Company of Crime Review
Of all the things that we get to experience as entertainment enthusiasts living in the 21st century, watching the evolution of the video game industry is definitely one of the coolest. Although most of us weren’t around to see how movies and books became what they are today, assuming you’re of legal drinking age, you’ve seen a good portion of the history of how the video game industry has come to be. You’ve likely watched as original IPs launch to critical acclaim, how greedy publishers force good developers to push out mediocre sequels, and how franchises die because of those bad follow-up games. Then you’ve waited a few years, wished that you could relive the magic of that original game, and gotten excited when that franchise gets an amazing reboot. And finally you’ve probably cringed as less experienced developers create mediocre knock-offs of that amazing reboot.
This is roughly the story of the XCOM franchise, and as such, it’s also the story of Company of Crime. Taking place in 1960s London, it’s clear within the first few minutes of the game where it drew its inspiration. You start the game as a thug on the streets of The Swinging City when you happen across a jewellery store and choose to rob it. After a brief tutorial, you’re thrown into an overhead camera, given a hotbar full of skills and are told to play Commander until you can knock out everyone in the store, escape a reinforcement wave and make it to the extraction point.
Once you make it to the dropship, er, escape taxi, you then return to your base, are given another brief tutorial on the game’s grand strategy elements and are set loose to build your criminal empire. Over the next twenty-odd hours, then, you’ll complete the expected slew of big picture strategy elements to take control of the city. You’ll need to recruit gang members who all fit into one of four classes, equip them with the best weapons you can afford and extort shop owners until they let you buy their business. You’ll also need to make sure you aren’t drawing the attention of the police, deal with rival gangs in story missions and do everything else that you’re expected to do in a strategy game.
While managing all of these things, you’ll also need to frequently send your gang members out on the game’s XCOM-styled tactical missions. In these, you’ll select three or four of your best mobsters, equip them with your best weapons and send them into one of the game’s tiny pool of levels to beat up everyone they can find. These levels play out about as you’d expect for a game that hardly tries to hide its inspirations: you position your gangsters around the enemy’s biggest DPS dealer in the game’s gridlike levels, start the fight, use up your two attack moves, end your turn and let the enemy punch you back. Then you do the same thing again and again until all of the enemies are dead, move your units to an extraction point and return them to base.
Although none of this is particularly bad, these levels simply fail to provide the amount of enjoyment that many other turn-based strategy games can give you. Once you position your units, almost every level in the game ends up devolving into an all-out brawl where nothing besides each side’s damage outputs and amounts of health matters. Company of Crime doesn’t make the critical mistake of having baddies with stunlock AOE attacks, but there’s still so little strategy involved that there’s little satisfaction to be had when you succeed in a fight.
This sentiment extends to the game’s grand strategy section, too. Nothing in the game’s empire building element is game ruining, but none of it is very much fun either. Doing almost anything in the overhead menus — from purchasing guns to letting your units rest after a battle— takes upwards of a week of in-game time. This means that a ton of playtime is spent simply waiting, so when you finally accomplish something on the game’s map, it’s almost an annoyance because it means you’ll need to look away from your phone for a few minutes.
Fortunately, waiting around does allow you to enjoy the game’s fantastic art and sound design. Instead of opting for a much more serious set of graphics, Company of Crime has visuals that are simply fun to look at. They’re not quite as silly as Borderlands’ cell-shading, but they’re cartoony enough to make even the game’s map fun to stare at in between missions. The music, too, is about what you’d expect from a game that’s set in 1960s London. It doesn’t quite manage to save the game from mediocrity, but it’s upbeat and enjoyable enough that you probably find yourself wanting to listen to it on Spotify.
The art and music do a great job of complimenting the overall not-too-serious tone of the game’s story, too. The story is pretty cliche, it follows a no-name bum who slowly comes to take control of all of London with all of the expected twists and turns that involves. However, it does so with such Britishness that it’s hard not to enjoy its camp. Enemies frequently shout out lines about the bobbies or tea, your main villains are stupidly dumb but fun archetypes of the 1960s and there’s a pint on every bar table and a red phone booth on every corner. It’s not quite as much fun as Monty Python, but it’s hard not to enjoy almost every bit of the game’s writing if you’re a fan of anything British.
Unfortunately, this can’t quite save a game that perpetuates the cycle that happens after every beloved game gets a reboot. The game’s story, music and tone are nothing short of fantastic, but all of the background elements in the world can’t save the game when actually playing it isn’t much fun. There’s such a tiny pool of levels, so much waiting in between those levels and so little strategy involved in them that it’s difficult to recommend Company of Crime over rewatching your favourite British television show.
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