We came into the reveal for Company of Crime knowing very little about what we were going to see, other than it was a strategy game with a focus on criminal life in London in a bygone era. What we discovered when we sat down for our guided tour was a turn-based tactics game in the spirit of Xcom that takes place in London in the swinging sixties, with nods to infamous crime families such as the Krays and the Richardsons and where players are tasked with trying to take over the underworld, or alternatively controlling the police and shutting them down.
We've seen narrative-focused tactics games explore the past in similar ways, most notably with Phantom Doctrine, but Company of Crime is different in a couple of key ways. The most notable unique feature is the focus on melee combat. There are guns available, but as we were told during our hands-off presentation over Skype, if you start shooting up the place it won't be long before you're being chased down by the long arm of the law. That being the case, it's often best to go in fists-first and beat your opponents just long enough that they'll fear you and do your bidding, but not long enough to call in the armed police and escalate the situation.
During an early mission, for example, you may have to terrorise the owners of a cafe, but you'll go in with no 'heat'. It sounds like using lethal force will quickly result in the bobby-on-the-beat who's just passing by being upgraded to a specialist unit, with you having to battle armed coppers who are much more likely to kill or capture your footsoldiers. Therefore, it makes sense to lead with your fists and use proportional force to achieve your aims.
The 'heat' we mentioned before works in a similar fashion to a 'wanted level' in something like Grand Theft Auto, where the higher the level, the more aggressive the response from the authorities. It can also pre-accumulate if you're overall play is too nasty, making later missions harder with the police already poised to respond to any criminal activity.
To keep the law off your back, you want to make sure that you don't leave evidence, especially if you're being violent or murderous. To that end, you can dispose of evidence, flushing drugs down the toilet, for example. Simply put, the devs seem to want you to play smart, but they also want you to play like a gentleman gangster, and so it's generally a bad idea to kill lots of people if you don't have to. To mirror that approach, the devs are also trying to balance the enemy AI to make sure they only pick up their guns when truly desperate.
The missions themselves are Xcomesque in the sense that you're taking it turns with the AI to move your units around grid-based environments. The key difference is that here it's a good idea to get up close and personal, cornering your enemies so you can give them a good kicking. To keep this part of the game engaging, the devs have implemented a couple of interesting features, the most impactful being their approach to so-called 'zone of control'. Simply put, this means the direction your units are facing relative to enemy units is supremely important, and you'll be working to flank enemies and hit them where it hurts (literally, kicking someone in the nuts is a great tactic). As units move around each other there'll also be RPG-inspired 'attacks of opportunity', so good positioning is going to be vital to your overall success.
There are two types of health: green health for gunfights and stamina for melee. The green health is rather straight forward - you'll die when you run out. On the other hand, when stamina runs out the unit in question is knocked unconscious. You can leave it there, or you can savagely beat your opponent to death once they're out cold (-10 stamina equals death), but the aforementioned heat system and the implications of being over-zealous should put most players off committing murder unnecessarily.
There are several classes and players will have to mix and match them to find a good balance. Bouncers are tough, tanky units that will be at the forefront of your attacks. Torturers can inflict effect damage such as blinding enemies. Brains are the smartest class and play like a support, and while they may not the best fighters they work well from afar and have the option to insult opponents (meaning you can enrage units and maybe trigger attacks of opportunity as they're dragged about the place). Smugglers are more slippery than the tank class but they're also capable fighters.
We were told of 78 locations/levels where missions will take place. The maps themselves aren't randomly generated, but the unit placement is. Locations can have multiple entrances so you can choose your approach for each mission, and beforehand you'll need to pick the right blend of units and equip them accordingly. We watched a couple of missions play out, including a heist at a jewellery shop, and during the demo, we were told about a number of abilities, including 'brace for it', an ability that units can use to reduce damage when taking on powerful enemies. It's important not to take too much damage because once a unit is disorientated they can't use a lot of their better skills and they wobble around.
When it comes to gunplay, the combat looks similar to Xcom with full and half cover, but the direction your units face is still key. Even during gun battles, melee can come into play, as you can wrestle weapons away when up close to your opponents. We didn't see much of this side of the game, however, so we're interested to see what a big battle between the cops and robbers looks like.
Away from the tactics, there's a strategic layer. Here, money and influence are your two main resources. Of the two, influence sounds more interesting as you can spend it on getting units released from jail or when you're taking over an area of London.
The name of the game is to ultimately extort money from people, unlock legal cover to front your criminal empire, and expand your forces (and thus bring more units into battle), and you get all of this by taking control of areas of the city. There are assignments that you can hand out to your criminal underlings, such as checking out the local area and working out what's what, and some of the assignments represent the preparations you'll need to make before a mission (while others won't be directly linked to missions at all).
As we mentioned before, you don't just have to be a criminal in the swinging sixties. You can also play as the cops, although this half of the game is a bit more reactive as you respond to criminal activities. Police chiefs will be sending out their constables to patrol areas of London, finding informants who'll tell them who controls what, and finding the evidence you need to proceed with arrests. Evidence is actually a resource that you need to spend on trying to pin down criminal activities, so for example, you might have to use some of the evidence you've collected to get a warrant so you can storm a location you believe to be criminal.
Going up against the criminal element you have a few unique tools at your disposal, including the legendary plain-clothes Flying Squad that you'll be sending in for raids. Homicide detectives are the tank class and are best for fisticuffs. Forensic investigators are support units that can use chloroform to knock people out, although they operate better at distance. Interrogators have access to attacks that initiate status effects, similar to the criminal torturer-class.
The strategy layer for both sides is represented by a map of London, and both factions will be moving their pieces around the board as if playing an elaborate game of chess. Cops can win by wiping out the criminal families, which is done by locating their bases and taking them down, but it sounds almost like a game of hot and cold as you search for their headquarters.
Company of Crime is more than just a criminal story, however, as it's also about the city of London itself. We were told about a heroic ending waiting for players - even criminal masterminds - with a secret third faction that both cops and robbers will want to take down as they try to do the decent thing and protect queen and country from an existential threat. The Order, as they're called, is trying to take down the government through nefarious means, and this unexpected narrative strand sounds like a fun conspiracy that could pull the whole thing together.
Visually it looks a little basic, most notably because of the character models and their Lego-like haircuts, but we were able to look past the fact that Company of Crime is a little rough around the edges at this early stage because there's a lot going on that could elevate the experience. Much will be determined by how well the developers can translate the thrill of hand-to-hand combat into turned-based gameplay, but we liked a bunch of the ideas that are being played with here, and the overall setting and theme are strong. We're intrigued, we'll say that much, and this is one criminal enterprise that we intend to investigate further.
Loading next content