Ahhh, I really wanted to like this game. But as hard as it tries, and as much fun as it has with the source material, Empire of Sin is a mess of ideas that just isn’t much fun to be around.
Set in 1930s Chicago, it’s a game that tries to marry management, turn-based combat and some RPG elements, putting you in the shoes of a local gangster who is trying to take over the town by hiring thugs, seizing shady businesses and squeezing out their rivals.
There’s a cheesy charm to the game, especially its hammy voice acting. It’s closer to Dick Tracy than Boardwalk Empire in tone, with a cast of larger-than-life characters and over-the-top supporting players pulled straight from the drawer labelled “Gangster Tropes”.
I appreciate what it’s trying to do. Rather than just make this a standard management game with some shootouts thrown in, it breaks your efforts up into several clear game modes. Your overall criminal empire management is handled from a series of menus and an isometric view of the city, while combat is taken care of by zooming in and breaking that world down into a grid where you can take on rivals or cops in XCOM-style battles.
The RPG stuff, meanwhile, is kinda sprinkled throughout. You don’t just observe your empire in management mode. For example, you exist like an RPG party on the ground, and have to literally move yourself to each building or objective to trigger events. And instead of just fighting with rivals, you can also have sitdowns with them, where you chat, threaten and negotiate, with the outcome dependent on your character’s stats.
As a fan of all that kind of stuff when offered separately—I’ve even got fond memories of 1999's Mob Rule—I was pretty keen to sit down with Empire of Sin, but for all of its ambition, none of that stuff ever really comes together.
The management aspect of the game rarely elevates itself above tracking your businesses on a list and pumping money into them to improve them. Meanwhile combat is just...fine? It works, but it’s also way too easy, and the lack of variety in locations or opponents quickly gets repetitive.
Even the way these elements are tied together is pretty rough; everything you can manage, from businesses to the weapons your character is carrying, are all accessed from the same big menu screen, and I found myself spending too much of my time bogged down in this doing mundane spreadsheet work rather than out enjoying the sights.
It also struggles to convey any real sense of standing or progress. You’re dropped in the city and left to do your thing, with the overall goal of taking the place over, but the missions and interface do a poor job of reflecting how this is all going relative to your opponents, which sucks a lot of the life out of your advances and makes it feel like a bit of a grind.
There are some cool ideas here, and it has plenty of heart, but my time with Empire of Sin left me feeling more like a bookkeeper with a tabletop wargaming hobby than a gangster.