Heists, capers, and assassinations run rampant throughout some of our most beloved titles. And why shouldn’t they? Games thrive on escapism, so it's no surprise law-abiding gamers have made the Grand Theft Auto franchise such a smashing success.
But crime in games often runs thin and is driven by violence. Bullet sponging your way out of a bank with more loot than anyone could physically carry or performing ludicrous acts of camouflage as you stealth kill armed guards in Argentina. Real organized crime is a complex affair, and real organized criminals are a lot more complex than our one-note protagonists, too. What if there was a game that allowed you all the escapism of sweet, sweet crime while embracing the complexity and characters that make real-world scofflaws into folk heroes?
Empire of Sin from Romero Games and Paradox Interactive is an ambitious melange of genres that plays out like XCOM meets Tropico meets Boardwalk Empire.
The premise is simple but intriguing: Players assume the role of one of several Chicagoland gangsters from fan favorites like Al Capone to deep cuts like Daniel McKee Jackson in a quest to rule the city’s underworld.
There are 14 bosses in total, and each one has a unique list of plot points, special attacks, and empire buffs that can cause a bit of analysis paralysis when you first start playing. It’s clear from the outset this is a deep game, maybe not on the level of other Paradox hits like Crusader Kings, but certainly a cut above the Mafias of the world.
Your goal in Empire of Sin is to be the king (or queen) of Prohibition-era Chicago. This means running a vast network of criminal rackets down to the smallest detail. You’ll track expenses like security costs and marketing, and gain buffs for things like production. Brothels, speakeasies, casinos, and distilleries are all viable options, and management involves screens like the one below with lots of math and pie charts. It seems like a lot at first, and it is, but a nicely paced tutorial takes you through the basics of getting a cash flow started.
Early on, you’ll acquire your rackets through force by way of the turn-based combat system.
There isn’t much to say here beyond the standard warning of you’ll either like this or you won’t. Turn-based games aren’t for everyone, but if they’re your jam then you’ll find Empire of Sin to be more than capable. There’s enough strategy and depth to keep it from being stale, but it doesn’t have the brutal tactical edge of an XCOM or Fire Emblem.
There’s politics too, of a sort. As your in-game notoriety grows you’ll make enemies and attract a fair share of haters, including law enforcement. A diplomacy system lets you manage this via sit-downs with leaders of other factions which results in everything from securing a loan, to making peace with one of your allies to requesting a hit on someone. Like running your economy it’s a deep system with a lot of nuances to navigate.
If it isn’t obvious by now this is not a casual pick-up-and-play experience. Be prepared to put in a few hours on the front end before things start clicking. However, Empire of Sin manages to avoid collapsing beneath the weight of all these systems to offer something truly unique. There isn’t another game out there quite like it, which is reason enough to fire up that whiskey still, bust out that Tommy gun, and show everyone in town who’s the boss now, see?
Empire of Sin is available now on Xbox Game Pass. It’s also available for purchase on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, and Steam.