Empire, developed by Happy Giant, is a new social game based on the life of hip-hop mogul Jay-Z. In execution, the game is rather similar to other “urban” titles such as Crime City and Mafia Wars 2, but a strong emphasis is made on making moral choices rather than following a fixed, linear progression path into criminal depravity.
Players begin by designing their own custom avatar and giving it an appropriately “hip-hop” name, players are then thrown onto the streets of Marcy Housing in Brooklyn. From this point on, it’s up to them to ensure that their avatar makes the right choices in order to escape a life of poverty and make it as a star of the hip-hop world.
Players are directed through the game by a series of quests, though an interesting twist on the formula appears early on when the choice is given between two “opposing” objectives. Should “Big Momma P” go hang out with her man or stay home and write some rhymes? Choosing between these objectives generally has an effect on the rewards on offer, and some have an impact on the player’s “karma” rating. Robbing a store with a friend, for example, might provide a short-term injection of cash, but negatively impact the player’s reputation.
The player is ranked through several different ratings — experience, fame, cred and karma. Karma goes up and down according to the choices made, but the other three may only increase as time goes on. Various different combinations of ratings in experience, fame and cred are required in order to unlock various clothing items in the in-game store, though these requirements may be bypassed by spending Facebook Credits directly. Each of these clothing items then subsequently provides a player with a further reward to these statistics.
The majority of actions in the game are of the “click and wait for reward” variety, but a number of minigames are also incorporated to break up the experience and provide a greater sense of interactivity. Some of these take the form of simple gambling games, while challenging a non-player character to a “rap battle” uses a simple card battle mechanic. Here, three of a player’s “skill” ratings are compared to their rival’s, with whoever scores the most points being the winner. The game doesn’t make it entirely clear how the final score is calculated, however, since the result often seems to bear no resemblance whatsoever to the “preview” of the two rappers’ skills before the battle.
This is something of a pattern for the game — it often doesn’t explain exactly how a player should accomplish a task, and there are frequent ambiguities which make these things somewhat difficult to work out. For example: Early in the game, the player is told to go and “write rhymes” in order to complete a quest. There are three different locations on the map with the “write rhymes” action attached to them, and only one will trigger completion of the quest. Similarly, quests often demand the player gather specific items, with no indication of what actions might allow the player to locate these items. It becomes a matter of trial and error, though the game’s energy system prevents too much experimentation.
This issue aside, the game isn’t bad at all, and the “moral choice” element provides it with a much greater feeling of interactivity than other similar titles. In a nice touch, the background music for the game is provided by a Spotify playlist of Jay-Z’s work, helping get around social games’ usual issue of repetitive soundtracks and providing some convenient cross-promotion for both Jay-Z’s work and the music-streaming service in the process. It is, however, worth noting that the playlist features explicit versions of the tracks in question with no warning to users, while the game itself remains relatively “family-friendly.”
A decent game with a strong theme that just needs a bit more explanation for some of its mechanics.