The Swindle (PlayStation 4) Review

By Drew Hurley 22.08.2015

Review for The Swindle on PlayStation 4

An all-new, punishingly difficult procedural rogue-like is here in the form of The Swindle, the latest offering from BAFTA-winning developer Size Five Games. The game has long been stuck in development hell - it was even cancelled at one point - but developer Dan Marshall has finally managed to make his idea become a reality. The question is whether or not it was worth the wait.

The Swindle has an interesting premise: in an alternate steampunk version of Victorian London, Scotland Yard has been sorely losing the war on crime in the Orwellian metropolis and is resorting to the development of a machine known as the Basilisk. This supercomputer will link all of the robotic police forces of London with omniscient surveillance systems that will eradicate any sort of law-abusing nonsense. As a career criminal and professional burglar, this obviously spells trouble for the player - thus the aim of the game is to break in and steal the Basilisk out from underneath the fuzz before it is completed.

To do this, the player has to progress through procedurally generated levels, collecting money and using these funds to unlock new abilities and gadgets, which are then used to take on higher security targets in order to acquire more cash - and repeat, in a familiar style of progression, until they can rob Scotland Yard itself.

The game plays very much like a cross between Rogue Legacy and Spelunky, with a Victorian steampunk style and a focus on stealth gameplay as opposed to the pure action of the other two titles. Much like in Rogue Legacy, as each character dies, they suffer permadeath and the player is given a new randomly generated spiffing Victorian fellow or lady. Sadly, all of the characters are essentially identical at the core, with the only differences being limited to just the cosmetic; a system that implemented attributes and perks unique to each randomly generated character would have been welcome here. The individuality of the character designs are however still charming and well done, with sprites that look fantastic, adorned with nice little steampunk touches and flair, such as goggles and clockwork pieces.

Screenshot for The Swindle on PlayStation 4

It's not only these cool character designs that are worth staying alive for; the length of time that a character survives for equates to a multiplier bonus to the cash that the player will receive on a successful heist. The enemies and the environments also all feel like they fit into the world that the designers have crafted, with some unique and individual designs complementing each other - in particular, the half-working shuffling automatons that patrol each level are clearly cobbled together from random pieces of tech, though the player sees them begin to take on more and more advanced machinery as they progress. For example, the patrol bot with a truncheon that squeaks along on a single wheel like a ridiculous cross between a budget Terminator and a unicycle on the first level is eventually replaced by a sleek, chrome-covered, electrified machine of death armed with a rifle by the fourth.

Each level consists of a single building, inside which is haphazardly scattered cash, computers to hack (which can turn off alarms or be used to siphon funds from the owning company of the building), and, of course, plenty of obstacles to hinder the earnest young burglar in their activities. These consist of numerous enemies and surveillance devices to avoid, detection by any of which will sound klaxons and alarms, causing the enemies to destroy any money left nearby, and computers to begin to be worth less and less the longer the alarm goes on for, which generally isn't very long - after all, once alarms are triggered, the authorities are quick to arrive and dispense lethal force. To escape (whether it be following a triggered alarm or after a successful heist), the burglar must return to their site of arrival and board a pod to escape back to the home base of operations, upon the ever-popular steampunk mainstay: an airship.

Screenshot for The Swindle on PlayStation 4

Every attempt at a stage, no matter whether successful or not, removes a night from the 100 available in total, a constant ticking timer to get to the Basilisk before it is completed. Between level attempts, if the player has returned to their airship, they can purchase new upgrades and gadgets. There are five different categories, with a broad selection of options available: there are essential upgrades, like hacking abilities to be able to pass security doors and access computers; tools such as bombs, which destroy sections of scenery, enabling access to previously inaccessible areas; simple ability perks, like double jumps or the ability to hit harder and move faster, and many more. These abilities could be essential to progress, change the gameplay completely, or just turn out to be silly "style-over-substance" abilities.

The system of upgrades is well done and encourages multiple replays of the game, requiring the player to establish which gadgets and upgrades are necessary to each of the different levels, as well as how much money it's worth gathering on each level and which upgrades are necessary to purchase before attempting the next set of vulnerable targets. However, this can make the game feel a little frustrating at times, when suddenly discovering that a previously overlooked item turns out to be a ridiculously overpowered gadget, such as the bugs that siphon funds from computers or the EMP pulse, which ends up making the game much easier.

Screenshot for The Swindle on PlayStation 4

The game has five levels to progress through and, in order to be able to continue, an upgrade is available at the home airship entitled "Security Level"; each successive mission requires access to the next stage of Security Level. The cost of acquiring each stage grows substantially with each iteration, meaning the player has to improve as they progress and, in many situations, to make some very difficult choices on where to spend their money. Each of the levels offers more and more money as a reward, meaning that bills on the floor quickly go from being worth tens of pounds to hundreds, and hacking computers goes from hundreds to thousands. Equally, each level also ups the difficulty and introduces new obstacles; for instance, there are locked doors that can appear from the second level onwards, causing the player to have to not only think about the cost of the one-off Security Level upgrades but also of necessary abilities to tackle the obstacles found within, and, on top of that, improving their character to deal with the new stronger enemies.

This is where the game hits a quandary. Rogue Legacy does it right, allowing the player to get more and more powerful as they progress, with no ceiling. The 100 night limit here can feel quite restrictive and it would have been great to see an unlockable unlimited mode. At the moment, it's best for the player to spend a few playthrough attempts just experimenting with what The Swindle has to offer, in order to establish what's necessary to progress. While this may put some players off, it's the old-school "scribble notes on paper" approach that some will adore.

Possibly the biggest annoyance of the game is the final stage. To access it, the player has to pay for the final level of Security Clearance at £400,000 - a considerable amount, even for those savvy players who have found the best tricks to make the most out of each night they have. The worst part is this Security Clearance is valid for one single attempt, meaning that if the player fails, it's quickly back to other levels to try to accrue funds for another attempt. Even with this gripe, however, the game is certainly one of the best of its genre out there today.

Screenshot for The Swindle on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

The Swindle is superb: a truly original entry to stand beside Spelunky and a great opportunity to test the player's ability not to snap their controller in half. The stealth combat is an interesting new take on the rogue-like genre, the gadgets and abilities are fun and interesting to experiment with, and - most importantly - there is a quality to the game that makes the player want to come back to play again and again. A trait system and an infinite mode would simply serve to make an already fantastic game even better.

Developer

Size Five Games

Publisher

Curve Digital

Genre

2D Platformer

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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