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There’s plenty of common settings for games out there. You’ve got outer space, the hard sci-fi future, the soft sci-fi future, several different kinds of fantasy and so on. Still, there’s a few options that don’t come up all that much. Outside of GTA-style and COD-style games, for instance, there aren’t too many games set in the modern era where history itself becomes part of the attraction.
Likewise, the American 1920s were a pretty fascinating period of history that don’t get a lot of love. Paradox Interactive is here to change all that with Empire of Sin, a hybrid turn-based strategy and management game that sets you as a mob boss in the Prohibition era of Chicago. What, you think you’re untouchable? Think again!
It’s the era of Prohibition! The government’s decided that the average Joe can’t be trusted with alcohol. As one of a collection of mob bosses in Chicago, you certainly don’t agree with their take on things. You think that everyone can drink anything they want and you’re more than happy to sell it to them. Unfortunately, there’s other bosses in the area who think they ought to be the one doing the selling…and you’ve probably got something to say to them about that, huh?
Empire of Sin is all about making sure things go your way, Mafia-style. That usually means forcing them to go your way using guns, melee weapons or your fists. Words only go so far, after all. Combat plays out much like a Prohibition-era XCOM. Your characters get two action points a turn and can spend them on movement, attacks, special abilities and so on. If you’ve played that beloved series you know what you’re getting into, particularly when it comes to the modern XCOM reboot.
Empire of Sin is a little less polished in most respects, ranging from the hilariously unbalanced special abilities to the comically dumb AI, but overall the animations and experience of kicking butt as a mob boss keep things from feeling too dull. If you’re an armchair Patton you’ll probably want to play on a higher difficulty level to ensure you’re getting the kind of brutality you crave.
Along with whacking mooks who need whacking, you’ll also have to pay attention to the actual business of sin. Well, businesses, really, since Empire of Sin is all about running and improving your rackets around the city. You’ve got brothels, you’ve got casinos and, of course, you’ve got speakeasies. All you need to get started is a little real estate. That XCOM-style combat we were just discussing is a great way to obtain that real estate. It’s not like those goons in there were doing anything better with it, capiche?
Thus the gameplay loop of Empire of Sin amounts to taking out baddies, claiming their territory for your own and establishing your own rackets there, then upgrading your rackets and defending your territory. You can use diplomacy with other mob bosses to ensure that you’re safe as you start to establish your criminal empire, but these alliances tend to be pretty ephemeral and eventually someone’s going to snap and go on the warpath. Your enemies are constantly growing and improving just as you are, so there’s no point in delaying the inevitable. You should probably just…y’know, have a lead conversation with them.
Altogether, it’s a pretty enjoyable sort of game. Watching as your Empire grows and as your boss, capos and soldiers become stronger is a pretty enjoyable experience. Again, it’s not the most tactically complex game; the AI just kind of loves to walk right into areas with questionable cover so you can lay into them, for instance, and generally other mob factions are all about expansion without too much care regarding defense or strategy. Still, the experience is pretty satisfying if you’re willing to go with the flow. Upgrading your soldiers’ gear and improving their stats is fulfilling and there’s a definite sense of progression.
Empire of Sin certainly nails the Prohibition look. That might actually be one of the best parts of the game, in fact. It oozes 1920s appeal in a way that few games do. Combine that with the fact that it runs pretty well and we’re in good shape. Lower-end PCs might want to turn down their settings a little, but generally speaking you’re in good hands with this game.
Let’s be real: Paradox games tend to be a little rough around the edges early on. Free updates and DLC will likely address the biggest complaints about Empire of Sin: the straightforward, one-note gameplay and lackluster AI. But even in its current state, this is still a perfectly playable experience with a few well-oiled mobsters worth a look. Skip this one? Fuhgeddaboudit.