The 1920s prohibition era has always been somewhat of a golden goose of gaming for me. We’ve come close in the past but all eyes are on the Romero Games driven Empire of Sin to do the job. Will the game be an untouchable madman or will John Romero make you his snitch?.
Empire of Sin is somewhat of a melting pot of genres and ideas culminating in what could be described as a 4x Strategy with RPG elements. The goal of the game is to become the “King of Chicago”, to do this you have to control all the booze and the best way to do that is to make sure you’re the only boss left standing.
You start the game by choosing one of 12 real life crime bosses, all with a slightly different narrative to go along with the whole domination thing. Each boss has strengths and weaknesses along with combat abilities unique to them, I personally enjoyed lighting up a room with a storm of bullets from Al Capones Chicago typewriter!. After a brief taxi ride which determines yours starting conditions and fleshes out your reason for being in Chicago it’s time to start being the best mob boss you can.
Now before we dive any further into the main gameplay of Empire of Sin it’s worth noting here at the start of the game you choose your difficulty, neighbourhoods and enemy bosses which gives you complete freedom on how long/tough you would like your experience to be, rather than following just a predetermined narrative/amount of time.
The game has a rather robust tutorial and the quest system is worth following through so you get a full handle on how exactly to carve your name into the streets of Chicago, it covers from your first moves into “acquiring” some liquor to hiring underbosses and even through boss negotiations.
The general flow of the game involves you procuring businesses from rival gangs or low level thugs and turning them into establishments to further your empire, speakeasy, breweries, safe houses y’know typical gangster builds. When you’ve stacked enough green from selling liquor your next move should be expansion, at the expensive of a rival boss of course.
When coming into contact with another bosses goons you will be offered a sit down or you can offer one should their heavies find themselves lost on your turf. Here you can either come to a suitable business agreement, enter an alliance or outright insult them prodding them into a gang war.
The combat of the game is very reminiscent of X-Com, its turn based, cover focused and just as fun as always despite a few odd choices. Bosses seem to be the only units with special abilities and the maps in which combat takes place seem lacking and with you mostly initiating the combat you can give yourself the most advantageous start.
There are plenty of stats to keep a track of and plenty of handy spreadsheet menus to help you keep track of your ever expanding empire. Naturally you also need the best gear and this is all ranked with the usual common to epic and it isn’t too long until you’ve got yourself well equipped for going to the mattresses.
Naturally any good crime boss is only as good as the goons he hires, fortunately you have a little black book of contacts. This shows how every character has their own personality, strengths, weaknesses and love and hate of other characters. A careful boss will manage these well to avoid upsetting the help and leaving them all alone to take Chicago.
There are alot of systems going on in Empire of Sin which give it a rather grand scale feeling, lots of micromanagement to really get your teeth into to ensure the role of King or Queen of Chicago. Sadly and it gives me no joy to say, it doesn’t always work the best and would have maybe benefited from a little more time in the pizza oven.
One of the main issues is the ability to go straight to a safe house and initiate combat, this completely overrides the costly “going to war” option, naturally you can play it the way intended but the temptation is always there.
Another issue is the fact there is only 1 win state, when it comes to this genre I expected other conditions such as “get all city council in your pocket, become mayor or successful snitch on the other bosses” instead it ends when you have killed the other bosses and only then.
Graphically it looks nice at times and painfully awkward at others. There are also a good few bugs including disappearing henchmen which can be quite troublesome. Finally the characters seem to have no memory, you can upset someone and have them leave your family for them to be more than happy to rejoin straight after!.
I have really been enjoying my time with Empire of Sin and as the game is receiving updates and soon DLC, it should only continue to expand and improve. As of right now it’s a fun experience but could have done with a little more development time to really make use of the various genres and ideas on display here.
Great ideas held back by lack of development for them. Still an enjoyable gangster management romp
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