Empire of Sin Review –

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Empire of Sin allows the player to become a crime boss in the outlaw city of Chicago during an underground war for control of the black market in alcohol. It’s a mix of genres, taking the mechanics of other hit titles and combining them into what is, on paper, an extremely intriguing game.

When you talk about Empire of Sin, you’re talking about two very different games: an Empire Builder title and a Turn-Based Tactics title. Behind it is a complex system of role-playing that allows a story to unfold, as well as a system of procedural dialogues that drive the conversations in the game.

Alcohol empires are not built in a day

Empire Games from top to bottom

Much of your empire is run from an overview of Chicago.

Your criminal empire is built and controlled through multiple menus accessible from the Chicago map. The city is divided into several districts that serve as isolated economic playgrounds for the player to exploit.

Each region has a different level of economic prosperity that affects the viability of certain types of noise, as well as the types of spirits preferred by customers. Many factors can affect the prosperity of an area, such as the severity and frequency of territorial conflicts – a highly contested area in the middle of a large-scale turf war will suffer economically.

The Realm of Sin shines when you’re the only one looking to expand your empire. Maximizing profits is a tricky game of aligning production management with demand. Every action you take – whether it’s bribing a cop or sitting down with the head of a rival organization – has consequences that will inevitably force you to adjust the knobs and gears of your operation to stay ahead of the pack.

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It’s rather annoying to note that the more powerful you become, the more the game asks you to spend time on simple, mundane tasks. You can assign your subordinates different roles in your business, but there is no real way to delegate tasks. As my empire grew and the number of companies I controlled increased, I realized I was constantly interrupted by alarms notifying me of a threatened location. Because I had to personally handle all the problems that arose, I didn’t feel like a crime boss, but rather a babysitter.

Making bad guys look like XCOM

Real-time strategy games

Cards are often small and cluttered, making them less tactical.

The second half of Empire of Sin is a turn-based tactical game in the style of XCOM. It is on this side of the Realm of Sin that the first impressions and followers are concentrated, but it is certainly the weaker of the two.

Combat is mechanically almost identical to XCOM, the only major difference is that moves are per character rather than per player like in XCOM – there’s no free change between your characters here.

The maps are much smaller than the XCOM maps, which is disappointing since the distances seem to be the same. This means characters can traverse large areas of the board at once, making melee weapons disproportionately powerful. It also prevents intelligent placement of the characters – they all end up shooting at each other at close range.

Players also complained about bugs in the game’s combat system. I’ve had a few encounters myself – teleporting characters, animations played at inappropriate times – though none of them severe enough to keep me out of the game for long (though I’m generally pretty tolerant of bugs). There is another classic XCOM problem where the success rate in the game indicates that you are not quite what you see. In addition, walls and objects only disappear at a fixed distance from the camera, rather than in a context dependent on the cameras behind them, so you’ll often encounter this sort of thing:

tactical video games

That’s not the best way to play a tactical game.

Empire of Sin allows you to at least see the percentage of events in the assigned location, which makes route optimization much easier. Baby steps and everything.

Check your team (or play matchmaker)

Characterization of the kingdom of sins

Sin Empire takes the opposite approach with its approach to characters and characterization. Unlike the XCOM teams, which are a revolving door of randomly generated characters with no background or identity, Empire of Sin only has a pool of 60 gorillas that can be recruited and taken into battle. Each throat cutter has its own voice, its own context and its own story. More importantly, each bat is connected in some way to one or more other bats.

The relationship between the clubs is another element to consider when determining membership. You can even read how they know each other and what their story is. For example, one of my accomplices was someone else’s former lover who broke her heart, and now he wants nothing to do with her. There is a complete role-playing system here, with individual stats, strengths and weaknesses, the relationships mentioned above, and load customization.

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Therefore, it is very important to gain fame if you want to get characters with better synergy. Depending on the nature of their relationship, a felon’s ability to fight may be affected when they meet a spurned lover or close friend. It’s a mechanism that can also cause players to lose hours (in the good sense of the word).

Interviews and negotiations

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Each game begins with the player choosing from several bosses via a civilization type character selection screen. The similarities to civilization are more than superficial – every crime boss has one or more passive amateurs of some kind of hype (which is always linked to their personal history).

All of this means more than just making certain jobs more profitable for a certain character. In addition to empire building and tactical battles, there is an RPG character system with a unique mission line and story for each of the chosen criminal leaders. Again, this is a pivot that needs to be balanced with the profitability of different businesses and the relationships between your crew members. Rewards for completed quests are almost always interesting, even if they’re not particularly fun or interesting (for example, go to point A, then go to point B, fight thugs, return to point A).

Conversations with NPCs almost always use a dialogue tree, though your choice rarely matters. The writing is good – if you like a good story, you should explore your character’s main quest in Empire of Sin, and the simple, simplistic progression contrasts well with the open, gritty-eyed design direction of the rest of the game.

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Much more interesting are the conversations within Sitting Pillars, which the game describes as one-on-one conversations with the head of another criminal organization. Romero Games claims that the proceedings are provoked, although all sitdowns end with the payment of a sum of money, the demand for a sum of money, the escalation of rivalry, or nothing at all. It’s just a more elegant and longer reboot of Diplomatic Mechanic from the Civilization series.

Swing in version

It may be about murder, gang politics, and illegal suicide, but Empire of Sin is surprisingly bright and colorful, with hints of pink, purple, and sky blue accentuating the game’s black and gold art deco aesthetic. Characters shoot, swing and cut each other to catchy rhythms and flamboyant trumpet and saxophone solos from the unrelenting early swing soundtrack.

It’s a strange contrast of plot and style, but it works because Empire of Sin doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s filled with exaggerated accents, crazy stereotypes, and charming larger-than-life characters that keep the atmosphere light and funny, despite the sometimes sinister plots.

Final words

Empire of Sin is an incredibly ambitious mix of playstyles that makes you feel like you’re almost there, as if a more concise and playful test had brought it to greatness. Various bugs, repetitive battles, readability issues, and poor balance between elements slow it down. It doesn’t quite live up to what it can do, but there’s a very solid foundation here for future improvements, through patches or a sequel.

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