Empire of Sin is an XCOM-style strategy game, set in 1920s Chicago

The elevator pitch for Paradox’s Empire of Sin, developed by Romero Games, is essentially XCOM set in 1920s Chicago. It’s a turn-based combat-strategy game in which Prohibition-era gangsters compete for territory.

I spent 30 minutes with the game today, and enjoyed its historical-noir vibe. The streets and locations have been drawn with care, and supported by a newly scored 1920s-style soundtrack that feels authentic.

I play as one of 14 crime bosses, made up of both real historical characters — like Al Capone or Stephanie St. Clair — as well as fictional archetypes. At the beginning of the game, I’m presented with a neighborhood map, color-coded according to particular gang territories. Every illegal brewery, casino, brothel, and speakeasy is owned by one gang or another. I venture out from my safe house to begin expanding my empire, by violent means.

Combat mode is familiar XCOM territory. I take a top-down view, and I make my moves, positioning some characters behind cover, using others to flank enemies, and spending movement points to fire off shots. At every turn, I can see my percentage chance of success, which I maximize using smart strategies.

I place shotgun-wielding, highly shielded characters close to the action, while I use more vulnerable, sniper-types at a distance. I move my bosses, with all their buffs and boosts, close to the center of the action.

If I win an encounter, I take over that building. I spend some of a monetary budget on classing the joint up, thereby attracting bigger-spending customers. I use the extra cash to expand my breweries, making deals with rivals to supply them with liquor. I hire new underlings who have specific skills that I need, either placing them in my offensive attack unit, or using them to defend my various rackets.

Finally, I go into dialog trees to make deals with rivals, where I can charm, bully, or trick them. As in all combat strategy games, the trick seems to be to keep powerful enemies sweet, while taking out those that are vulnerable, or who stand in my way.

Empire of Sin is being released on Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One some time in 2020.

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