Prohibition era Chicago is quite the desirable setting for gangster shenanigans in films and TV shows, but in the realm of videogames it’s difficult to find a clear homage to bathtub gin and rotgut moonshine. Sure there’s the 1988 Robert De Niro-starring and Brian De Palma-directed classic The Untouchables and the Steve Buscemi-leading Boardwalk Empire for film and TV fans, but it’s taken until Empire of Sin to doth the cap directly and thoroughly to Prohibition Era Chicago. Is this empire worth joining and fighting for, or is it better for you to tip away the booze and sober up?
Empire of Sin is principally a turn-based strategy experience with micromanaging elements peppered in there as well. At the start you choose from one of a myriad of boss characters who you will control with the purpose of amassing an empire whereby you will takeover rackets, building up a range of businesses while keeping an eye on your finances, hiring and firing comrades and either partnering or warring with rival factions. There’s an exhaustive amount to keep an eye on, which is telling because there are plentiful tutorial pop-ups that attempt to acclimate you to all the intricacies in Empire of Sin, but good luck trying to remember all the details. Empire of Sin feels like taking a complicated physics exam but replace the physics with your aunt’s diverse array of laundry – meaning that learning what there is to learn is tedious in Empire of Sin though it’s not impossible, and you could ignore the elements you aren’t interested in – but that doesn’t bode well for making a game you should care about.
The main problem with the micromanaging elements is the tacked on tedium that comes with it as well as the wealth of tutorials that are less helpful and more annoying to come across. When you happen upon a new micro element a gangster pops up on the screen to guide you through the intricacies of what you’ve discovered, and considering this happens constantly what you’re left with is a bloated mess of tutorials that are a slog to get through, let alone retain in your memory. Sure, running a huge gang empire isn’t easy but it ought to be much tidier and pleasing than what is presented here.
Your top priorities early on in Empire of Sin is of course building your empire. This amounts to hiring goons you can run along with, turning ceased rackets into brothels, casinos and the like, or smashing up the joint and grabbing the ill-gotten gains, keeping an eye on your finances, forming alliances and going to war with rival factions. At times you will sit down with a faction boss and decide whether or not you want to join them. These short meetings express the underlying potential in Empire of Sin because in these instances you are empowered by the choice to either hook up and create potentially lucrative business and empirical relationships, but you can alternatively decide to give them the finger and take the power from their hands by force. If you decide to partner up then you’ll have to agree to the terms and the cut they expect to take from your ordeals, so the power to determine who you should align with makes you feel a decent sense of control.
Sadly the moments of promise are drowned out by the tedium you have to endure to feel any prolonged sense of authority. There are many rackets for you to takeover and to takeover a racket you and the goons you hire need to enter a building and clear it out. Some rackets are easy as heck to gain control of while others will be more difficult and demanding, but with a credible crew on hand these encounters shouldn’t be too difficult. Monotony will set in soon though as you rinse and repeat the same building clearances over and over, many of the encounters being indistinguishable and set in shoddy confined spaces save for skirmishes that take place out on the street. There are some nicely ornate interiors like glitzy gambling houses and casinos, but they are juxtaposed with grey dingy-looking four-walled warehouses, so while there are some sweetly inspired interiors to do battle in, some of them do too much of a good job of reminding you how rote and dull racket invasions can be.
Empire of Sin plays like a conventional and unsurprising turn-based strategy game where you and your enemies take it in turns to shoot each other until one of you collapses dead. Strategy is important as you will need to know the best places to flank your adversaries and where to position your party members so you can gain the advantage. The battle system is as generic as they come but it’s saved somewhat by the special abilities and upgrades your boss and crew members receive. For example one of the characters can hit a devastating homerun one-hit kill attack and devastates the target’s face and it feels very relevant to the time period thanks to the chiming in of a vintage baseball commentator, which is a pretty neat subtlety that is much appreciated.
Where Empire of Sin shines brightest is in the representation of the Prohibition Era. The soundtrack can be best described as classy and jazzy enough to fit right in with the period. The dialogue and the voice-acting both impress as well, managing to convey the swagger you’d expect from tough guy gangsters with lines add much needed character to an otherwise dry and unremarkable strategy RPG.
As inspired as it is irredeemably middling, Empire of Sin has the style and the moxie to put on a gangster-like epic, but the overblown micromanagement aspects, repetitive and unrewarding strategy mechanics and its half-baked presentation do much to sully the game’s promise and dim the lights on its bright spots. You may summon some enjoyment from Empire of Sin if you fancy taking on the role of a gangster kingpin and managing all the busywork that comes with it – it’s just a shame that this mobster gets too bogged down with its own systems to truly make an impact.Become a Patron!
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.