Ever wanted to be a nationally-reviled gangster crime boss without the risk of going to prison, getting maimed, or being brutally murdered? Well, now you can! Potentially. With Empire of Sin.
Recently, we went hands-on with Empire of Sin, coming to Xbox, PC, and other platforms on December 1, 2020. We also spoke to the team led by Game Director Brenda Romero of Romero Games to learn all about what inspired this multi-layered crime thriller, and how the game plays throughout the simulation.
Build a crime empire
Empire of Sin is an interesting game that blends elements from several genres into, what seems to be, a surprisingly cohesive whole. Set in the prohibition era in Chicago, Empire of Sin leans heavily on the iconography of the era, from 1920s fashion to Chicago typewriters, or Tommy Guns. The central currency of the game is alcohol, which represents a time when trading in any form of booze was wholly illegal (crazy, I know).
Starting out in the game, you'll choose one of several crime boss archetypes, some fictional, some inspired by real figures from the annals of organized crime history. From Alphonse Capone to Stephanie Saint-Clair, each crime boss comes with unique perks, and sometimes weaknesses, that must be taken into consideration as you carve your way from small-time hustler to big-time crime lord.
Empire of Sin has surprisingly great visuals, with a 3D isometric view when zoomed in. You may spend a lot of the game zoomed out into the overview mode, which gives you a bird's eye view of the randomly-generated neighborhoods of Chicago. Each area may be held by a different crime boss, or different economic factors to be managed or mitigated.
There are even deeper, more intricate things you must manage as the leader of this criminal enterprise
One area may be particularly dangerous, meaning customers won't feel safe to spend their money in your rackets, for example. Another may simply be populated by too many gangs that remain hostile towards you, making it dangerous to operate. Navigating through these hazards intelligently forms the basis of the game's business-management layer.
Each business plot can be acquired through legal, or less-than-legal means in the right circumstances, giving you the opportunity to open a racket. A racket is effectively a front for illegal activity, whether it's gambling, alcohol sales, or brothels, which generate income for your empire. Any number of things can go wrong to impede that income, from police interest to gang warfare. But there are even deeper, more intricate things you must manage as the leader of this criminal enterprise.
RPG layers add a human element
Beyond the city management layer, Empire of Sin adds some cinematic Holywood flair with its RPG and combat systems, the latter of which fans of games like XCOM and Gears Tactics will immediately recognize.
You can be forced into a gunfight for any number of reasons when operating outside of the law, whether it's rival gangs trying to take your turf, a business deal gone wrong, or a simple argument between two bosses with guns as big as their egos. In combat, a square grid will splash out across the floor, representing where your crew can move. Like in XCOM, your individual playable gangsters will have an array of abilities and skills to help them in combat. They might be defensive skills, letting you cure bleeding or heal hit points, or offensive, letting you spray an arc of bullets across the map with a machine gun. Some might let you move extra turns before taking an action, while others might give a bonus to melee attacks.
One thing to note in Empire of Sin is the permeance of perma-death. The combat in Empire of Sin is brutal, and gunshots are the kind of wounds you most likely wouldn't want to take in real life either. They can be a drain on your resources at best, and outright kill your best crewmates at worst. Avoiding combat may often be in your best interests, but oftentimes, it's also inevitable.
Beyond managing an intricate business, you'll have to manage the relationships and sentiments of your crew as well. Keeping them paid as appropriate is an important way to keep your soldiers happy, but all sorts of scripted RPG-style events can occur throughout the game which come with hard decisions.
Each crime boss has a unique backstory that will weave itself into a playthrough as you go. People from their past may show up, looking for a favor. You may find that people in your crew have relationships with members of rival gangs, making them potentially disloyal, or even traitors. In reverse, you can plant moles in enemy gangs too to get a better idea of how to manipulate their interests as well.
Your decisions often come head to head with the chaos of gangster life, creating cascading consequences that can greatly help, or greatly hinder your enterprise.
Deeper than the average tycoon-sim
During one combat sequence in Empire of Sin, I very foolishly got one of my subordinates killed with a bad play. Little did I know that that particular gangster had a relationship with another in my squad, who proceeded to go berserk at the sight of her fallen comrade. These small events can trigger an avalanche of consequences that could culminate in bringing your entire empire to its knees, due to the psychological effects they have on your individual mafia crewmates.
We only caught a glimpse at what a full playthrough might look like for Empire of Sin, but I can't wait to peel back all of the game's layers and discover the full extent of how the game's RPG elements enrich the tycoon experience. Empire of Sin seems like it could be one of those rare experiences that drive a genre forward, and we need only wait another month to find out more.
Empire of Sin lands on Xbox One, PS4, PC, and Nintendo Switch on December 1, 2020.
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