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RoboCop: Rogue City is… good?!

Double-A trappings might prove the secret ingredient for adapting 80s action.

RoboCop: Rogue City official screenshot showing RoboCop getting out of a car.
Image credit: Nacon.

Forgive the surprise, but 80s action movies haven't typically made for the smoothest transitions to modern video games. Predator had Predator: Hunting Grounds, for instance, "a naff waste of great material". Terminator had Terminator: Resistance - "generic and boring". The infamous Aliens: Colonial Marines was admittedly followed by Alien Isolation and the enjoyable enough, fun-flamethrowing-with-friends of Aliens: Fireteam Elite, but still. When RoboCop: Rogue City was announced and subsequently delayed back in 2021 by Polish developer Teyon - the studio behind Terminator: Resistance and its sumptuously awkward first-person sex scene, no less - I can't, personally, say I was too optimistic.

And yet! I've played some of RoboCop's new demo in the current Steam Next Fest and actually… it's not bad? In fact it might actually be kind of good?

The setup here is simple enough, and delivered through a pleasantly hammy introduction of down-the-lens newscasting and caricatured bad guy monologues. There's a new threat in town - an unknown ringleader literally called The New Guy In Town by the city's press - and it's got all the preexisting gangs especially excited. You're thrown into a classic tower block raid, with some relatively simple whack-a-mole gunfights and a couple typical hostage situations providing a bit of basic fun.

RoboCop: Rogue City in admittedly quite slow action.Watch on YouTube

The magic is in the pairing - RoboCop's nature as another 80s action protagonist that feels like he originated in video games first, less man-with-gun than a sentient gun with limbs attached. Have you ever felt like a bit of a giant baby in modern action games, spoon-fed your activities while thoughtlessly following orders from one waypoint to the next? Consider Officer Murphy as he slowly toddles into battle in his nappy-like black rubber Y-fronts, transfixed by the icons on his HUD, turning all designated enemies into chunks of practical effect pulp with a mindless burst of his booming, infinite ammo hand cannon.

It's wonderfully funny. And as Rogue City reminds you, Paul Verhoeven's original RoboCop is also a surprisingly rich text, at least compared to some of the other video game converts. The anchorman of that opening cinematic has a nice bit of deadpan delivery about some gormless cops, our brave heroes, returning home after getting lost and accidentally shooting a load of endangered animals. The police force of Old Detroit is over-militarised and under-trained, and privately funded by some mega conglomerate called Omni Consumer Products. "Dirtbag detected," RoboCop announces after exiting a lift. Every drug-dealing bad guy's a scumbag or a slimeball, or occasionally a slime-bag, here in the ultimate Reagan world.

RoboCop: Rogue City screenshot showing RoboCop waddle through flames into the Channel 9 building that's under siege
RoboCop: Rogue City screenshot showing the skill tree page
RoboCop: Rogue City screenshot showing Max Becker mouthing off about RoboCop being as able to experience emotional trauma as a microwave.
RoboCop: Rogue City screenshot showing newsreader Casey Wong in the opening credits.
Image credit: Nacon/Eurogamer.

In other words, at least in the early hours of Rogue City, Teyon seems to have nailed RoboCop's aggressively satirical tone. There's also hope for the rather simplistic combat to open up a little. Early on it's a game of trudging through corridors, clicking on heads to make them explode and very occasionally pressing 'H' to heal, or picking up the odd bit of "Crime Evidence" (a wonderfully redundant double-descriptor, like calling a burger "eating food" or equipping a new "bullet gun"). As you get back to Police HQ, it turns out there's a skill tree - I know - but actually a sort of interesting one, with potentially dovetailing skills like a dash and a reloading punch, that I can see adding some rhythm to the action, or greater deductive or psychological powers - for more effective gathering of Crime Evidence, obviously.

There's also a bit of fun with the classic RoboCop story of ghosts in the machine - Officer Murphy is just a face on a robot, long since legally dead.. Or is he?! - and around the precinct are some funny miniature sidequests, often operating as one-off gags adding colour to the dystopian satire. There's also a world map, which combined with the skill tree and the sidequests means this might all end up back in the realms of "generic and boring," but for now at least, there's hope. Rather than limiting Rogue City's potential, Teyon's decidedly double-A vibes complement it - possibly even elevate it. This is the tier of game development where satire belongs, I suspect - the beauty and gloss of more high-budget stuff by contrast almost gets in the way, like a heartthrob actor trying comedy. RoboCop, being a Verhoeven joint after all, needs that bit of a jagged edge, the bit of cheese, that you get from double-A games. It's always had more to offer than just blandly gory action, and RoboCop: Rogue City might actually deliver it.

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