It’s London, 1849. Those cheeky detectives at Scotland Yard have created an amazing new piece of technology which has been codenamed “The Devil’s Basilisk.” Once activated, it will give the police surveillance capabilities on an Orwellian magnitude. That’s great news for the security of the average citizen, but to a group of master burglars it spells the end of their careers.
Now this group of master thieves have but 100 days to build up their skills and bank accounts to gain access into Scotland Yard and steal The Devil’s Basilisk for themselves.
The Swindle is a steampunk, cybercrime heist game that lets you control a master burglar to break into a series of well guarded buildings in the hopes of swiping as much cash as possible and leaving undetected. The more cash you grab, the more upgrades you can purchase which in turn gives you ability to go after bigger prizes.
But it isn’t going to be easy.
You start this 2-D side-scrolling game in a large airship that acts as your headquarters. From there you can choose to either purchase new abilities or jump straight to a heist.
The missions begin with you flying in on your rocket propelled transport and landing just outside of the building you’re about to rob. Starting in the slums, it’s rather easy to sneak past the rather light security. Money is scatter throughout the building, and you can snatch it up off the ground or hack the computer for a bigger payoff. The whole time you will need to avoid the robot guards, the flying cameras, and the lethal trip mines. Death comes easily in The Swindle, and being detected means the police will be arriving shortly. But you don’t need to steal every bit of cash in the house. Once you’re satisfied with your haul and don’t want to take anymore risks, you can choose to hop back in your rocket and head back to your airship.
If you’re killed, you lose the loot you just stole and continue on the next day with a new thief. Every successful heist is a day well spent, while each death ticks off another day closer to doomsday.
It’s fast. It’s frantic. It’s dangerous. And it’s a whole lot of fun. Oh, and it’s hard. Really, freakin’, swear-out-loud kind of hard. It’s also doesn’t hold your hand as the game gives you little information on how to play. Most of the game is trial and error. You don’t know how to kill certain guards or use certain abilities until you’re in the heat of things, and then it’s probably too late. But you learn and the next heist will usually go just a bit better.
As things progress, the challenges get sharply more difficult. Stealing from people in the slums can be a bit easy, but security at the casinos is a bit more advanced. Of course, the payout also increases along with the challenge. The key to the game is finding the balance where your skill and your greed can meet to result in a successful heist… hopefully.
The Swindle is not only a difficult game, it’s also a beautiful one. The muted tones of its color palette paint a grim, dirty world that can seem as drab as any ever created. But given the time period, the style works perfectly to enhance the dreary atmosphere of the world. The colors also help to bring alive the environment which is filled with vibrant characters set against a softly painted background.
The music is also something of beauty and a dichotomy in itself. The Swindle is mostly a stealth game which calls for patience, and yet it’s soundtrack is often pulsing with an intense rhythm that drives you to move as quickly as possible. It’s not until you’ve been spotted and the red lights are blaring does the intensity of the music match the mood of the situation. Still, I couldn’t help but be impressed with the work that was done to create an absolutely enthralling audio landscape.
Unfortunately it’s not all sunshine and lollipops as there are some issues with the game that creep in from time to time. I found that the controls could be a bit problematic at times, which hurts when the game is so set on precision. I found there would be times when I’d try to jump or open a door and nothing would happen. The game has an issue when you’re standing too close to a wall because it wants to grip the wall instead of allowing you to move. Sometimes this can be remedied by backing up and trying again. But I found it a pain to patiently wait to make my move, only to have the game block my attempt.
I also ran into the occasional bug where I could jump through the ceiling or into walls. I have a feeling this may be a side effect of the procedural generation of each heist. This also creates situations of an uneven balance in the world. Sometimes the building would have a layout that couldn’t be penetrated unless you had some specific tools. Or it would create a situation where the guards would be impossible to pass. The only thing to do when this happens is quit the heist and hope the next day goes better.
At the end of the day the issues I had were minor in the grand scheme. The Swindle is able to create an amazingly fun experience that injects the “just one more time” feeling after each heist. It’s also the perfect fit for the Vita as a heist can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. The game is at its best when played in quick bursts to try and get a bit more cash in your account.
I often found myself screaming loud obscenities at my Vita every time I would die, and I’d watch my money fly up in a cloud around me. I came dangerously close to chucking the console across the room on several occasions. Yet, I always felt compelled to try it just one more time… knowing that I’d be a bit better on my next heist.
The Swindle is a challenging, frustrating, and fantastic game that constantly had me on the edge of my seat. It may have a steep learning curve but the payoff is worth it. If you’re looking for a challenge (and aren’t afraid to curse a little), look no further. The Swindle steals the show.