By Phil Schipper / August 14th, 2015
|Release Date||June 4, 2015|
It’s a long road from a prison cell to Fort Knox, but you and your goons will find a way to sneak and steal your way in there in the real-time strategy game, The Masterplan.
The mechanics are simple. When faced with a guard, you can try to just sneak past, actually attack him (lethal or not), or try to use intimidation. Most people, when they have a gun to their head, will do anything you ask them to, including knocking others out, unlocking doors or dropping their items. Still, if you don’t have at least two guns trained on someone, they’ll start to get ideas and fight back after a few seconds. After that they’re likely to call the cops, in which case you have 30 seconds until officers come in and start shooting. A few hotshots won’t get scared at all and will start shooting at you right away.
This all leads into a general flow for most missions. First, your group can walk freely around public areas like the shop floor to help scout it out. At some point, though, you have to start sneaking into the back, dodging guards and cameras. You can often find switches or power boxes for the lights and cameras if it helps, and eventually you might take out the person that’s running the cameras. Nine times out of ten, though, someone will get alerted just as you’re getting to your objective, forcing you to run out with the goods as fast as you can while dealing with everyone that gets in your way.
There’s more than just money to grab as you go through each stage. Sometimes you’ll also find weapons, ammo, or fliers that unlock new weapons to buy. Other memos unlock new heist locations. You’ll also pick up helpful tools for your mission, like guard uniforms or keys that unlock specific colors of doors — and lock them back up. You’d be surprised at how much frustration you can save just by locking doors behind you.
The money you do pick up can be used to get more weapons and ammo or to hire new goons back at your group’s hideout between missions. There can be up to six goons there, but only four of them can go on heists at a time. They all have different levels of health, speed and accuracy. You really don’t want them to die in action because not only do you have to replace them, but somebody will have to pick up their stuff (which, of course, tends to be in a dangerous situation). Plus, a lot of missions require the team to either split up or carry multiple heavy objects out.
Unfortunately, there are going to be times when you have to just accept your fate. There’s no saving during missions, and a lot of situations depend at least partially on luck. After retrying a mission about 20 times, you’ll finally get into that moment where things are going so well that you don’t want to turn back no matter what happens. As you turn your general plan outline into a fully-made strategy, learning the patterns of guards and the locations of crucial objects, it’ll slowly build into a level playthrough you’re happy with. To give an idea, Steam says my time to beat this game was 20 hours, but the game itself only tracked the times I finished the missions — giving me a final time of only 4 hours!
This game has been compared to Hotline Miami simply because of its visual perspective, but that’s a huge mistake. Besides the fact that it actually looks a lot better — featuring sharply-drawn vector graphics for every character, object, prop and background — it’s much less a twitchy action game and much more a tactical thinking problem. In fact, with a couple of exceptions, you have incentive not to kill anyone: any dead bodies take away a percentage of your heist earnings as an “evidence cleaning fee.”
The sound is a little finicky. The few sound effects and voices work fine, but with the music, there can be sort of awkward transitions. The normal calm tones immediately switch to a faster-paced track any time one of your goons attacks something — even if they’re just smashing a window or breaking into a cash box. It’s sort of both funny and confusing. The victory theme after heists, meanwhile, only seems to play about half the time. For all this weirdness, though, all the tracks are both good and fitting for the 70’s heist theme.
Though the story is sort of hidden in the background of memos most of the time — and, ultimately, revolves around Richard Nixon conspiracy theories — it does its job without getting in the way of play. There are around 20 heists, split into several different branches that ultimately help you get to Fort Knox. Some branches end with keys that you can use to get in more easily, while others offer powerful and useful weapons. Of course, if you’d rather just rush to the finish, you can also bomb your way in. If all that’s not enough, mod and map creation seems to be on the way soon.
Overall, The Masterplan does exactly what it claims to. The gameplay and levels are thoroughly thought-out and make it a really solid experience. While many strategy games become a mathematic problem of unit types and abilities, this game strips the numbers away and turns it all into a matter of well-timed maneuvers. Personally, I find it to be a very refreshing game, and, bugs aside, I would certainly recommend getting it. You can do so on Steam for $19.99 USD.
Review copy supplied by the publisher.
PCreal-time strategyRTSSteamThe Masterplan