|Platforms||PC (reviewed), Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch|
|Release Date||December 1st, 2020|
Empire of Sin comes to us from Romero Games, which was established in 2015 by John and Brenda Romero—yes, THAT John Romero. In the past few years, Romero has published new levels for the original Doom and an unofficial episode, titled SIGIL. It seems that after all these years, John couldn’t stay away from doing something he enjoys, and brought his wife along with him. Empire of Sin is their next original project, after a game titled Gunman Taco Truck.
Set in the 1920s during the prohibition era, Empire of Sin puts players at the head of their own gang as one of many historical figures. This release’s timing could not be any better, as the Mafia trilogy has seen a resurgence this year due to the Definitive Edition release of the first game. If you have not had your fill of this time period and want more, Romero Games and Paradox Interactive will take care of that. However, you might still be hungry if you’re coming for the strategy.
Spiritual Content: A piece of dialogue refers to a Priest as “sex-crazed.”
Violence: Empire of Sin features battles that take place on a grid. Characters attack one another with a variety of firearms and melee weapons. Blood splatter effects and cries of pain accompany the actions that take place during each battle. Players can choose the execution option on downed enemies to get in close range, shoot them in the head, beat them, or cut their throats.
Language: Characters use words such as “f*ck” and “s**t” in the dialogue.
Sexual Content: Players take control of different rackets to grow their empire—one of them being brothels. While there aren’t any sexual acts depicted, men and women wear lingerie in these locations’ bedrooms. A few events may occur during gameplay that affects your empire and characters, such as people not wanting to return to your establishment after finding out that the “sex toys” weren’t being sanitized enough. Another line of dialogue lets the player know that one of their characters has caught an STD if they spend too much time standing idle inside a brothel.
Alcohol/Drug Use: The other illegal rackets that are available to players are breweries and speakeasies. The brewery rackets craft different qualities of alcohol for your establishments. Characters can order drinks from bartenders and gain the “drunk” or “alcoholic” status effects.
When starting up Empire of Sin, players choose a character they will control throughout the game. I was pleasantly surprised at how many bosses were available to pick, some based on actual historical figures such as Al Capone. Each of them has a unique ability and have bonuses to particular rackets. I chose Salazar Reyna, who has a special attack in which he fires dual pistols at enemies around him and specializes in running brothels and casinos.
Once the game starts, your character takes a cab into Chicago, in which you’ll engage in a conversation with the drive and learn about the origins of your chosen crime boss. There are some fun dialogue choices too, but none of them are very impactful to the game. Upon your arrival, the tutorial begins as you learn how to start and grow your empire. I was pleased to discover that this game doesn’t have a steep learning curve, as its simple systems aren’t very difficult to understand.
When I finally gained control of my character, I was surprised that I could walk around the city along with my crew—I expected that most gameplay outside of battles would take place on a very static map. You have the option to pull out the camera into a diorama-like view of the city to watch for rival gang members and the police as your crew travels each city block. While it isn’t an in-depth open world, the movement of other factions and quests for me to accomplish makes Empire of Sin‘s Chicago feel like a living table-top game. Before starting the game, you can decide how big you want the map to be by choosing the number of neighborhoods in your playthrough.
There are numerous systems at play in Empire of Sin, but none of them felt overwhelming. As a neighborhood thrives, patrons of the local establishments will desire better quality alcohol, for example. So, it is up to the player to upgrade their breweries to produce a better product. Each racket has other challenges, such as the casinos not bringing in much cash when customers win big. Some other essential systems worth mentioning are diplomacy related. Your relationship with other gangs or even the police is ever-changing, primarily due to your actions and decisions that bring you closer to becoming a kingpin.
I did not engage in diplomacy much at first. A particular moment I found to be very humorous was when the rival leader asked to have a sit-down with me. He asked, “Why did you do it?” and my response was, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” That eventually lead to war, as I only fueled the fire and finally took my enemy’s life. These “Sit-downs” will often occur as you interact with the other gangs, so I could see them getting stale. However, the option to speed things along is there to throw the conversation out the window and start a gunfight.
Speaking of combat, it’s time that I talk about it. Players familiar with the XCOM series will feel right at home, because it’s not much different. I enjoy the grid-based tactical combat that the series made so famous—mechanics like cover and Overwatch continue to be a staple of this gameplay. Gunfights occur throughout the streets of Chicago and the various rackets that fill the city. You will not always control your character and their entourage; sometimes, you might have to defend an establishment with a few of your lesser-known foot soldiers.
The game gives you a few crew members right away to gain XP and learn new skills just like your character does. As your reputation rises, more characters throughout the world will become possible recruits. Though the results weren’t ideal, one of my original party members left after I hired a new one. The initial message said it was because I did not complete her personal quest, but I later discovered that she did not like the person I recently recruited. Your party of characters and available recruits will not be of the same caliber we get from a Bioware game, but interactions like that one yet again add a surprising amount of life to the game.
Another system I should make a note of is the Black Market. If you wish to do so, you can purchase weapons, consumables, and armor here. However, I felt that I picked up so much equipment after finishing gunfights that I never needed to spend there. I spent most of my money on making rackets out of abandoned buildings that I would take from thugs who had no allegiance to any of the gangs that ran the city. Out of all the systems available, I found this one to be the most useless.
Since launch, some patches have fixed issues that many were having on release day. Even though I had only received my copy a few days after, I never dealt with any that ruined my experience. I also played on PC, so I can’t speak to how well the console versions are holding up. Though it isn’t a graphical powerhouse, Empire of Sin successfully captures the era’s tone through the world and its characters. It’s clear that some parts of the presentation received more attention than others, but looks don’t have to be the most important thing as long as the developers still realize their underlying vision.
Empire of Sin ultimately offers an experience that casual players like myself can enjoy, but lacks a depth that a hardcore audience might be looking for. Some video games live or die on my machine because of how long and complicated the onboarding process can be; this game wasted very little time getting me started. I also found most impressive that this bite-sized version of Chicago feels lively, instead of the static world that it could have been. Most games of this nature feel like they are asking for more of a commitment; Empire of Sin feels like a game I can pick up or put down whenever I feel like it.
Review copy kindly provided by Paradox Interactive
The Bottom Line
Empire of Sin does little to brew up any revolutionary changes to the genre, but it makes for a fun time if you enjoy strategy and historical settings.