Review – Empire of Sin

Twenty years after the release of his last console game, the infamous Daiktana, the one and only John Romero is back with a brand new game; one that couldn’t have been more different from titles he is celebrated for to this day. Instead of a high-octane shooter, we have Empire of Sin, a mix between a business simulator and a turn-based strategy game, set in Prohibition-era Chicago. The premise is interesting, the team behind it is comprised of several industry veterans, and there’s even a Switch version, which I’ll be tackling. Let’s see if Romero’s return to console gaming is worth celebrating or not.

Empire of Sin

I’ve heard of this guy.

The first thing you need to do in Empire of Sin is to choose your aspiring mob boss. Besides some real-life Prohibition-era faces like good ol’ Al Capone, you can also choose between an assortment of fictional characters to control. This is when you’ll be greeted with what’s probably the best thing about Empire of Sin, even if unintentionally: its voice acting. It’s the typical case of “so bad it’s good”, and I was totally onboard with that. I ended up choosing an Italian mob boss for one simple reason: he talks exactly like Joey from Friends. How you doin’?

Empire of Sin features tons of gameplay elements from different genres crammed into one package and that’s probably its biggest, well, sin. You begin as a nobody; a small-time mobster with a few dollars and a gun in your pocket, and it’s up to you to create your bootlegging empire. In order to achieve that, you must go through the game’s extensive, gigantic tutorial. There is just too much to do and keep track of and that will quickly overwhelm you if you don’t pay attention to the tutorial, or even if you stop playing the game for a week or so and then decide to go back.

The business simulator bits are quite boring, to be honest. You need to pay attention to various aspects, such as hiring employees, henchmen, paying attention at your cash flow, waiting a damn eternity for you to afford any of the upgrades, and much, much more. It is very overwhelming and it feels worse because of the Switch’s small screen and obvious lack of mouse and keyboard support. Empire of Sin may have been announced at one of Nintendo’s E3 presentations, but this is a PC, first and foremost.

Empire of Sin

Empire of Sin is at its best when it’s just a shallow yet efficient XCOM clone.

That can also be seen with how ugly the game looks on the Switch. I’ll give the developers credit for putting out some patches that have slightly improved the visuals, but this is still that typical case of a Switch port that suffered a ton of setbacks in order to run on that system’s underpowered hardware. The Outer Worlds comes to mind. Textures are ugly, the resolution is quite low, and the game takes a long time to load, even after the release of the latest patch. You can hear the Switch’s small fans roaring in order to make up for how much the game is punishing the system’s CPU and GPU.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything fun to do in Empire of Sin. Its combat sections are actually the best thing about it, mostly because they’re heavily derivative of XCOM. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? The fact that you don’t have access to a mouse isn’t that egregious in here, and the map design, mostly alleyways and old buildings, is actually quite good. I think Empire of Sin would have been a much better game had this been a simple turn-based strategy with an innovative theme and coat of paint. It worked for Mario + Rabbids, after all…

You thought Cyberpunk had underwhelming texture loading times?

Empire of Sin is in a better state now than how it was at launch, with several fixes to its UI and performance, but this is still too much for the Switch to handle. I’m not talking solely about its still-underwhelming performance, but also the fact that it tries to be an excessive amount of games at once, without ever exploring all of its features to a reasonable degree. It lacks focus. Still, I’d assume that playing it on a PC, with improved visuals and controls, would still be interesting. Just don’t bother with this Switch port. I’m glad that this complex and mature game was released for it in tandem with other versions, but it’s much more inferior than its counterparts in every single way.


Graphics: 4.0

Textures and models have suffered some really noticeable setbacks in order for Empire of Sin to actually run on the Switch. The game ended up looking quite ugly, while still featuring an underwhelming framerate.

Gameplay: 6.0

The XCOM-esque combat system is interesting. The various business simulator-oriented activities are also interesting. They just don’t exactly mash well together. The game features an overwhelming amount of features and menus, making it quite intimidating at first.

Sound: 7.0

The voice acting is occasional “so bad it’s good”, and occasionally “simply bad”. The jazz-infused soundtrack, on the other hand, is always a banger.

Fun Factor: 5.0

Empire of Sin has tons of great ideas, but it lacks focus. It tries to be an excessive amount of games at once. There’s also the fact that it runs poorly on the Switch’s hardware.

Final Verdict: 5.0

Empire of Sin is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch

Reviewed on Switch.

A copy of Empire of Sin was provided by the publisher.