The Swindle on PC
To catch a thief, one must have cunning, wit, and determination. Or in the case of London’s Scotland Yard in new game The Swindle, a highly advanced surveillance system called “The Devil’s Basilisk.” Law enforcement has had enough of the thieving activities plaguing London’s districts. In this steampunk world, drones and deadly traps are no longer cutting it. The player’s livelihood is at stake. To ensure a bright future for yourself and thieves everywhere, you have 100 days to find and steal, “The Devil’s Basilisk,” or thieving in the city of London (and quite possibly the world) will come to an abrupt end.
Instead of building a game around an extensive, convoluted story, the team behind The Swindle instead gives players one very strong motivation and 100 days before dumping them into their take on a 19th century steampunk London for some heist action. Before getting into the gameplay elements of The Swindle, let’s first give a bit of attention to one of the game’s best features: the artwork. The game is absolutely beautiful.
Amazing, hand drawn characters and enemies, detailed backgrounds that fit each and every different district, lighting, and various weather effects combine to make a visually pleasing experience. The sound design helps seal the deal as players progress through each randomly generated locale. Hearing the pouring rain hit the pavement, or the sound of roof-tiles as you scamper over your target, and even the blaring alarms when you make a critical mistake and must now race again the clock. The world looks, feels, and sounds just right, something that isn’t always the case in many video games.
Gameplay has a nice mix of stealth, action, and hacking. Players are dropped in their rickety space pod outside of their target and must infiltrate the building while avoiding traps and security forces. At the beginning of The Swindle, thieves are equipped with nothing more than a black jack (for busting robots’ heads open) and the ability to jump. Of course, there is no way that you’re expected to pull off some of the greatest heists London has ever seen with just those simple capabilities. That’s where the RPG like elements of the game come in via the workbench.
You are a master thief, yes, but even a master is only as good as their tools. As you advance in The Swindle, you earn money used to advance through the game as well as purchase some gadgetry to make your pilfering endeavors much simpler. Items ranging from different types of goggles, to cloud that covers you when spotted, and even a teleportation device are available to outfit whatever thief you happen to be in control of. There are many different options for your play-style which adds for quite a bit of variety, as well as difficulty in making choices. Unfortunately, this is where The Swindle‘s major issue comes into play.
The Swindle has a lot of roguelike qualities. Particularly the dying a helluva lot, and coming back as a brand new character. It’s cool to have the whole randomly generated environments that require you to learn from your past. The whole learning the strategies and abilities of enemy bots, figuring out the best way to navigate structures is something that usually works well. But, with the way that The Swindle works, the roguelike elements become more of a frustration than a welcome obstacle.
For starters, it is possible to end up in a scenario where the heist is 100% impossible. While this isn’t as much of an issue in the late game since you’ve probably been able to purchase upgrades and tools, it is unforgivable in the early game. As mentioned earlier, you have a 100 day time limit, which means a 100 heist time limit (which can be extended if you manage to save enough dough). When you find that early levels can’t be completed even partially it can quickly turn you off from the game.
This may not seem like a big deal, since rogue likes are supposed to be challenging, but put it like this. In order to hack computers and complete a heist, you need to purchase the skill for £100. The first heist pays about £800 with the hacking ability, but without it you’re lucky to stumble across around £150 in loose cash if you manage to actually get a perfect run. On average in the beginning you’ll net about £32-£40. That would mean it will take at least three fully successful runs through a level in order to purchase the hacking ability. When a level places money underground with no entryways, and has nothing but locked doors (which require the hacking ability), you will be forced to waste a day making absolutely zero progress.
At this point, The Swindle is reduced from being a game about skill and ingenuity and more about luck and a really frustrating grind, just to make it to a point where you may potentially be able to afford one of the extremely high priced upgrades. Upgrades which prove to be 100% necessary to progress at all, creating a somewhat vicious cycle. You need money to purchase the skills that you need to earn money.
This is something that may have been easily remedied with a more well rounded skill-set at the beginning. Either that or a better system for generating levels. When the game works it is an absolute blast, even with its most difficult challenges, but impossible missions that rear their ugly heads far too often hamper down the entire experience.
The Swindle has some really cool ideas, and the sound and visuals make for one of the prettiest games out there. But, for players looking for something new or intrigued by the steampunk aesthetic, the randomized barrier to entry may be a bit too much. The prospect of a heist is exciting, but at this rate, you may want to consider getting your money the legit way.