The ’80s was a weird era for lots of reasons, but looking back now one of the oddest things was the movie industry’s penchant for making child-friendly spinoffs and merchandise for films that weren’t really child-friendly at all. Alien, Terminator, Predator… they all had action figures and videogames that were semi-sanitised versions of the source material.
Prime among these is Robocop, Paul Verhoeven’s satirical masterpiece about the future of law enforcement. A cynical and clear-eyed view of what the future might hold for inner-city America and its corporate overlords, the film is not just brilliant but incredibly violent: in a key early scene, officer Murphy is shot so many times it’s almost comical. Almost.
Luckily I wouldn’t see this until many years later, because for my boyish self Robocop was a game made by Ocean for the Game Boy, and it was awesome. All I cared about was that Robocop looked cool and it was a decent shooty platformer. Looking back now, though, I have to admit that like many ’80s classics Robocop had a slightly depressing afterlife of spinoffs like this and sequels which don’t really do the source material justice.
So to Robocop: Rogue City, and my cautious optimism that this may be one of the most decent stabs at the character in years. Partly that comes from developer Teyon’s previous title, Terminator: Resistance, which is a slightly janky and barebones take on the future war seen in those movies—but what it absolutely nails is the atmosphere. It’s a Terminator game that feels like it was made with real love for that world, in contrast to the ‘good enough’ miasma around everything else Terminator.
Robocop: Rogue City goes right back to that classic character design from the first film and, best of all, has Peter Weller returning to reprise his role as Alex Murphy (the dead cop that Robocop is built from). The game is first-person, a perfect fit for a movie that also makes extensive use of first-person shots, and your main weapon is his Auto-9 pistol: “you will fight forces seeking to destroy the city you call home in an all new first-person, explosive hunt for the truth.”
The way that Teyon describes the narrative roughly aligns with what happens in the first film, such as OCP being given control of the Detroit police, so this seems like something adjacent to that story rather than a re-telling or continuation. The trailer shows various combat sequences, one in particular inspired by the film’s factory shoot-out in layout and environment design, and at the end we get to see our old friend ED-209 who no doubt has brought more than a few buddies along.
Much as with Terminator: Resistance, this looks like a game that’s doing the best it can with limited resources: some of the enemy movement is undeniably stiff, for example. But the Robocop model is immense, the way the UI incorporates stuff like his targeting system is perfect, and dammit all I want to do is protect the innocent and uphold the law. Come on Teyon, get this one right.
RoboCop: Rogue City is coming to PC in June 2023, and can be wishlisted on Steam.