Let me start off by saying that if you enjoy high risk high reward gameplay set in an artistically stylized steampunk historical fiction version of the United Kingdom you’ll love this game. The Swindle is a 2D stealth platformer rogue-like game developed by Size Five Games that is as complicated as the the previous adjectives describing it would suggest. Your mission, should you choose to not botch it, is to infiltrate Scotland Yard and steal the Devil’s Basilisk, a new surveillance tool that will end the livelihoods of all career criminals in London once active. You have 100 days to steal as much money as possible to buy the tools you need to break in, steal it, and then live a life of continued thievery.
Disclosure: This review was written using a press copy of the game.
By you, we mean all 100 of you. You don’t get to play one single thief unless you’re exceedingly good at not dying. Each death will put you at the controls of another member of the English equivalent of the Suicide Squad. Even in the beginning heists in the slums you can die relatively easily, losing your character and the money that they accrued. In fact, my first achievement in this game was “So Close” for dying after stealing everything I could so you can understand why I threw my mouse across the room.
This serves as a great way to increase the tension of the game, because if you successfully accomplish more than three heists with one thief, you start to get more attached to your character and rack up a lovely heist multiplier, making their inevitable death by clubbing all the more poignant. Luckily, all purchasable upgrades are shared between thieves, leaving you with something to remember Angela America’s death by.
These difficulties make the gameplay supremely intense, and will have you meticulously planning how to take out the numerous defenses of each heist locale. You’ll also start to pull out of jobs that, from experience, you know you’ll either die to or get stuck in, so you can make out with as much cash as you can. It’s as stressful as sneaking into your parents’ house after a late night of drinking, but with the added benefit of clocking your brother over the head.
Long time readers know that I was a fan of the atmosphere and gameplay of Gunpoint, and that applies here as well. It’s not that a steampunk London is revolutionary; in fact, it can be tossed in the trope can with cyberpunk dystopia. It is more that the developer chose the atmosphere and developed the tools, mechanics, and enemies around the environment. There are games that suffer from “suddenly steampunk” sickness, where they have clockwork weapons just because (Fable 2 … you know what I’m talking about). I would argue that it is a cop-out to add the ability to change the dirtiness of the camera in the visual options section. You have an artistic direction, stick with it.
If you are like me and enjoy a difficult stealth based game, like Gunpoint or Assassin’s Creed Chronicles, The Swindle is a great addition to your game collection. However, if you rage easily to things like dying to Creepers in Minecraft, I’d say either don’t play this game or invest in heart medication because your blood will boil.