Empire of Sin review: XCOM meets Civilization in this ambitious gangster sim

Fight to be the final boss.

Empire Of Sin Stephanie St Clair
(Image: © Windows Central)

Romero Games' Empire of Sin is a wildly ambitious title that largely lives up to those aspirations. Combining the tactical combat of XCOM, the large-scale conflict of Civilization, and the fiddly economics of a Tycoon game, it allows players to experience all levels of running a criminal enterprise as you protect and expand your interests through gunfire, diplomacy, and good business.

It's a testament to the development team that all of these disparate elements work so well together. The result feels like playing through a mob movie where scenes can seemlessly move from tense sitdowns to all-out violence and cold calculations are threatened by family drama. It would be easy for one of those components to feel out of place but none of them do.

Empire of Sin Review A family drama

Empire Of Sin Donovans

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
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CategoryEmpire of Sin
TitleEmpire of Sin
DeveloperRomero Games
PublisherParadox Interactive
GenreStrategy RPG
Xbox GamePassNo
Launch PriceFrom $40

Empire of Sin lets you choose from a list of 14 fictional and real-world gangsters who all have their sights set on taking over 1920s Chicago. You'll find the famous characters you'd expect like Al Capone and more surpising choices like Elvira Duarte, a tough Mexican crime boss based on John Romero's actual great-grandmother.

Each of these bosses has the feel of a leader in a Civilization game, coming with not only a signature combat move but several bonuses to various aspects of running a criminal organization like paying less run maintain breweries or being able to make truces with other bosses a bit easier. Elvira arguably gets the most powerful combat ability in the game — a short term mind control power that can even be used to temporarily make other bosses fight on your side. Each boss also has their own plots that unravel over a series of quests, which pop up as players advance along with more general missions like dealing with raided booze supplies or cheating casino guests.

For instance, Elvira needs to repeatedly bail out her worthless sons and deal with the tensions between them while Capone has to sort things out with his former employer Frankie Yale. Completing these quests can provide big rewards in the form of cash, improving your boss' stats, and offering the opportunity to take over rackets like brothels and speakeasies that will grow your criminal empire. You're left with a variety of choice as well, with negotiations that could result in lucrative deals that capitalize on each faction's strength or break down into gunfights.

Empire Of Sin Fulton Market Street

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The visuals on the narrative scenes leave a lot to be desired. You'll see these in plot dumps, at the beginning of each game, and when you have sitdowns with bosses. A more stylized look might have been preferable to the images here that tend to look a bit like wax statues. Still, the ludicrous amount of posturing combined with melodrama still make all the characters feel alive.

So does the city the game is set in. Players can choose up to 10 neighborhoods and rival bosses to compete with at the start of a game, along with choosing from five difficulty levels, which impact the damage output of characters, starting resources, and how much customers are likely to spend at your business. Each is based on an iconic Chicago neighborhood and over time you'll be taxiing between them and setting up interests across the city, taking advantage of the synergies of having multiple rackets going in the same area while trying to please the quirks of each customer base.

Empire of Sin Review Strategic growth

Empire Of Sin Fulton Market

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The different pillars of the game are well integrated, allowing you to make up for mistakes or weaknesses in one with a bit of luck and skill in another. If you overspent working on upgrading your businesses to attract more customers with better ambiance, for example, you can knock over another operation and ranack the place for loot that can be sold on the black market. These ransacked locations take a bit of time to recover but by then you might have enough money to use the new real estate to add to your empire.

Make too much noise and expand too quickly and you'll not only attract the ire of other bosses but gain unwanted attention from the police.

In the early game, you'll spend plenty of time dealing with generic thugs who might jump you on the street as you're moving between locations and whose hideouts can be cleaned out without attracting much ire from important players. However, once you have the muscle to start fighting against other gangs, you can really accelerate your business by taking over their turf and setting new management at the existing racket without any startup fees.

You want to have a balanced business, making sure to have enough breweries to supply your speakeasies and hotels to bring new customers into town. Make too much noise and expand too quickly and you'll not only attract the ire of other bosses but gain unwanted attention from the police. Luckily, if you're wealthy and powerful enough they can usually be bribed to look the other way.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is managing your own crew. You start by being able to recruit a few gangsters with their own classes and abilities. For instance, an enforcer can take reduced damage in a fight while a demolitionist can chuck grenades that injure and debilitate a wide swath of enemies. As you build your notoriety and complete quests, you'll gain access to a much larger cast of characters with their own perks, quirks, and flaws.

Each gangster demands a share of your take and while it's great to have a sizeable crew to take into a fight, picking up too many members too fast can be a huge drain on your income. You also have to think seriously about your combat actions since these characters can be killed or seriously injured, leaving them unable to fight again until they've recovered. Their combat actions and assignments in your empire can also earn them new nicknames and bad habits.

Saving isn't allowed in combat but the high level of RNG involved might make cautious players want to save as often as possible. Players can avoid losing too much progress if they wind up losing a gangster they've invested a lot in or if they just get particularly unlucky with a negotiation attempt that can result in losing money. Amusingly, plot-relevant characters can be killed in fights but won't actually affect the story, just reappearing when the next quest beat requires them.

Should you buy Empire of Sin?

Empire Of Sin Neighborhood Map

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

No matter what aspects of strategy gaming you enjoy, Empire of Sin will satisfy you. The impressive blend of turn-based strategic combat, managing your finances, negotiating with other gang leaders, and narrative roleplaying combines elements of different strategic subgenres into a highly entertaining cohesive experience.

The best gangsters in history and fiction know when to take a high-level view of their empire and when to get their hands dirty, and Empire of Sin lets you seemlessly do both as your mood strikes. If you're a history buff or have spent a significant amount of time in Chicago, it also offers some extra charm of letting you carve up the city by leaving plenty of corpses in your wake.

Samantha Nelson