Look, stealing stuff is a crime, okay? Don’t do it. Stop taking stuff that isn’t yours. Definitely don’t steal a PC to type reviews on, for instance. I wouldn’t. I definitely didn’t. All of this stuff is mine. Let’s not talk about me and my thieving ways, which don’t exist because I certainly did not steal anything; let’s talk about The Swindle.
In The Swindle, you play as a Victorian-era steampunk thief whose job is being threatened by the upcoming roll-out of The Devil’s Basilisk, an omnipresent surveillance system. Naturally, you won’t just be strolling in and turning the thing off from step one. Instead, you’re going to need to pull off some lesser procedurally-generated heists to build up cash and get the necessary gear and upgrades. You’ve only got a hundred days to tame the Basilisk, so get to work!
So let’s go back to that last bit, the bit about the gear and upgrades. See, The Swindle is a little unique among procedurally-generated games in that it will happily generate levels that you’re not capable of completing. You might come across a building full of rooms that you can’t reach, for instance, or find yourself on the wrong side of a roof that you can’t get back across. This means you’re going to run into many situations where you just can’t reach some loot. In fact, it means you’re going to run into many situations where you just can’t keep on living and must instead hit the killswitch on your chosen thief. Dying costs you valuable time, of course, and you lose the valuable multipliers you earn for keeping one of your criminals alive.
If that sounds a little annoying…well, it is! It’s also an interesting gameplay concept, since you’re rapidly going to learn that you should avoid situations that you can’t reasonably get out of. If you don’t have the double jump, for instance, you should approach long drops with caution. I’m not entirely sure if I approve of this choice, since it does lead to some nasty surprises early in the game, but it lends The Swindle a flavor all its own. While the guards and turrets you’ll encounter are certainly dangerous, you can take them out with a truncheon smack; the same can’t be said for the environment.
Those upgrades you’ll need are interesting enough, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given that this game’s all about loading up on them. They’re all fairly standard Metroidvania fare like jump upgrades, damage improvement and hacking (read: more loot), but the integral role they play in your success makes each feel like a victory in itself. The first time you manage to leap out of a previously deadly situation with the double jump, for instance, you’ll feel like a master ninja. A monocle-wearing steampunk master ninja. Yeah.
The Swindle looks pretty nice by 2D platformer standards. The color scheme is muted and can be a little hard on the eyes after awhile, so I found myself taking breaks often – well, that and the fact that the game can be fairly frustrating. The sound, meanwhile, is awesome, especially when you’ve been spotted and the soundtrack gets cranked up a notch or five.
The Swindle isn’t a game for the impatient; stealth games rarely are, and the game’s unapologetic difficulty reinforces this fact. Still, if you’re willing to give these rogues the attention they demand it can be a rewarding experience. Just don’t get too attached to your thieves. It’s a rough job. They rarely last long.