I’ve just shot up a mob business and, under the laws of 1920s Chicago, it now belongs to me. Ownership is straightforward in Empire of Sin, and corporate takeovers are bloody. Within moments it’s up and running again and I can get on with the real dirty work of this crooked management sim: making cash.
My time with the game is fleeting and I have a criminal empire to forge, so I quickly start hiring some employees. Not bartenders or croupiers, but gangsters. The first is a muscular gentleman called Baby, and the other is Maria, who I am immediately informed has become an alcoholic.
Gang members develop traits in and out of combat. If Maria hung around brothels instead of bars, she could get an STD, which could then spread to her partner and, if they broke up, to even more people. “I’m not proud of it,” says game director Brenda Romero when she explains how it can spread, “but there were brothels and there were consequences.”
These traits and rashes have tangible ramifications, changing how effective gang members are when they’re on the job. And while minions can be directly controlled and sent all over the city in real-time, as well as being commanded in turn-based tactical fights, they also have their own lives, families and secrets.
That means things can get complicated. One of your henchmen could fall in love with someone from another gang, and if you end up in a fight, they might refuse to shoot. Or they might have a weakness that could be exploited by the FBI, turning them into a snitch. If the cops start showing up a lot, you might have a weak link in the chain and need to arrange to have a friendly chat with your employee.
Maria’s lover shows up in front of our HQ, shot up but still alive, then cops raid my speakeasy. Do I have a traitor in my burgeoning organisation? I’ve got a few businesses now, which I’ve been tweaking to maximise profits, but I can’t afford to start throwing all my money at the police. While some will accept bribes, others are Eliot Ness-types who won’t stop until I’m in jail.
I spot some on the street corner and we open fire. Empire’s combat broadly feels like gangster XCOM, immediately switching to a turn-based shootout. I’ve got a few crooks rolling with me now, each of them with inventories full of guns and knuckle dusters and bats. We take a bruising, though, and I suddenly realise one of my fighters is just some old man who is nowhere near cover. We barely make it out alive, but we do, just as I run out of time.
I never did figure out if we had a snitch.