“He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.” It’s something Al Capone once said in The Untouchables. This brutal theme is especially relevant in Empire of Sin, the newest game to come from Paradox Interactive. Known for its system heavy games full of complexity and strategy, Paradox’s Empire of Sin is no different, presented in a fully fleshed out 1920’s Chicago.
To get your life of crime going in Empire of Sin, you’ll choose from a list of mob bosses. There are over a dozen different characters to choose from, including Al Capone himself. Each boss features different stat bonuses and alliance preferences. This boosts the replayability, giving each game a new feel. Once selected, you are given a “racket” which includes businesses, back end manufacturing, and distribution. These are all necessary moving parts that are critical for your organization to function as a team. To have a booze racket, for example, one would need a brewery, bar and word of mouth team to bring in the clients. Each aspect of business has available upgrade points, that allow you to add things like jazz bands, protection, managers and all the other bells and whistles necessary to run a successful racket.
With this being a Paradox game, playing strategically means an abundance of menus and stats to track in order to work efficiently. This UI can be a mess at times, but it’s one I feel like that might be familiar to fans of the genre. The menus keep track of ongoing alliances, bank balances, area conquered, crew stats and so much more. The depth in how you take over and run these businesses are there in spades and can be managed entirely by you, or by adding managers to run things while you expand further into other districts of Chicago. Each neighborhood comes with varying gangs and mob bosses that you can align yourself with to make deals, expand or go to war with.
Each mob boss is beautifully voice-acted, and negotiations give opportunities to roleplay with dialogue options in the conversation that can lead to full on war or a mutual agreement and benefits. There’s a push and pull here, because aligning with one group may lead to angering another, so you need to choose wisely. Pulling back the map, you get an expansive view of the 10 different neighborhoods in Chicago that are up for grabs. Everybody is fighting for their piece of the action. There’s a lot to juggle in Empire of Sin, but at early stages, it’s much more manageable, since there’s only one neighborhood to focus on. End game is where the pieces come together into a full game of chess, where you’ll be attempting to upgrade the right spaces while making deals to take out your enemies. This works like a well balanced plate-spinning simulator should. Using moles, bribing the cops, building business to promote synergy–it all comes together.
When you want to get your hands dirty, one feature that changes the overall play is combat. Getting down to street level, your hero and acquired crew enter X-COM style combat. Turn based grid combat. Getting 2-3 action points to spend moving units, using cover and taking down enemies with specialty attacks or using overwatch to prepare sight based attacks. This is a way to shake up the management portion into something a little more high stakes. Loot in the form of weapons and armor is acquired to build up your units for future skirmishes. There’s just as much at play here with acquiring and maintaining units as there is in the overall empire building. Don’t feel like being diplomatic? Take your hero and invade the local brewery with guns blazing.
With the complexity of building and expanding an empire while taking to the streets to cause chaos, it can feel overwhelming to handle it all. Lucky enough Empire of Sin comes with a fully featured tutorial that does its best to make you feel in full control. I was still overwhelmed afterwards but in a way that felt manageable. Along with that, there’s several difficulty options to drop that will give you the proper boost or up the difficulty based on skill and experience. These can ease in new players and challenge the veterans alike.
Chicago was a landmark during the prohibition era of the 1920’s and Empire of Sin plays into that theme. Using Paradox’s tried and true ability to make management sims, what we end up with is a successful mobster style strategy game that brings both turn based combat and strategy world building into the forefront. Fans of the series will come for the world building while new players will enjoy learning the ropes and getting a more up front combat style. There’s a lot to unpack with Empire of Sin and I for one will continue to explore the depths of strategy… the Chicago way.
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