Pulls off a Mediocre Crime
Robbery games are prolific across all platforms at the moment. The Swindle is a multi-platform title that’s available on Vita, PS3, PC, PS4, Xbox One, Wii U and Mac. That’s a lot of work for a small studio! Did it pay off?
What is The Swindle?
The Swindle is set in an alternate-history Victorian/Steampunk era. Technology is advanced but full of cogs, smoke and, well, steam. Your goal here is to stop Scotland Yard from flicking the switch on the dreadful Devil’s Basilisk, which will apparently make it impossible for anyone to burgle ever again.
You have 100 days to amass wealth, improve your characters and sneak your way past Scotland’s Yard finest police officers and robots. There’s an emphasis on stealthy gameplay – sneaking through a level undetected will net you a bonus – however you can club your way out of trouble if you’re quick enough.
If you do get caught, that’s the end of that character. Not to worry, though, as there is an endless supply of burglars, all desperate to stop the Devil’s Basilisk from starting up.
Speaking of things that are everywhere – indie devs are infatuated with Rogue-lite mechanics, and have been for several years. Whether it’s Enter the Gungeon, the similarly-set Ironclad or the spectacularly successful Binding of Isaac.
The Swindle takes a number of common Rogue-lite concepts, for good and bad, to expand what would otherwise have been a fairly short game into something that can be played for dozens of hours.
The thing is, Rogue-lite is more than overdone at this point. If you look at a list of upcoming releases for a week, there’s bound to be one or two mixed in there. The Swindle incorporates some of these features without really doing anything to change them for the better.
Let’s start with the randomly generated levels. First, a note on something Size Five Games have done right – you can choose which levels to play depending on how comfortable you’re feeling with your own skills. If you want to repeat the first level – which will fall within a set specification rather than being identical each time – you can. It’s about balancing risk and reward. If you get caught, you don’t make any money and you lose a precious day.
So generally, randomly generated levels are a good thing. They increase replayability, they keep things feeling fresh and prevent a game from becoming monotonous. The problem with how it’s done in The Swindle is that Size Five didn’t take enough time to restrict what the procedural generation can come up with. You’ll stumble into levels that, quite frequently, have rooms that can’t be accessed, rewards that are placed in a tiny block with 3 enemies, and even duplicated enemies that follow the same path at the same time.
Release Date: 28/07/2015
Available on: Mac, PS4, PS3, Windows, PC Download
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A Lack of Character
The way that they went about handling your characters is another minor negative. Rather than having a strong protagonist or selection of characters to choose from, as is the case with Enter the Gungeon or Sword of the Stars: The Pit, where each character has different starting items, strengths, and weaknesses, The Swindle instead opts for bland, replaceable characters with randomly generated names and appearances.
The skills of your thief depend entirely on what you’ve unlocked. In typical Rogue-lite fashion, this progress carries on from character to character – which is a good thing, because if it didn’t, this game would be impossible to complete.
That being said, you have no real attachment to your current thief. They are entirely disposable. There isn’t even a limit on the number of thieves you can run through. Still, other games, such as XCOM, have gone the route of adding a monetary cost to recruiting to give characters more value – but they’ve also done something much more important; they’ve allowed you to customise your recruits’ appearance and name. None of this happens in The Swindle, and as such you really don’t care about your characters, which is a shame.
There are three main persistent progression paths in The Swindle. There’s the number of days left for you to complete your mission, the amount of money you’ve accumulated, and the skill’s you’ve unlocked.
This is where The Swindle takes on some very welcomed RPG aspects. There are a variety of skills you can choose to upgrade in different categories. There are movement based skills which allow your thieves to run quicker, jump further and scale high walls. There are skills that improve your hand-to-hand combat abilities. There are technology related skills that allow you to hack machines and increase the amount of money you get from doing so – plenty to allow you to pick a way to play and stick with it through the run - and enough to go back to the beginning once you’ve completed the game and have a go at playing in a different way.
In order to succeed, you need to be competent at platforming, planning ahead and have dextrous fingers – especially as the levels get harder. I’m all for that – games that do this intrinsically reward players for being good at a game and improving. They deliver a feeling of satisfaction when you complete a stage that you’ve struggled with a couple of times.
That being said, there are a couple of hang-ups with The Swindle that make it frustrating. While the controls are certainly responsive enough, the animations all seem very stilted and jittery. I had to check that the game wasn’t locked to 30FPS when I started playing because they were that far away from being smooth. While the animation quality doesn’t appear to mess with responsiveness, it certainly never really looks as smooth as it should, and that messes with your mind in much the same way, as you can often find yourself waiting on the animations.
The Swindle is a decent game. There are better Rogue-lites out there, like Enter the Gungeon, and there are better robbery games around, such as Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine. The price is an issue. It’s currently at £11.99/€14.99 on Steam (which is the platform I used for this review). Those better games I mentioned are both cheaper.
As such, I would strongly recommend waiting for this game to go on offer before picking it up if you have those other two games – otherwise you may be left feeling a little swindled yourself.
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The Swindle is developed by Size Five Games.