By Phil Schipper / September 9th, 2015
|Developer||Size Five Games|
|Publisher||Size Five Games|
|Release Date||July 28th, 2015|
|Platform||PC, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One, Wii U|
|Age Rating||E10+ (ESRB)|
It looks like the roguelike is all the rage these days, and The Swindle is all set to cash in on its success. How, you ask? By stealing all the money in its shady steampunk world, of course! There’s only one catch: in 100 days, the government will complete their absolute surveillance system, preventing crime from ever being possible again. Your goal is to build up your equipment and make your way up to this ultimate heist.
At the beginning of the game, this will seem impossible to do. You’ll pretty much be sneaking into impoverished apartments, grabbing handfuls of cash that are scattered around the area. Once you save up a little, though, you can buy the ability to hack computers. This, it turns out, is where the real money is. From that point, you can buy upgrades like extra jumps, more attack power, bombs, concealing clouds of smoke and dozens more.
The cash you get as you add key upgrades and break into bigger districts can grow exponentially, if you play really well. By successfully hacking every computer in a level and getting away, you build up a multiplier that will keep going until the next time you die. In other words, by succeeding every time, you can build up ludicrous amounts of money very quickly. On the other hand, security gets tighter as days pass. Even the very first level can be challenging if you fall behind.
And therein lies the problem. Your character dies instantly on contact with any hazard, or an enemy that’s actually attacking. Once an enemy so much as sees you, the whole level will go into lockdown and a powerful force of police will show up. This means that it’s very easy to make a mistake and die. In a normal roguelike, this would be fine, especially because the heists are so short anyway, but here, failure just continues to make your situation worse. My first time playing through, I ran into the 100-day limit and my save file was done in only about 3 hours. I hadn’t even gotten to half the upgrades or levels in the game at that point.
Maybe it wouldn’t be so frustrating if the controls were a bit more precise and I actually had any clue how fall damage is applied. Trying to make it up a tall building is a risky endeavor, let alone getting inside its network of guards, drones, cameras, and overly eager spikes. None of the upgrades actually protect you from anything except, in a very limited way, detection–you have to dodge everything every time, no matter how powerful you become. Yes, I’m aware that I’m complaining about a game being too hard (probably a bad idea when I’m not so great at it in the first place), but when failure is so punishing it becomes downright mean.
The random level generation is okay. The mechanic of bombing walls is such a big part of the game that even when a room is completely isolated, you can theoretically still access it. However, this feels like the product of laziness on the designers’ part–I once saw a door that was completely surrounded by walls on all sides, so it didn’t even lead anywhere!
This game does deserve credit for its faithfulness to the cyber/steampunk mix it runs on. All text information in the game is presented in a distinct, code-like format. Upgrades are complete with descriptions of the devices and materials that are added to your character’s body in order to make those upgrades possible. Every little thing fits somewhere in the main themes of the game.
Graphically, everything has a surprisingly detailed, quirky composite look. The playable characters carry loads of convincing gadgets, and the different enemy types have unique robot designs. Lighting effects are simple, but effective. I enjoyed the music a fair amount–it has a dramatic jazz feel and incorporates lots of clock ticking to draw back to the steampunk theme. While there are not really that many sounds in the game, they pack a punch when they do come up.
Overall, The Swindle has a stunning overall tone and knows that the devil is in the details. However, it is so punishing as to be beyond frustrating for anyone but the most determined players. If you happen to think you can take the abuse, though, buy it on virtually any console or PC for $14.99 USD.
Review copy supplied by the publisher. Review based on the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
platformerRoguelikesize five gamesthe swindle