The RoboCop franchise has had a rough time ever since RoboCop 3. For a while, it seemed that 1993’s RoboCop Versus The Terminator on Sega Genesis was going to be the last time there would be a good game featuring Detroit’s baddest cyborg.
Since then, there has been a soulless PG-13 remake in 2014 and there was Titus’ low-budget, low-effort abortion on Xbox in 2003. If you had seen the first two films starring Peter Weller, it would be easy to assume that a video game adaptation wouldn’t work. RoboCop is deliberately a slow-moving tank-like man with limited mobility. He’s effectively a vegetable on life support, encased in titanium, powered by synapses and a computer system.
The minds behind the criminally underrated Terminator: Resistance have cracked the code to making a good RoboCop game. It’s not just a quality and authentic game that does the first two films justice, it supplants the third film and acts like a true sequel to RoboCop 2, like how Terminal Reality’s Ghostbusters can be regarded as the sequel to Ghostbusters II. How did they do it? Read this RoboCop: Rogue City review to find out!
RoboCop: Rogue City
Platforms: Windows PC, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5(reviewed)
Release Date: November 2, 2023
Price: $49.99 USD
RoboCop (1987) is one of the few films to come out of Hollywood that could be described as a perfect movie. It manages to be endlessly entertaining while also managing to be rich with its prophetic themes. It made sense that there would be a demand for a video game adaptation since Alex Murphy/RoboCop was a character that resonated with many gamers.
RoboCop: Rogue City is set after the events of RoboCop 2 (1990). Cain may be long dead, but the lasting impact of his Nuke drug cult is as strong as it has ever been. There are dealers all over the streets of Metro Detroit, prostitutes loiter at almost every corner, kids have guns and drunken homeless men wander the streets. Gangs and weird killers skulk in the darkness… it’s almost as bad as the real Detroit.
The story is admittedly a retread of the first and second films but has the benefit of interactivity where players can shape Murphy’s alignment. Gamers will have to balance how and when to uphold the law and when to serve the public trust.
This comes down to how hard on criminals you wish to be. This is an interesting dynamic because it affects how NPCs will view RoboCop: is he a trustworthy human or a cold machine? You decide. It is like the developers took a few pages from Deus Ex: Human Revolution‘s playbook.
RoboCop: Rogue City isn’t an immersive sim since Murphy has too many limitations compared to a human. He handles as he does in the film. He moves slowly, doesn’t crouch, and can quickly target foes. He only will unholster his sidearm when his OCP programming permits him.
Playing as RoboCop is an absolute joy because you feel like a powerful and unstoppable force. His hulking metal frame allows you to plow through enemies with ease, and the game’s combat is incredibly satisfying. He can punch and throw enemies around through glass like Clarence Boddicker in the first film. Grabbing random objects like TVs or propane tanks become lethal weapons.
The iconic Auto-9 pistol can blast punks to pieces. Just like the film, it has infinite ammo and is versatile enough that it can be modified with upgrades using a cheeky chip system that is kind of like the sphere grid from Final Fantasy X. Naturally, dropped weapons are always an option and are worth using since they’re all wildly different.
The skill tree buffs Murphy’s stats as well as gains him new abilities that can help in a shootout or when helping people. RoboCop: Rogue City isn’t always making punks’ stumps squirt jets of red jam. There are some delightfully cheeky moments where gamers can participate in Yakuza-like side stories, like getting other officers in the police station to sign Lewis’ get well soon card.
The game’s environments are also beautifully realized. The neon-lit streets of Old Detroit are a sight to behold, and the gritty alleyways and towering skyscrapers all feel like they belong in the RoboCop universe. All of the details and callbacks from the fake advertisements in the movies are here. Ads for MagnaVolt, Sunblock 5000, and even Nukem board games can be found lying around
The game’s world feels alive and believable, and it has a liminal atmosphere when stomping around the rain-slick streets at night where a puking hobo and stray cat are lurking in the distance. Sadly, none of the arcade games are playable. This was a missed opportunity to get Data East’s RoboCop (1988) arcade cabinet as an amusing bonus
Peter Weller reprises his iconic role as RoboCop, and he delivers a fantastic performance. His voice sounds almost exactly like he did in 1987 and 1990. He brings his A-game here and thanks to the video game medium, there is a lot more room for him to show more sides to the character. Stand-out moments are during his psyche evaluation sequences where the struggle in his voice is utterly gut-wrenching.
Unfortunately, other characters don’t fare as well. There are some bizarre casting choices for incidental or minor characters. Moments like a haggard and filthy drunk-looking black hobo sounding like an articulate white guy is enough to raise an eyebrow and be taken out of the scene.
The old CEO of OCP was originally played by Dan O’Herlihy, who has been dead since 2005. The voice actor who does his voice sounds nothing like him and doesn’t even bother with an Irish accent. Anne Lewis’ voice actress kind of sounds like Nancy Allen but gives a flat performance.
RoboCop: Rogue City‘s music makes extensive use of Basil Poldouris’ RoboCop theme and leitmotifs. The composer for the game creates new variations of the iconic theme song with different tones and new sound cues that sound like they would have fit in the original movies.
RoboCop: Rogue City does manage to impress with its visuals thanks to Unreal Engine 5. The environments, gore, weapons, and RoboCop look excellent. Peter Weller’s distinct lips are finely modeled and his ghastly visage when he removes his helmet is unnerving.
The only sign that RoboCop: Rogue City isn’t a AAA-game is the laughable seventh-gen era facial animations. The lack of expression works fine for Murphy since he has a default steely stare, but everyone else ends up resembling a cheap animatronic.
RoboCop: Rogue City is a triumphant first-person shooter that authentically creates a RoboCop experience. The fine balance lies in making players feel powerful enough but also pitting them against unbelievable odds.
Concessions like the regenerative health packs don’t make sense in-universe but they proved to be necessary to make the action fun. Abilities like slow-mo or the ricochet shot are more in line with things that Murphy has done in the films and suggest attention to detail that most media tie-ins rarely achieve.
Murphy isn’t going to move like the Doom man in Doom Eternal. RoboCop: Rogue City is a methodical FPS with some lite roleplaying and adventure game elements. It’s sardonic with a satirical scenario and has very obscure fan service that only die-hard RoboCop fans would catch. Gamers who can accept this are going to have an enormously fun time.
Robocop: Rogue City was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a code provided by Nacon. Additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy can be found here. Robocop: Rogue City is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), Xbox Series X|S, and PlayStation 5.