The ‘80s gave us some of the most enduring action movies ever. While these films and their plots were memorable, it was often their over-the-top heroes that fans latched onto. Decades later, characters like RoboCop, Rambo, and The Terminator command much the same respect they did upon release. Even when those franchises aren’t releasing new movies, the heroes’ frequent guest appearances keep the nostalgia alive. With the recent release of action FPS RoboCop: Rogue City, the ‘80s are back in the spotlight. Unfortunately, Rogue City also reveals a challenge that Alex Murphy and other classic heroes will face going forward.
‘80s Action Movies and Social Commentary
Most people don’t think of ‘80s action movies when they think about social commentary. There’s an argument that we should do just that. RoboCop, First Blood, and Terminator did more than just introduce muscle-bound heroes with a fondness for big guns and explosions. The stories of Rambo, RoboCop, and Terminator asked pointed questions about the world around them. 1987’s RoboCop dealt explicitly with a variety of social issues. That included what the privatization of the police would mean for justice and the law. Plenty of fans just wanted to see cool gunfights and couldn’t have cared less about the film’s deeper themes. For those who wanted depth, however, Paul Verhoeven’s film brought it in force.
A major part of the original RoboCop as well as Rogue City is Omni Consumer Products. In the bleak future of Old Detroit, this massive company has its hands in just about everything. Its latest venture is the privatization of the police. The ODPD is transformed from a traditional police force into a private army, blurring what it means to serve “law and order.” At the center of this social and political maelstrom are Officer Alex Murphy, aka RoboCop, and Officer Anne Lewis and Sargeant Warren Reed. RoboCop doesn’t just use his metal fists and Auto 9 to deliver a beatdown to the city’s most violent citizens. He also raises tough questions about what the responsibility to Protect and Serve looks like.
RoboCop: Rogue City, Rambo, and Video Game Themes
One of the biggest problems with RoboCop: Rogue City is it betrays the legacy of the original film. Failing to ask tough questions would be bad enough, but the game actually turns its back on the satire and cultural commentary of the original. During the main plot and side quests alike, the player is forced to accept injustice and illegal actions without any opportunity to question or challenge them. When RoboCop stops short of entering a building without a warrant, Anne kicks the door in and chides RoboCop for following the law. When a store owner accuses two young people of disturbing his customers with their loud music, RoboCop can tell the young people off or threaten them with electrocution. There’s no investigation, no attempt to see the other side.
If a new Lego or SpongeBob game lacked cultural commentary, it wouldn’t matter. For a franchise like RoboCop with such commentary in its bones, however, Rogue City’s thematic shallowness is a massive blow to what makes the original great. Imagine a Rambo game that tries to do justice to First Blood without saying anything about war or veterans. Arguably, the closest we’ve come to that is the Rambo and RoboCop skins that have appeared in Fortnite. Purged of their themes and symbols, they’re just empty costumes. There’s nothing wrong with loading into Fortnite as a squad containing RoboCop, Rambo, Terminator, and Naruto. That said, they’re closer to kids in Halloween costumes than the actual characters.
The Future of RoboCop
RoboCop has a lot of staying power. There’s almost zero chance that Rogue City will be the last game we see from the franchise. So, what should the future of RoboCop look like? If you don’t care about keeping franchises faithful to the original, then it doesn’t matter. If you do, then the next game featuring Alex Murphy has some wrongs to right. The writers in particular are responsible for creating an authentic narrative that’s more than just “shoot Torch Heads and chat with the Old Man.” Developers owe fans an authentic portrayal of whatever characters they’re working with. Otherwise, this cyborg icon of law and order becomes a glorified toaster with a gun.
RoboCop: Rogue City is available for PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X/S.