Prohibition-era Chicago will no doubt conjure images of speakeasies, cigars, and jazz. It’s a strong look and one I’m admittedly a sucker for. The romanticisation of the era is a genuine problem a lot of the time, but I can’t help but adore the art-deco and style of the old-school gangsters and jazz clubs.
Empire of Sin is an empire-building game akin to the likes of Sid Meier’s Civilization or Paradox Interactive’s other famous title; Stellaris. However, instead of conquering historical empires or other universes, you are fighting for control of Chicago’s hidden culture of booze and brothels with rival gangs. Bribery, backstabbing, and brutal executions run rife with even the pettiest of criminals wanting in on the action. Can you rise to the top and claim Chicago as your own?
The graphics are quite pretty to look at, and really do capture the vibe of the 1920s well. I did enjoy looking at the architecture and design of the clubs and it does satiate my love for the noir.
The mechanics are pretty solid, the idea that you can just theoretically “out-money” your rivals is very useful for players who don’t particularly want to get their hands dirty, and the way you can change what alcoholic drinks are served in your bars and upgrade them to make them more enjoyable for patrons is a nice attention to detail. The fact you can also walk around your bars as well puts it on a unique pedestal in the empire building spectrum.
The pool of gang leaders that you can choose to play as is rather large, consisting of 14 mob bosses in the base game, which includes infamous faces such as Al Capone, Angelo Genna, and Sai Wing Mock. I started my playthrough as Maggie Dyer, leader of the White City Circus, and thought it was very cool to mess up everyone’s day. Each character has their own perks and combat abilities, which makes the player have to pick up certain strategies for business as well as the combat.
One of the best features of this game is picking your employees. Each character will fall into different categories with different skill levels and notoriety. If that employee dies, they are removed entirely from the selection screen and can no longer be chosen. The characters also have relationships with each other, however slight. If you picked one character, they’d refuse to work with another, or you would receive a friendship buff for having two comrades working together. This little detail adds some level of strategic planning, but I like the flavour aspect more than the mechanical one.
The biggest flaw of this game is the missed potential for multiplayer. Competitors like Civilization can consistently be entertaining with the amount of variety that can be had when playing with friends. The fact there is no multiplayer for an empire building game is honestly quite shocking at this point.
The game has little replay value, if any. A completionist would argue that “finishing it as every character” would be replay value enough, however, that’s not a suitable reason to play again for the average fan. There’s no variation on what happens, with the exception of specific character missions, but they only occur once or twice through your narrative.
The game is riddled with bugs. I bought the game on release and began streaming it, when it crashed before I got to do anything. A price tag of £35 for a game that does that is appalling.
The mere idea of a gang warfare style battle for control over a city, featuring turn-based combat with different techniques and strategies whilst also maintaining income is so enthralling to people who love noir and art deco, but Empire of Sin doesn’t deliver. It stops being fun after one playthrough, and much like Backbone, it suffers from wasted potential. I want the game that Empire of Sin could have been, not the product that we got. The game is as plagued with faults as 1920s Chicago was. If you want to play the game, wait for it to go on sale. If it gets a multiplayer mode, I may return to it.
I’ll still hold out hope for a game like this to succeed.