‘Empire of Sin’ is a Bloody, Strategic Take on the Criminal Underworld of 1920s Chicago

When Paradox Interactive and Romero Games announced their new strategy game, “Empire of Sin,” a lot of fans were disappointed. They wanted another intensely violent and fast-paced game from John Romero, one of the original creators of “Doom.”

They shouldn’t be though as ‘Empire of Sin’ is a deep, violent take on criminal management and X-COM like strategy that looks absolutely riveting. It’s a combination of a high-level management sim where you lead a criminal organization and low level strategic, turn-based combat that occurs when you need to get your hands dirty.

“‘Empire of Sin’ is a single player strategy game where you play one of 14 gangsters trying to take over Chicago,” John Romero tells Variety in a private showing at E3. “What you do is take over rackets from other bosses and build rackets from the ground up while you recruit playable characters to fight for you. You’re basically trying to manage people while you’re trying to take over the city.”

“Empire of Sin” has been an idea in Brenda Romero’s head for 20 years and now she’s finally getting the chance to make the project a reality. She’s leading the team as the game director for both Romero Games and Paradox Interactive. They’re bringing “Empire of Sin” to PC, Mac, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in Spring 2020.

The combat in “Empire of Sin” will be familiar to fans of X-COM as the mechanics are mostly the same. Characters move around on a stylish grid-based map (usually in a speakeasy or brothel) and exchange grenades and bullet fire one turn at a time. Everything from overwatch to the likelihood that a shot hits or misses is included.

“If you’re a fan of X-COM you’re gonna feel right at home,” said Romero Games game designer Ian O’Neill. “There are two things that make us stand out though. Obviously, there is the thematic difference with the gangster weapons and there are the dynamic character personalities. One of the guys is actually down right now so we’re going to execute him.”

O’Neill then had his character, Al Capone, take out his knife and brutally slash a thug’s throat, killing him instantly with a nice splash of blood across the screen. Those executions, which vary based on the characters in your squad, have other effects on the battle. They can intimidate enemies and help you build a reputation. “Executions are brutal and they’re designed to really give a nod to the 1920s gangster” O’Neill added. Outside those changes, the combat is fairly approachable if you’ve played X-COM or another game like it.

That’s just the surface of “Empire of Sin” though. The crime management system where you run brothels, casinos, speakeasy’s and other types of rackets to bring in money and take out the competition, is shaping up to be incredibly deep.

Outside of simply managing all the factors that usually come with a management sim like the flow of money or the status of your individual business, “Empire of Sin” has a complicated personality system. Characters you recruit have backgrounds. They have friendships and rivalries, preferences and weaknesses, both of which can spread to other people they work with. Your gang members can become numb to violence and turn into serial killers, they can hit the drink and become alcoholics, or they can fall madly in love with someone else.

“These are their dynamic behaviors,” O’Neill said. ” Their relationships can change and evolve over time, their trades can change and evolve over time. Depending on what they are exposed to and what actions you perform and what actions they perform themselves.”

All those traits affect each character and the characters around them, making for a difficult challenge in managing and an unruly bunch of hooligans.

“Empire of Sin” feels a lot like an incredibly advanced spiritual success to 1998’s “Gangsters: Organized Crime.” I was impressed by what I watched in the hands-off demo, although some of the promises made seem far fetched. I’ve yet to see if the cause and effect of these systems will be as realized as they need to be in the full game, but for now, I’m interested.