Empire of Sin Review
Empire of Sin revisits the golden era of the 1920s where organised crime rules the streets of Chicago thanks to the ban of alcohol. Every gangster wants to make a name for themselves by any means possible, including you — You will gun down your enemies, build your empire, and take over the streets of Chicago in your quest to build your own Empire of Sin.
There is a lot to like about Empire of Sin — Its portrayal of the 1920s is fantastic! The jazzy, upbeat music feels like it’s straight from Louis Armstrong himself. The colourful cast of characters are full of charm and character; almost like they’re straight from your favourite gangster movie. But for everything Empire of Sin does well, there are a handful of areas that let the game down from reaching its full potential.
The goal of Empire of Sin is simple; become the kingpin of Chicago. As straightforward as this may seem, everyone’s favourite method of all guns blazing is not necessary the best idea. Instead, Empire of Sin is all about patience, planning, economy management, and playing the game. Of course, there is a time and place for bloodshed but especially at the beginning of the game, the best option is to let your mouth do the talking, rather than your Tommy gun.
There are 14 characters, or bosses as they’re known as, to choose from, each with their own backstory to play out before you get into the action. These bosses either draw clear inspiration from typical stereotypical underworld figures or portray the actual gangster himself, such as Alphonse Capone who is the spitting image of ol’ Scarface himself and Dion O’Banion with his famous comb-over.
The level of detail in each boss is fantastic as they not only look and sound unique, but thanks to a number of RPG elements such as abilities and skills, each character requires you to adapt your playstyle to their strengths. For example, Frankie Donovan is nothing more than an Irish thug who loves hand to hand combat so it’s no surprise that his combat bonus is the ability to unleash a rath of vicious melee strikes. Donovon also receives a bonus of 5% of all production from his breweries — The luck of the Irish! While big Al himself uses his famous Tommy gun to spray bullets in an area that damages anyone (friend or foe) along with bonus’ to brewery and brothel costs.
There are 10 neighbourhoods situated within Chicago and all are up for the taking. You start off small, with a sole safe house but quickly begin to expand your network with speakeasies, breweries, brothels, hotels and casinos. Your goal is to not only take over your neighbourhood of origin but other neighbourhoods and expand your empire throughout all of Chicago. This is how you not only build your reputation as the kingpin of Chicago but also achieve the end game.
Like most turn-based strategy games, Empire of Sin draws its turn-based gameplay inspiration from the X-COM but goes one step further and combines this with an open-world (somewhat) real-time map. This map allows you to explore Chicago with your henchmen to discover new boss neighbourhoods, pick up side missions to boost your cash flow, and or just simply pick fights with thugs or the boys in blue.
Empire of Sin’s turn-based mechanics are solid, yet lack the depth of other turn-based games such as Divinity or X-COM. The core elements of these games are there with the full/half cover system, hit percentage (including the frustration of missing a 95% chance shot), action points, variety of weapons and all your favourite actions such as overwatch, hunker down, and even special abilities. There is no height or flanking systems that add an extra layer of strategy to the gameplay, which was a slight disappointment. But I feel that developer Romero Games have targeted casual gamers rather than hardcore strategy enthusiasts so this is forgiven.
Romero Games have done a great job with the weapon mechanics that allow each weapon to feel unique, both melee weapons and guns. With my Enforces armed with shotguns, I was able to move them into aggressive positions where I could take advantage of its wide spray and hit multiple enemies. While my Hired Guns patrolled the backline with rifles takes advantage of its range.
Unfortunately, the same amount of effort didn’t go into the map design. Sure, they look fantastic; bright, colourful, and reflect the 1920s era, but there is only a handful of maps and each feature obvious chokepoints that make it hard to flank enemies and plan strategic fights. This is particularly annoying when you enter a building looking for a fight as you don’t get to set up your starting positions, instead, your characters will randomly select a position around doorway or entrance and typically group up. This is frustrating as the first few rounds feel like you are fighting to your Enforces up the front to soak up the damage and protect your lower HP, but higher DPS characters.
As you begin to make a name for yourself, you realise that the hunter has become the hunter. This is where planning your strategy begins to pay off as expanding your empire too quickly leaves your resources spread too thin, especially if you have upset some rivals or even worse, declared war on another faction. Hiring and upgrading your henchmen is obviously the answer as numbers usually prevail, but you need to spend your coin wisely as nothing is for free.
As you begin to expand your workforce (up to 10 members) you can begin to kit them our with various items, weapons, and select their perks — you can even assign them various roles within your organisation (depending on your Notoriety level) such as Spy to gain intel, or Underboss to increase their loyalty. These aspects add many layers of depth to the game that is exactly what I was expecting, but unfortunately, not one that is utilised to its full potential.
Upgrading your establishments is key to both securing your resources and generating more income. Breweries produce alcohol to fuel your empire, namely Casinos and speakeasy. Brothels also generate income but come at the risk of gangsters catching STDs, if they left inside for too long that is (we have all been there). Hotels provide a bonus to each of your establishments within the neighbourhood but are limited to one per neighbourhood.
Each establishment has several categories that can be upgraded such as Security to provide you with a number of no-name thugs to help protect against raids and Deflect, to help reduce the chance of raids. Depending on the type of building, there are 2 or 3 other categories that can be upgraded such as Production, Alcohol Quality, and Storage for brewery’s and Ambience, Word of Mouth, and Games for Casinos.
The problem here is that as you begin ‘acquiring’ more establishments throughout Chicago, you begin to upset other gangsters who want their property back and will begin raiding your establishments. These fights quickly become tiresome and boring as your generic thugs are usually outnumbered (unless you have upgraded Security, then it usually becomes a fair fight) and feature only the basic weapons with no special abilities. The fights quickly become annoying and frustrating, especially when your main crew is out doing meaningful work. You spend the second half of the campaign constantly being interrupted by these meaningless and quite frequent battles.
Once I had got past the learning curve and began to expand my empire, I finally felt like I had established my name and expanded my empire across enough of Chicago to become a threat. So I thought I would invest more time into the economy and management side of the game — you know — become a legitimate businessman and purchase land with money rather than bullets. Despite how many breweries, brothels, and casinos I had in operation, I never felt rich. In fact, no matter how much I improved my establishment’s operational income with upgrades, my net income was still minimal. The upkeep of gang members, buildings, and the ridiculous price of vacant buildings mean you never truly feel like rich and that you run the city.
This is one of the most disappointing mechanic of Empire of Sin — Instead of slowly building your empire, investing your time and money in the economy game and using this to become a big and powerful gangster, the game’s mechanics simply don’t reward this playstyle and instead, reward a more casual approach to the game.
If the above is disappointing, then I’m afraid it gets worse — Having the ability to simply right-click from anywhere on the map, “travel” (teleport) to the boss’ safehouse and attack him is completely broken. So why would devise the perfect plan such as finding common allies against an enemy faction, paying them off to have them by your side, then attack and restricting the enemies alcohol supply effectively reducing their income while increasing yours, then declare war when they’re weak and take them off, when you can simply teleport to the rival bosses safe house, be confronted by 3 or 4 guards, kill them and the boss of the faction and take over ALL of their assets? Once I discovered this the game was over within an hour as I could just teleport across the map, kill, then rinse and repeat until I was declared the kingpin of Chicago.
Empire of Sin fails to deliver on its brilliant concept. This is not to say that it’s a bad game, it’s just disappointing that an excellent foundation is laid but unfortunately, the execution is not. The amount of data and information available in the UI regarding the management side of your empire is incredible and well in excess of the standard set in the genre. There is so much potential to use all this information to create a dynamic and deep management system that we see in simulation games such as Civilization, but when you can simply teleport to rival boss’s safehouse, kill him, and take his empire for your own, it kind of defeats the purpose of managing and building your own empire through statistics.
The portrayal of both fictional and non-fictional underworld figures such as Al Capone and Dean O’Banion is brilliant and to a high standard. In fact, the overall visuals of the game is a highlight. Unfortunately, these visuals are let down by some minor bugs (nothing game-breaking), clumsy animations during cutscenes, and a somewhat poor and repetitive level design that quickly undoes all the hard work. Ultimately, you are left wondering just how good this game could have been with more time and polish.
Empire of Sin Review
- GAMEPLAY - 66%66%
- GRAPHICS - 82%82%
- AUDIO - 80%80%
Empire of Sin ultimately fails to deliver on its potential.
For more on Empire of Sin, check out our previous coverage.