Crime Boss: Rockay City's latest update reflects a year of learned lessons

By Phil Hornshaw, Contributor
A year after its initial release, Crime Boss: Rockay City has gone through some serious changes. The roguelike heist game has added new story content, weapons, seasonal events, and a variety of improvements to its first-person shooter gameplay. However, its most recent update is its biggest to date, redefining many aspects of the game from the ground up. In addition to new missions, equipment, and a host of bug fixes, Update 8.0 completely reworks how progression works in Crime Boss, making the experience more cohesive and unified.

With its latest update, developer Ingame Studios is looking to improve the multiplayer experience of Crime Boss as it continues to chart a course in the competitive live-service genre. Most of that groundwork was laid when the game first launched. The idea is that players can band together as eponymous "crime bosses" to execute heists: casing jewelry stores, sneaking into gang-occupied warehouses, or knocking over armored cars to take home as much loot as they can. Much of the experience is in executing different thefts as smoothly as possible with up to three other players or computer-controlled teammates by ambushing and tying up guards, controlling civilian witnesses, avoiding security cameras, and disabling alarms.

Almost inevitably, though, things go wrong. The second half of many Crime Boss levels has you shooting your way through police patrolmen and SWAT teams, playing out your own impromptu version of the movie Heat as you fight to make it back to your getaway vehicle with all the loot you can carry—and ideally everyone in one piece.

Crime Boss includes both single-player and multiplayer modes. In the single-player campaign, you take on the role of gangster Travis Baker (played by Michael Madsen) and try to build a criminal empire to take over Rockay City. The campaign uses "roguelite" elements such as randomized levels and progress that resets if you die to keep the experience fresh. The multiplayer side emphasizes teaming up with other players to execute heists. With the new progression system released in Update 8.0, however, it doesn't matter what mode you're playing—the money you steal and jobs you complete all feed into a leveling system that allows you to unlock new weapons, equipment, and character skins.
Crime Boss Rockay City S Latest Update Reflects A Year Of Learned Lessons Warehouse
That progression system opens up new guns, crew members, and gear you can take into additional jobs in both single-player and multiplayer. As you earn new stuff, you're able to change your approach to a heist or play a more specific role on a team. You might be the one carrying a heavy weapon for your eventual stand against an army of cops, or opt for the capacity to haul additional loot to the getaway van, trading the promise of bigger rewards and faster theft for the risk of potentially being slower and less effective if things get violent.

Thanks to the new progression system, no matter what part of Crime Boss you're playing, you're always earning new gear with which to customize your character and playstyle across all the game's modes.

As Game Director Jarek Kolář explained, the Crime Boss series had always been good about selling the fantasy of growing your strength as a crime lord in its single player campaign. With the progression changes in Update 8.0, Ingame Studios wanted to make sure that same experience made its way to multiplayer.

"It was about motivating people to keep playing the game, especially the multiplayer, and to give them goals to try and achieve," Kolář said in an email interview. "To start from nothing, build up your crew and your gear and express yourself through customization. We wanted to give players a sense of individuality and it also gives us room to add new assets that players want to see in the future."

The new progression system feels like a total rethinking of how Crime Boss works as a live game. The single-player campaign uses a roguelike structure, meaning that your quest to take over Rockay City can be repeated over and over again with randomized levels and elements to give it a new feel each time. But with the new progression system, items you unlock as you play can alter the experience, giving you rewards that carry over between runs, while also providing new options for how you take on heists in multiplayer. Each time you level up, you're given a choice of three different upgrades, but you can only choose one—this forces you to think carefully about whether you need that new piece of gear, or would rather grab a character skin that makes you look extra cool to the rest of the criminal element.

Since the progression system is now unified across all Crime Boss's game modes, you can engage with the game however you want and still feel like you're unlocking major rewards that let you change how you play the game.

"The approach was that players should be rewarded for any time they spend playing the game, no matter which game mode, and that each reward should impact the gameplay in some way," Kolář said. "At the start, level-ups will give you the option between three lower-level unlockable items, but as you progress, rare and legendary items become available, which should encourage players to attempt larger missions on higher difficulties. The gameplay and progression lean on each other and make it so that completing jobs has a greater payoff than just money or loot."
Crime Boss Rockay City S Latest Update Reflects A Year Of Learned Lessons Menu
Though the progression system is the main focus of Update 8.0, it brings other tweaks as well. How players relate to and advance through the game got the bulk of the focus, but adjustments also were made to the single-player campaign as well. It includes three new levels, and the whole thing has been streamlined for shorter campaign runs that better fit with Crime Boss's replayable roguelite thrust, so that replaying the campaign gives different experiences based on the choices you make along the way.

"To support the elements of the game, we condensed the plotlines and randomized them for each playthrough," Kolář explained. "Content was not cut, just reused more suitably considering the roguelite genre. This way, no two campaigns feel the same and it draws you to play more to reveal the whole background of each large mission. We’ve also added various choices that can be made at the end of each big heist that result in different outcomes and will affect the gameplay. These changes give the single player a more seamless progression."

Kolář said the new levels add variety to the experience, and the team wanted to provide players with fresh locations to flex the game's new features. A heist level and a new take on the warehouse robbery both support a stealthier approach for players to take, while the third level is about attacking a police convoy to bust out a captured gangster. All three are bigger levels than players are used to in Crime Boss, Kolář said, with more obstacles and things to do, as well as support for randomized layouts that change with each new run.

There's always new content in the pipe for a live game, and Kolář said that while the team is currently focused on responding to requests from the community—balancing different elements and squashing bugs—the studio has plenty of ideas for future content. These include new heists, events, and expansions of Rockay City's lore and the stories of its various characters.

As for Update 8.0, all these changes come from a year of the Ingame Studios team learning about developing Crime Boss in a live-game environment. With updates that brought balancing adjustments and new content, the developers have found areas they've wanted to improve and responded to player feedback.

"We wanted to improve upon what players could do in the game and what we are capable of as a smaller studio," Kolář said. "We learned to prioritize fun over complexity, that missions need to be bigger and surprising to keep players engaged, that the bots matter, that the story must flow but not overwhelm, that easy engagement matters and that there needs to be more motivation to play multiplayer. We learned a lot."

Crime Boss: Rockay City is available on the Epic Games Store, and it's on sale for 60% off until May 14. You can also try it before you buy it with a free trial that runs May 10-12.