I’ve died so many times. I’ve fallen off a roof, blown myself up with a badly placed bomb, been shot by a flying metal robot thing, and gassed to death. I’ve been chased by policemen, rammed through a window and caught out by a cunningly placed mine.
Pretty much your average robbery attempt in Victorian London really.
Steampunk is becoming the new zombie. It started life as something interesting and novel, but is starting to lose its shine a little due to the huge number of games taking advantage of the grungy style. But The Swindle makes it work, and while it offers up its fair share of frustrations, this 2D break-in-and-nick-stuff-em-up (it’ll catch on) offers some great ideas which make it a game very much worth keeping an eye on.
It’s the late 19th century, and Scotland Yard are about to switch on The Devil’s Basilisk, a device which has the potential to put an end to all crime for good – not a good thing when you’re a bunch of thieves hoping to cash in on London’s unwitting citizens. You have 100 days to nick it before it gets switched on, and so begins a series of attempted (and often bungled) break-ins to try and steal as much cash as possible from various procedurally generated houses, offices, casinos and other such places. Of course the game wouldn’t be a game without something trying to stop you, so you’ll be trying sneak round (or just break) a range of security robots, mines and cameras which will not only set off alarms if they spot you (or in the case of mines, blow you up a bit) but also start chasing you down and calling in the police to help put a stop to you breaking and entering.
Steal a bit of cash and you can start saving up to upgrade your characters. The nice thing here is the permanent nature of the upgrades; you’ll be getting your thieves killed left right and centre, but despite starting the next job with a new character (also randomly created, and always with awesome names) your upgrades remain, so you’ll be able to double jump using steam bursts in your shoes, hack into computers to steal more cash or smash through windows to take enemies by surprise (although they can see through windows, I found that out the hard way). Get unlucky and you’ll find yourself in a house unable to get out; maybe you’ve dropped down a hole which you can no longer reach, maybe you’ve hit a dead end and haven’t got the bombs or double jumps to find your way out again. A shame, definitely, but just kill off the character you’re using and go again.
But here’s the thing… each time you start a new job it takes a day away from the remaining time. You’ve only got 100 attempts to build up your cash, pick up the right upgrades, buy access to the next area of London and eventually have a stab or two and swiping the Basilisk before the rozzers switch the bugger on. Die on the job and it’s a wasted day. You’ll also get a percentage bonus for each successful mission, and the tougher buildings will reward bigger wads of cash, pretty useful considering you need to pay out for each attempt at the final raid.
What I like the most about The Swindle though is that there are so many different ways to play. Want to blow stuff up and just barge your way to the cash? Fine, but you’ll need to be careful about blowing up the computers and, more importantly, yourself. Want to sneak round and buy all the stealthy upgrades? Again, that’s great if you can make it work. Or maybe you want to focus on earning more money from your hacks, slowing down the process of earning the big bucks but making it that little bit trickier to get the money in the first place. Either way it’s a huge challenge, one which I haven’t managed to overcome yet, but I’m getting there. And I keep going back. Despite the frustrations, despite the occasionally unfair house layout, and despite my impatience regularly killing off my bad guys, I’m still trying.
And a game which carries frustration with enjoyment is a rare beast indeed. This is a Marmite game – you’ll love it, or despise it. But I’ve a funny feeling that most of you will find it to be very good, and very enjoyable.
Reviewed on PS4/Vita