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Image credit: Paradox Interactive

'Empire of Sin' looks like a new-school 'Mob Rule'

Set in Prohibition-era Chicago.
Chris Ip, @chrisiptw
06.14.19 in AV
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It's been 20 years since Mob Rule, the organized crime real-time strategy game. Despite a few efforts like Omerta - City of Gangsters, Gangsters 2: Vendetta and Gangland in the years since, there hasn't been a true successor in the Mafia-meets-strategy genre.

Empire of Sin is aiming to inherit that position. It will launch in Spring 2020 on Switch, PS4, Xbox, PC and Mac with a mix of gang management simulation and turn-based tactical combat. In an E3 demo, the team from Romero Games played as Al Capone, who dons a pin-striped grey suit, chomps on a fat cigar and brandishes tommy guns in both hands. He lands in Chicago's Little Italy with its moody streets and jazz-infused speakeasies.

"Most people know Capone as the 1930s big-shot mobster where he's already created his empire," said Ian O'Neill, associate game designer at Romero Games. "Very few people know the 1920s 'Hey I just arrived in Chicago, I don't have anything, I need to establish myself' Capone."

Paradox Interactive

There are six rackets to run, from casinos to brothels, and sometimes they have to be taken over by force. Fighting works similarly to XCOM -- you move teammates around a grid, finding cover and spending action points judiciously. Incapacitated enemies can be "executed" which cues a brutal animation with blood coating the player's camera -- perhaps unsurprising when the creator of the original, gory Doom, John Romero, is on the team.

You can recruit up to 16 teammates -- as lieutenants, soldiers, or an underboss -- from a world of 60 characters. In each playthrough, they'll have randomized relationships with each other as potential friends, enemies or lovers. That could affect how easily they can be recruited; if sent to fight their significant other they might refuse.

Another game element is the "sit-down," which is essentially how diplomacy is conducted between gang heads. In this demo, it mostly consisted of choosing basic dialogue options resulting in a deal or a back alley shoot-out.

Paradox Interactive

Empire of Sin is not a story-driven game. While there are small missions, your only real goal is to take over Chicago's various neighborhoods. Even the longest playthroughs won't last longer than 10 hours. There are 14 characters to play as and half of them are historical figures like Stephanie St. Clair and Dean O'Banion.

Brenda Romero is the lead game designer on Empire of Sin, though she wasn't at the E3 demo. "She's wanted to make this game for 20 years," said John Romero, her husband and the iconic co-founder of id Software. "What I bring is game development knowledge ... but it's basically however Brenda wants the game."

Catch up on all the latest news from E3 2019 here!

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Chris is associate features editor at Engadget focusing on in-depth stories about the cultural, societal, and artistic impacts of technology. Raised in the UK and Hong Kong, he has worked for the Columbia Journalism Review, Reuters, and the South China Morning Post.

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