RoboCop: Rogue City is a first-person shooter set between the second and third RoboCop movies. Developed by Teyon (Terminator: Resistance), it follows our titular hero (wonderfully voiced by the irreplaceable Peter Weller) as he fights crime in Old Detroit and solves a slowly unraveling mystery. Along the way, RoboCop (Murphy, as I’m sure he’d prefer to be known) acquires gear, completes sidequests in vaguely open environments, and earns upgrades via a simple XP system.
If you checked out towards the end of that description…well, I can’t blame you. The same words could easily describe any number of recent games (and more than a few adaptions). Rogue City doesn’t necessarily make a great first impression, and I’m not just talking about the game’s back-of-box credentials. Its outdated visuals, numerous technical problems, and the generally unrefined nature of the entire experience have already turned off more than a few potential fans. From bugs and half-finished animations to unoptimized UI and sometimes sluggish controls, Rogue City often feels, looks, and plays like a game that a Triple-A studio would be shamed for releasing.
Of course, Rogue City isn’t a Triple-A game. Teyon could never match the resources required to replicate the most polished modern Triple-A experiences, and they don’t seem especially interested in coming as close as they can to doing so. For that matter, they don’t seem too concerned with hunting every bug or streamlining the experience as much as possible. Many reviews of the game are already knocking the title for those shortcomings, and I can understand why. They’re often jarring, and they’re objectively issues from a purely technical perspective.
However, some are saying those issues represent the game’s lack of ambition, and that is where I have to disagree. Just because developer Teyon didn’t aspire to make a Triple-A game doesn’t mean that they didn’t have other ambitions. Namely, they clearly aspired to make not just a great RoboCop game, but a RoboCop game that felt unique and representative of the love they clearly have for this franchise.
Look at the game from that perspective, and you can start to appreciate not just the time that went into this game, but where that time went. Rather than release a polished version of a familiar modern gaming experience, Teyon focused on little things that other games may be content to push to the margins. Enemies’ limbs explode with all the fury and splatter of an expertly implemented Verhoeven squib. RoboCop moves like a clunky tank because he was manufactured by a project group from a major corporation looking to stay under budget. You can use various guns and environmental objects found throughout the game, but if want to stick with the iconic pistol you start Rogue City with, that’s fine. It’s not only supposed to be one of the most impressive pieces of weapon technology in this universe, but it’s a vital part of the entire RoboCop fantasy in the first place.
Besides, it’s not like Rogue City doesn’t have visual flair just because it’s not traditionally beautiful in the modern gaming sense of that word. Many major environments are brimming with details, and numerous elements of the UI and presentation are designed to capture that feeling of playing through the movie. Visually, this entire game is just one big Easter egg that is just waiting to be opened. It certainly doesn’t hurt that RoboCop‘s style has also held up surprisingly well over the years, largely because those visuals were derived from greater narrative ideas and clear directorial intent.
Beyond paying proper tribute to its source material, Rogue City makes up for its various technical shortcomings in other ways. Of particular note is the quality of some of the game’s side activities and the morality system that they often impact. Neither rival the quality of similar systems seen in the best RPGs, but for a pretty straightforward action game, they’re far more creative than you’re probably expecting. The same goes for the game’s upgrade options. Most upgrades feel more impactful to your experience than the “+5% damage or whatever” upgrades found in so many modern skill trees. By the time you’re tanking your way through a hail of bullets in order to grab a gangster and toss them halfway across the room into an unsuspecting underling, you will feel where all of those upgrades went. For a game that nails the feeling of playing this character in that world right from the start, I was surprised by the ways many of Rogue City‘s upgrades and activities ultimately exist to evolve that essential experience.
Mind you, Rouge City‘s flaws aren’t limited to its technical issues. Most notably, the game’s story is a bit of a disappointment. It’s fully functional (and more entertaining than what you’ll find in the majority of the RoboCop movies), but it doesn’t break any new ground and it often misses out on some of the more subtle elements of the original movie’s nearly perfect narrative. There’s a fan fiction vibe to the whole thing which can be a little disheartening when you consider hor the original RoboCop‘s story made it so much more than an exceptional ’80s action film. Rogue City occasionally delivers a narrative beat that feels in tune with that film’s greatest ambitions, but those sporadic moments will make you wish the rest of the story strived for just a little more a little more often.
Yet, Rogue City still has that crucial X-Factor that is starting to separate the truly great games from the pack: their creators’ ability to shape the experience using their unique voices and talents. You can find that quality in notable modern masterpieces like Elden Ring, Tears of the Kingdom, Red Dead Redemption 2, Baldur’s Gate 3, and Alan Wake 2. Those games often feel like they couldn’t have been made by any other studio. At the very least, they leave you with the impression that another studio couldn’t have done nearly as good of a job on those titles (even if they had access to the same resources). The same can’t be said for a legion of polished, yet soulless, modern video game products that feel like exactly the kind of thing that OCP would mass produce.
Rogue City is nowhere near the Triple-A experience that those games are, but it was never going to be. If Ubisoft, EA, or Activision had made Rogue City, I’m sure it would have been a perfectly playable, entirely acceptable RoboCop game that regularly dodges meaningful criticism through variations of the “it’s for the fans” argument. Well, Teyon treated that “it’s for the fans” mentality as a challenge rather than as a shield. In doing so, they focused on making a game that not only feels like it’s entirely theirs but represents their clear (if occasionally overly enthusiastic) love for this franchise. More often than not, it will likely remind you of your own love for RoboCop in ways you can’t really experience outside of simply rewatching the original movie for the 100th time.
I’ve never minded a little jank in a video game if that jank is acquired in the service of striving for something more ambitious than “functional.” Technically flawed games like Kingdom Come: Deliverance earned their cult fanbases by focusing on the things that their Triple-A competitors often abandoned along the way, and, in its own ways, that’s what Rogue City does. Call it a mid-2000s action game, but Rogue City isn’t just another mid-2000s action game. It’s Breakdown, Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter, and Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy. It’s that mid-2000s action game that always felt just a little different and that you still fondly remember because too few games ever really even tried to recapture their creative spirit.