Empire of Sin review for Xbox One, PS4, Switch

Platform: Xbox One
Also on: PS4, PC, Switch
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Romero Games
Medium: Digital/Disc/Cartridge
Players: 1
Online: No

I want to like Empire of Sin so much more than I do. It?s a gangster simulator set in 1920s Chicago at the height of Prohibition — and, as someone who loves fiction set in that era, that?s pretty much all I needed to fall in love with the game?s aesthetic.

And make no mistake, it?s one heck of an aesthetic. It nails the Jazz Age vibe perfectly, in everything from the buildings, to the cars, to the way people dress, to the way they talk. As you walk around the city, jazz music wafting through the background, it?s really easy to get sucked into the game and to see what the developers were aiming to do.

The problem comes when you actually have to play Empire of Sin.

Now, let me be clear: this is by no means a bad game. It very clearly sets out what you have to do at the beginning of the game through an incredibly lengthy tutorial — which, to some, may feel like overkill, though as someone who?s not great at management sims or turn-based squad battles, I appreciated all the info. What?re more, it lives up to what it promises to do: allow you to take over a mob empire.

It?s just that the process of getting there is incredibly tedious. This is primarily due to the fact that combat in this game is a pretty dull slog. Whether you?re battling rival gangs in the streets, or engaging in close quarters combat in another mob boss? HQ, it?s never fun, even if you?re winning the battles fairly easily. Pretty much every battle turns into a war of attrition in which one side (your enemy?s) is filled by pretty stupid AI goons, save for the odd time you run into someone with wildly overpowered abilities. Consequently, it felt like every time I?d start a battle, they followed the same pattern: enemies would first run straight into open areas, and the battles would end with everyone bunched up in the same small space, slowly punching each other to death. That part of the game lost its charm pretty quickly.

The other challenge in Empire of Sin is the same one that plagues most in-depth management games on console: there are so many menus here. Notwithstanding the game?s attempt at holding your hand through the early stages and showing you where everything is, because you have to do so much, and there?s so many things to juggle, navigating it doesn?t work so well with a controller. I have no doubt this is less of a concern if you?re playing the game on PC — or even on the Switch, with touchscreen menus — but in this version, it adds an extra obstacle to getting fully invested in the game.

Which, again, is a shame, since Empire of Sin looks so fantastic. I wouldn?t say it?s a case of style over substance, since there?s really quite a bit of substance here to sink your teeth into, but it nonetheless feels like the game needs a few tweaks here and there in order to live up to its ample potential.

Paradox Interactive provided us with an Empire of Sin Xbox One code for review purposes.

Grade: B