The first time I heard about The Swindle was in a small recording studio in London. The creator Dan Marshall talked about it on the radio show/ podcast One Life Left, where our own Tim recently guest-hosted. The concept immediately intrigued me. 2D, stealth, Steampunk, rogue-like, it all sounded great. As soon as I got my hands on the game, I realised one thing: I truly suck at the game.
• Developer: Size Five Games
• Publisher: Curve Digital
• Reviewed on: PC
• Also Available On: Mac, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Wii U
• Release Date: Available Now
The premise of The Swindle is quite simple. You are a thief in a steampunk-y Victorian London. At the beginning of the game you are told Scotland Yard will active the Basilisk in a hundred days. It’s device that stops all the crime. The story is the least important part of The Swindle. The gameplay is the focus. You break into people’s houses and steal their money. Some of it just lies around on the floor. In order to get the big bucks, though you have to hack computers. Guards, drones and other anti-theft devices are scattered throughout the level. Most of them will have a line of vision, if you enter it they call the police. Some enemies will also attack you. As soon as the alarms are ringing you should get back to your dropship. You don’t want to get whacked by the coppers. Between levels you’re in your airship, where you buy upgrades for you hero.
If you want a stealth experience similar to Mark of the Ninja or Dishonored, The Swindle might not be the game for you. Sneaking around is a big part of the game, but the mechanics aren’t as in-depth as in the games I just mentioned. Guards, for example, won’t notice getting hit or if the bodies of their colleagues are on the floor. They are mindless machines walking from one end to the other. This doesn’t mean that Swindle is easy. Especially during the later stages, all kinds of different guards are swarming the levels. Each of them with a different trait. Some have to be hit several times, others will hear the player’s movement or blow up on contact.
Your mightiest opponent in The Swindle aren’t guards or any anti-theft measure, it’s your greed. You will have situations where you already have a decent amount of money, but you see another computer. Then you try to get to it and fail miserably. With the cash you get from your thieving you can buy all sorts of different upgrades. I don’t want to get into too much detail, as discovering what the items do and which ones you find the most useful is a fun part of the game. This discovering of features is something The Swindle is exceptional at. With each playthrough you will encounter new enemies and new tools. If you start the game there won’t be a tutorial. You’ll figure out what to do.
Failing and dying is a pretty big part of The Swindle. You will do both of those pretty frequently. Each time one of your thieves die, a new one will be randomly generated. The characters in The Swindle all look distinct and great. One maybe may be a chap with a top hat, the other may be a lady with a gas mask. Overall, the game looks great. Each of the different stages has a different colour theme and architecture. The houses in the slums are quite bare and dull looking, whereas the casinos have all these posh furniture and expensive items. The enemies all look adorable and their design tells you what they can do. The big round robot takes a few more hits than the normal ones, the drone with a gun will probably shoot at you, if it spots you.
As of this writing I have not beaten The Swindle. And I probably never will. I suck at rogue-likes. Never beaten a boss in Rogue Legacy or beaten Mom in Binding of Isaac. I still enjoy Swindle quite a lot. My only problem with the game are some of its levels. As they are randomly generated you will get levels where rooms don’t have an entry, or doors lead into nothingness. Especially during the earlier parts of the game, this is pretty frustrating. As soon as you get bombs, it’s less annoying. All structures can be destroyed. Don’t like this wall? Blow it up! And don’t worry about the guards, they won’t notice you blowing a hole in the wall.
If you like stealth games or rogue-likes, you should give this game a go. Playing this game is kind of like playing a Souls game. It is pretty punishing, but if you pull off your heist, it’s an amazing feeling. There are moments when you want to throw your controller at the nearest wall because you died the third time in a row. But most of the time it’s great fun. And if you are bad, as I am, just look at the gorgeous art and chill out for a while.