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Empire of Sin review: Mob rules

(XO/PS4/PC/Mac/Sw) **** Age: 16+

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Empire of Sin

Empire of Sin

Empire of Sin

It ain’t easy being a gangster. Everyone wants a piece of you, and not in a good way.

Empire of Sin puts you in the shoes of a wannabe mob boss in Prohibition-era Chicago in this hybrid of resource management and turn-based combat. You can try to build up your operation the honest dishonest way — investing in speakeasies, brothels and breweries, negotiating with rivals and generally acting with honour among thieves.

But Empire — perhaps accidentally — teaches you that violence trumps all other strategies. Don’t wait for foes to encroach on your territory because sooner or later they’ll try. Better to slay the competition and get your retaliation in first.

That’s something of a shame because Empire squeezes numerous layers into its depiction of the 1920s turf wars and criminal rackets. There’s a thoughtfulness to it that’s no surprise given it’s created by celebrated US designer Brenda Romero, who moved with husband John Romero to Galway in 2016.

On one hand, you have a complex resource management system — hire muscle, distil booze, upgrade your businesses — and on the other there’s the XCOM-style combat, in which you fight rival goons in turn-based shoot-outs for control of assets and territory.

The latter mode struggles due to copious glitches but aggressive expansion via this combat is more or less the fastest way to riches compared to the spreadsheet-like tedium of managing your businesses.

Empire needs more time to grow but it’s an intriguing start-up.

Call of the Sea

(XO/PC) **** Age: 15+

From one historical adventure to another. Call of the Sea dives into 1930s pulp fiction with this Myst-like mystery in which a woman follows her missing husband to a remote island.

Cue lots of odd contraptions to decipher and puzzles to decrypt as Norah slips down a rabbit hole of Lovecraftian myths and traces the foolhardy decisions of her husband’s expedition. Cissy Jones (of Firewatch fame) turns in a captivating performance as Norah, commanding the screen for the entire run-time, by turns baffled, scared and curious.

The unhurried pacing and subtle signposting make for an engaging adventure, with just enough brain-scratching and enigma to pull you back time and again.

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