There’s certainly a gap in the market for good, tactical heist games. They’ve seen a bit of a resurgence in recent years, kickstarted by the success of the Payday franchise, but not everyone likes FPS gameplay. Enter The Masterplan, a top-down, 2D Prison Architect inspired heist game all about planning and strategy.
Set in 1970s America, the story revolves around an unfortunate character called Joey, who’s just lost his job and is forced to make a living through less kosher means. That living gets harder when bent cops decide to shoot him and leave him for dead. After recovering, Joey has his sights set on revenge, and it’s up to you to help him get it.
The first thing that comes to mind when playing The Masterplan is that it looks a lot like Prison Architect. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I can only assume that Shark Punch have Introversion Software’s blessing to use near identical assets – but I certainly can’t complain about how easy it is on the eye and how quickly the art style allows the eyes to become familiar with the level design and important NPCs and their movements.
Starting out Small-Time
The first job involves Joey and a new friend, and that’s it. You’re holding up a simple convenience store for a relatively small amount of cash. Already though, you have a choice. Do you go in, beat the crap out of the poor clerk and leave him lying on the floor? You certainly can do, although this carries risks – if a member of the public hears you or spots you, they’ll run off to call the police from the nearest payphone.
Perhaps then stealth is the better option. There’s certainly less chance of you attracting anyone’s attention, but there are then other problems. Often you’ll have to break into a secure room to get to the bigger piles of cash and valuables, and these rooms need a key. To acquire the key, you can threaten staff members with a gun and steal it from them, or you can take the violent approach and loot it from their unconscious body.
In the first mission, I decided I’d play a bit dangerous and resort to physical violence. What I didn’t expect was just how sneaky The Masterplan allows you to be. Continuing the game, I found myself having to raid an establishment that had a security guard and a couple of employees. After knocking out the key-carrying staff member, I dumped his body in a room behind a locked door. But I’d made a mistake. I’d made too much noise, and the security guard was rushing toward me. I let him in and hid behind the door. I sneaked out and locked the guard in the room. I was hooked...
Release Date: 04/06/2015
Available on: Windows, PC Download
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Build Your Team
As you progress through the story, you’ll have the opportunity to hire new members with different skills. Some will be proficient at sneaking around, otherwise will be violent thugs capable of taking on two hapless NPCs at once. Whichever way you decide to go through the game, you can find weapons and team members to suit.
The good thing is, there’s absolutely no requirement for you to pick one method and stick with it. Some levels are simply easier to finish by taking a more violent route. Leave one team member near the payphone, send a couple inside to knock anyone out. If someone escapes, your guy at the phone has you covered.
When things get hairy, there’s a time-slowing mechanic that allows you more thinking time. It’s not limited but it doesn’t completely pause time either – slowing movement speed down to around 10 percent of normal. As you get further into the game you may well find yourself using this more and more often.
Short, Simple Levels
This is no Thief II. The levels aren’t sprawling masterpieces of game design. However, that does not mean that they’re boring or overly simple. Usually your heist is taking place within one building, but within each building there will be separate rooms, alarm systems, lighting systems, breakable windows and NPCs with patrol paths. The scale is one that allows you to oversee everything that’s going on while retaining enough complexity to make the game a challenge, especially in the latter stages.
There is No Perfect Crime
The Masterplan isn’t without its issues, though. For example, while it does allow you to choose stealth or violence, it’s one of those games that decides to punish you for violence, in this case by imposing a 50 percent ‘clean up fee’ on your takings should things get messy. Obviously this is done to encourage people to play more strategically, which is clearly the game’s strength, but to me it feels like the developers are being too heavy-handed with their control of the player.
The gunplay is awkward. You have to right click on your character and drag the cursor toward where you want to aim. Getting into a firefight is incredibly fiddly as a result and it’s not something that you’re likely to win unless you’re 100 percent prepared for it. The biggest problem though is that this mechanic also slows down general gameplay when you want to hold someone up. It’s just a frustrating way to control a character and it’s not something I’d be keen on seeing in future games.
The Masterplan has been a wonderful surprise for me. I’d not heard much about it, when I first started it I thought it was relying too much on Prison Architect’s design and I wasn’t convinced. It changed my mind within an hour and I’ve played through the game twice now, taking different approaches different crews. The soundtrack is amazing, and the game will steal your free time. It’s available on Steam for £14.99 or £18.99 with the soundtrack.
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The Masterplan is developed by The Masterplan Game.