Empire of Sin Overview: Crime pays off in a intelligent technique sport from the period of the prohibition

Empire of Sin Review: Crime pays off in a clever strategy game from the era of the prohibition

“Empire of Sin is a clever mob management game with a strong environment but some notable technical problems.”

  • Updating setting

  • Clever management system

  • Strong role play elements

  • Missing options for battle speed

  • Failure and instability

Empire of Sin Left-Field pairing the 1920s prohibition story with high-level strategy game tactics works so well that it’s almost a surprise nobody thought of it before. It turns out that the world of bootlegging fits perfectly into a genre that is about managing operations and carefully planning every move. Who would have thought that?

The creative strategy game is a kind of wild passion project for Romero Games, an indie studio run by the married duo John and Brenda Romero. According to John Romero, the inventor of Doom, game director Brenda Romero put the idea into practice for over 20 years, and those two decades of conspiracy are evident in the end result. The game is as carefully planned as its criminal operations.

Despite its rough edges and the desperate need for battle speed options, Empire of Sin is a confident history lesson from the time of the prohibition that brings together some of the best elements of RPGs, as well as strategy and tactical games, to create a memorable mob management game. Create experience.

The roaring 20s

Empire of Sin is set in an alternate version of 1920s Chicago, in which the real world’s greatest gangsters of the time have gathered in one place to battle for supremacy. It’s almost like Super Smash Bros. for jazz-era nerds when familiar faces like Al Capone and Stephanie St. Clair are embroiled in a city-wide turf war. The goal of each playthrough is to be the last gangster to stand when the smoke from the gun goes away by executing each rival.

This setting is rarely used in the video game world, and it’s instantly enjoyable to dive into here. There are lots of people dancing in the bars, jazz music plays during the brawls, and there is enough cigar smoke to suffocate a horse. It’s not shy to offer a romanticized portrait of this time, but it doesn’t sacrifice its dedication to historical detail to do so. At a time when video game worlds are getting bigger and fancier, strolling the humble streets of Chicago is something refreshing.

The historical backdrop is not only used for aesthetic staging. While the 1920s presented gameplay challenges for a flashy action game, Empire of Sin took advantage of the slower pace of the era. At its core, the game is the most rampant city management game in the world. Players set up various rackets such as speakeasies and casinos and must carefully monitor them. Increasing the word of mouth of a brothel might make more money, but it can just as easily encourage a police raid. This constant balancing act makes building an empire a series of decisions that will have a real impact on any playthrough.

Thanks to simple menus, it’s surprisingly easy to keep track of everything that’s happening. This is a godsend for a complex game of its kind that could easily overwhelm players with options. I always knew exactly how to build a gang trade, bribe the Chicago Police Department, or change the alcohol my bars serve.

This constant balancing act makes building an empire a series of decisions that will have a real impact on any playthrough.

The game does an excellent job of rewarding efficient planning and money management. I felt like a true mob mastermind when a rival gang showed up at a high quality casino, only to be wiped out by the increased security I had invested in. Moments like this are usually reserved for big strategy games that deal with giant wars, like publisher Paradox Interactive’s 2020 hit Crusader Kings III, but that style of play translates perfectly into the shabby intimacy of brawls and personal vendettes.

Mob hits

The management aspect is only part of the game’s DNA. Combat follows a tactical game approach à la XCOM and places mob members on a grid in turn-based shootouts. Each recruit receives two actions per turn that allow them to move, shoot, use an item, or perform a special ability.

The known system works on two different levels. For one, this reinforces the notion that the player is a mob leader who literally has the say by directing each of his subordinates. It also resists the urge to turn the 1920s into a modern day action movie by keeping the brawls a little slower and sloppier, making it feel truer to the clumsy guns of the time.

Kingdom of sin

This deliberate pace doesn’t come at the expense of fun. There are still plenty of tricks for players to play around with as each recruit has their own skill tree and weapon skills. Some characters can offer defense by attracting shots, while others can throw axes at enemies. These quirks keep the fights fresh as players work to assemble a perfect crew of minions to cover up each other’s weaknesses.

While the tactical element goes well with the theme, there is one major problem: there is no way to automate the fight or fast-forward it. Every time a player enters the fight, they must see it through to the end, unless they choose to escape via exit points. This results in longer fights when characters begin to miss out on direct shots.

At some point I stopped declaring war on rivals just to avoid getting caught up in a wave of protracted grunt fights.

This isn’t a huge issue with missions and raids on enemy safes, but it does become a major pain point when gang wars break out. While engaged in major brawls, enemies attack a player’s clubs at random. Players have to go through each fight manually and control the low-level security guards who don’t possess any of the fun skills and perks that the right crew members have. In some cases I have been involved in up to seven indistinguishable encounters in rapid succession. At some point I stopped declaring war on rivals just to avoid getting caught up in a wave of protracted grunt fights.

It doesn’t help that the game has some rough edges that weigh the heaviest in the fight. There are plenty of bugs, like the game getting stuck in the middle of a character move, crew members suddenly disappearing, or allies sliding across the battlefield as a living corpse. Most of these issues seem fixable (and many will hopefully be fixed in the game’s first PC patch), but the current instabilities make for a somewhat unpredictable experience that can lead to unintended comedy or frustration.

Know your role

A game of this nature lives and dies because of its role-playing potential, and that is one aspect that puts Empire of Sin to shame. Playing through feels different as each gangster has their own set of skills, perks, and core storylines. Although the overall objective and side quests remain the same each time, the way a player approaches them can be determined by their style of play on a given run.

Kingdom of sin

On my first try, I chose Angelo Genna and played as brazenly as possible. I made enemies with everyone I crossed with and ended up being gunned down in a high-spirited attack on a safehouse. My next playthrough was far more successful as I used Stephanie St. Clair’s persuasive skills to charm allies and enemies alike to lead my battles for me. In a complete change of pace, I turned Daniel McKee Jackson into a political sucker who refused to say no to a one-way deal a rival would make on his way to becoming mayor of Chicago. All three runs felt unique and satisfying in their own way, which made me want to try more gangsters.

A game of this nature lives and dies because of its role-playing potential, and that is one aspect that puts Empire of Sin to shame.

The RPG aspect is supported by some light but effective dialog trees and skill checks. Statistics like persuasion and intimidation come into play and can completely change the outcome of missions. In a quest I was assigned to take out a rival’s group. Instead of killing his lackeys, I convinced everyone to join my cause and left them defenseless. Such story beats pay off for players who pursue a consistent vision of their gang leader.

The crew members have their own narrative depth as each has a back story and traits that shape their personality. On my successful run with Stephanie St. Clair, I developed a real bond with my self-proclaimed right-wing man, Grover Monks, a former carnival worker fearful of explosions after he accidentally blew up a concession booth as a kid. This level of detail makes each recruit feel like a consummate character playing a role in the Empire.

Much of the fun of Empire of Sin depends on one’s imagination and the willingness of the individual player to play the role of a gangster, and the game features a wealth of systems and details that make RPG a welcoming perspective. When all the genre pieces come together it’s a fascinating historical fantasy that is easy to get lost in.

Our opinion

Empire of Sin offers a clever experience that fuses the genre and perfectly blends the world of 1920s organized crime with strategy game. Bugs and a lack of combat speed or automation options can bring the pace to a standstill, but it does a great job of getting the player into the mindset of a mob mastermind (or fool at gunpoint) with streamlined speakeasy management.

Is there a better alternative?

Crusader Kings 3 by publisher Paradox Interactive is the best strategy game right now, but Empire of Sin is a little less intimidating.

How long it will take?

A successful run can take up to 10 hours, and there are 14 characters to choose from, each with their own story. Players can adjust the number of neighborhoods or bands present to increase or decrease the length of a playthrough.

Should you buy it?

Yes. It’s a unique twist on the genre with a fun American Crime History 101.

Editor’s recommendations

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