by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
Long nights ahead
Wake me up in the middle of the night for a good turn-based strategy game and I’ll put on my bathrobe to come and play. I predict many a long night after Company of Crime is released. I certainly got that all-nighter craving talking to Creative Director Jussi Autio as he demoed his studio’s first game.
Set in crime-ridden London of the 1960’s, Company of Crime puts players in the midst of one of the city’s most violent periods. You control either an infamous crime family of the period or London’s prestigious organised crime task force, the Flying Squad.
The demo focused on a tactical mission in which Nate and Allie, two members of the Kray Brothers gang, set out to bring down the employees of a local pub that the gang would like to… appropriate. The turn-based mission felt familiar yet refreshing at the same time. Missions start with a showcasing of the mission map. There are helpful hints as to where certain things are expected to be found, along with the mission objectives. Most establishments have public areas where your team can go without drawing much attention, but they will also have areas that, should you enter, will cause the staff to raise the alarm and start a fight.
Keeping it quiet
This last bit is significant. One of Company of Crime’s main gameplay mechanics is its heat meter, which goes up along with your infamy and the amount of ruckus that you create during the mission. As firearms create quite a bit of ruckus, combat decidedly leans towards melee engagements. If you are a gunplay aficionado, don’t dial out just yet; Firefights are definitely on the menu. Better yet, another mechanic, stamina, makes brawling really interesting.
Firearms are not just loud, they also cause much health damage and they are very lethal. Melee attacks mostly reduce stamina, making them a more preferable solution in many situations. This is not just a gimmick mechanic, there’s real purpose here. Combatants that lose too much stamina are knocked out. They survive the mission and can be captured as well. A captured team member may spill the beans on your operations, but you may get him back at some point. Reducing stamina below -10 will cause someone to die.
The focus on melee combat makes the combatant’s zone of control super interesting. Anyone stepping in or out of a zone of control risks a free move against them. Much of combat revolves around trying to maximize or nullify various zone of control advantages. I saw Allie walking up to a big beefy guy blocking the door of the pub when she suddenly threw him over her shoulder. Landing onto another square, Nate had full access to the enemy’s vulnerable back and the door was free.
It’s one of many special moves that make classes feel unique. The Smuggler class ignores the zone of control completely but doesn’t have a very strong melee attack. The two-finger-eye-stroke temporarily blinds opponents, forcing them to relinquish their zone of control. You also get to literally butt heads, kick people in the back of the knee, knock them backwards… this game does not pull any proverbial punches. In the tightly designed maps you need to be smart about using these. A single bulky Bouncer can take a lot of abuse and defend a door for a very long time unless you outsmart him. Even the ranged Brain class has adapted to fit with the melee theme. The Brain hurls insults at the enemy to enrage them, which lowers their smarts and causes them to make stupid moves.
Jussi showed me how one of his henchmen picked up a bottle from the bar to hit an adversary on the head. “If you would be standing next to something like a liquor cabinet, you could make your guy throw bottles at an enemy to suppress him”. You can also pick up chairs and smash them on someone’s head. And if someone else turns your fistfight into a gun one, you could try and wrestle the gun away from him. You’ll have stopped the heat from going up and own a new gun in the process. Cool? Cool.
Location, location, location
Melee combat may be much quieter than gunfights, but they still make noise. Once the heat meter reaches a certain level the police will come. Depending on the heat level, it may be a couple of weak beat cops, but as the heat level goes up more capable police officers will join the fray. “In most situations it is best to handle the mission in such a way that you don’t have to deal with the police at all.” Jussi explained. “But as your crime family’s notoriority rises, so does the starting level of the heat meter in tactical missions. You may trigger heavy police involvement at the drop of a hat.”
Company of Crime features a strategy layer in which you get to plan your conquests (or purgings). The layer consists of a satisfyingly large map of London that has been divided into sectors. Each sector has a number of locations that represent your control over a certain area but also provide bonuses. Owning a pub allows you to expand your team, owning a tailor shop will provide them with clothes that offer light armor. My favourite may be the laundry. It will literally allow you to wash away the evidence. Team members using the laundry are taken off the roster for a while, but they come out mostly clean, even changing their appearance.
Neutral locations can be taken over fairly quickly, sometimes even by sheer coercion if you have generated enough influence and fear. If it is occupied by another crime family you will need to drive them out of business first. One way of doing this is by making the location unattractive to potential visitors. Commit a few violent crimes there and people will steer clear of it.
As you can imagine, cops and robbers have different goals and methods. This is translated both in the strategy and the tactical layer. During missions, your henchmen may accidentally leave behind evidence for the police to find. This raises the heat on them and may eventually lead to their arrest. And it’s not just evidence left on the scene that can get you in trouble. If you kill someone with a weapon, it becomes evidence too. Walking around with a murder weapon is a great way to get caught.
On the strategy layer, police sergeants patrol sectors to try and undermine the crime families’ operations. They can increase safety, search for informants, organise stakeouts and more. Crime families that attract a lot of heat will be easier to spot. On lower heat levels the police may be a bit of a nuisance to the crime families. On higher levels, they will actively raid locations to search for evidence such as bookkeeping, drugs and whatever else may incriminate the family enough to take it down. Criminals will try to escape, but if they want to keep the location they best leave with the evidence in hand or well hidden. As the police, your ultimate goal is to find and raid every crime family’s HQ. But you can’t do so too early. Crime families have sub bosses. If too many of those are still active, a family will simply re-establish themselves after you take down their HQ.
Jussi did not want to give away too much about the victory goals, but their aim is to provide a way to have a heroic ending for the crime family, making them celebrities. This may or may not involve a secret order that wants to destroy the British Empire, something that’s not good for either the police or the crime families.
A full playthrough will cover a couple of in-game years and is expected to last around 30 hours. As other crime families will follow their own agenda, and the police are working against you as well, I think those 30 hours will prove to be very dynamic.