department and attempt to regain control over Robocop.
Basically, Robocop has to have therapy.
Teyon’s biggest strengths are its sense of humor and ambition to capture as much authenticity as possible to the look and feel of Robocop’s late-80’s cyberpunk style. There’s something about the juxtaposition of that authenticity (actor likenesses, technology, hammy performances, Peter Weller!) with the more contemporary-feeling humor that produces a sharpness. A big part of that in Rogue City is the story leaning heavily on the absurdity of Robocop, but in a way that doesn’t seek to diminish the big guy’s status as a legitimate hero. To do that, Teyon constantly forces Robocop into the more mundane side of police work.
Protip: Robocop doesn't take fall damage
In addition to ending sections of the game with therapy sessions, Robocop often encounters side quests. The one that got the most attention from the Next Fest demo is indeed a high point that sets the table perfectly: Robocop is asked to open up a second line at the front desk to address civil complaints. Seeing the walking weapon typing at the computer and deciding whether or not to punish a man for naming his dog “Fire” is so dang funny. You’ll also get the chance to do things like ticket cars for illegal parking, scold children for skipping school, and help a rookie officer with field training (and constantly interrupt a civilian in distress with textbook training anecdotes). It’s so good.
Rogue City pushing Robocop’s ironic Good Cop personality in a decaying Detroit to its fullest extent is not only hilarious, but it serves the character well in our current time of historic division between law enforcement and civilians. Robocop is just trying to be the best police officer, and the world around him hates him for all kinds of different reasons. As funny as it can be, it also helps keep the character sympathetic despite the horror behind his existence.
Of course at the end of the day this is an action game, and Robocop still has to be cool. Once again, Teyon’s care for authenticity helps it hit a home run here. Rogue City isn’t a conventional first-person shooter. Robocop is a lumbering machine, a tank in human form. That’s reflected in the game, as nothing about the combat is fast. You lumber forward, with Robocop’s thundering footsteps given weight with a shaking camera and trembling UI elements. Enemies look tiny, and for most of the game can’t survive a direct hit from the signature Auto-9 gun. You can pick up other weapons dropped by enemies, but they typically don’t make much of a difference beyond changing up the gameplay for a spell.
"Buddy, I think you're slime"
Holding the left trigger activates a targeting mode similar to what Robocop sees in the original movie, lighting up enemies and enhancing auto-aim. The gore is explosive (and can be upgraded to goofy extremes), and death animations from the gamut from various exploding limbs to the classic “stumbling headfirst over rails” gimmick from 80’s action cinema. And yes, there are crotch shot animations as well. For the vast majority of the game, you are not in any real position of peril.
Other Robocop games have tried similar gimmicks in the past, but Rogue City really nails the concept. It’s weird at first to move so slowly and have such an over the top default weapon, but the vibe clicks into place in no time and plowing through goons becomes a gleeful experience in ultraviolence. When the challenge does kick in, depending on your upgrades, there’s still plenty of nuance to the mechanics to allow for some strategic play.
Rogue City doesn’t always hit a bullseye, nor did I ever expect it to. Sometimes late game enemy encounters are annoying showdowns against bullet sponges, and there’s plenty of low-ish budget video game jank to contend with. Sometimes the story tries to do too much at once with all the thematic elements Robocop is known for, and doesn’t hit them all as gracefully as others. The game is also annoyingly inconsistent with warning you about missable elements.
I'd buy that for a dollar!
One of the biggest problems I had was making use of Rogue City’s environmental elements. Robocop can grab all kinds of objects, from CRT monitors to guitars, and throw them. There are also obvious things like exploding canisters strewn throughout. But it’s weirdly difficult to suss out the physics and areas of effect for these things, often resulting in a bunch of duds. It was simply easier to stick to bullets despite how tempting picking up an acoustic guitar to Jeff Jarrett some dudes to death was.
Another element I was up and down on was the typical video game investigation gimmick of scanning things. In some ways, Rogue City seems to be poking fun at this trope, adding little jokes into scannable objects. Other times it feels like the worst of the post-Arkham Asylum tendencies games have to demand you sit there and pointlessly scan a bunch of objects for the sake of changing up gameplay and/or simulating puzzle solving. It’s not intellectually stimulating to examine a set of defined points and receive an answer, y’all.
Robocop: Rogue City is an argument that not only can licensing IP work well in smaller-scale games, but given the right combination of creativity and focus a more dormant IP can be especially effective. A property like Robocop does not have a clear position in pop culture right now, beyond the obvious late-80’s movie nostalgia. But the team at Teyon, with a combination of awareness and sincerity, definitely found one. I had so much fun blasting through waves of jabronis and laughing at Robocop’s earnest policing antics. In a crowded year like 2023, Rogue City is an unexpected gem.
Robocop: Rogue City is available on November 2, 2023 for the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S and PC. A code for the PS5 version was provided by the publisher for review.
RoboCop: Rogue City
- Authenticity on multiple levels make this feel like a long-lost Robocop sequel
- Absolutely hilarious on top of being a blast to play
- Strikes a key balance between nostalgic homage and contemporary affect
- No sign of Frank Miller
- Occasional jank, especially with things like alternate weaponry
- Investigative scanning, when not being used for gags
- Sometimes gets tripped up trying to do all the Robocop things
Lucas White posted a new article, Robocop: Rogue City review: Packing heat... and parking tickets
Well now I'm intrigued! Also a Jeff Jarret guitar reference was very unexpected!
I remember people liking that Terminator game well enough a few years back and when I looked it up I found out it was made by this same studio. Seems like they have a good handle on low-budget 80s movie games. Big Trouble in Little China next? Gremlins? Goonies?!
Oh the time distortion could make for a fun gameplay feature!
Hot damn... I'd buy that for a dollar!
Their terminator game was ok. I think I'll grab this when it's on a 20 dollar sale
No sign of Frank Miller