The Swindle Review
The Swindle offers a unique gameplay experience, one that has equal chances of catching you with endearing charm and making you wretch violently at the mere thought of it. This is your fate if you only give it one shot. Take a little more time, and you'll learn what the game is really about.
Set in a steampunk London, The Swindle centers around Scotland Yard's newest anti-thievery technology, one so powerful that you are guaranteed to never be able to steal again if it is activated. This will happen in 100 days. The only way for you to save your thieving profession is to steal the device itself. But to be prepared, you must earn enough cash in other raids to develop the technology you need to break in.
When the game starts, your thief is astoundingly underpowered. Even looking above and below your current screen area is locked behind an upgrade, which can be frustrating as you slide down a wall, unknowing whether you will land on solid ground, deadly spikes, or right in front of one of the roaming patrol bot guards. Given enough time, you'll end up double jumping, dropping bombs to burst through walls, and hacking into family's computer terminals to get at their online cash.
Once you get a few upgrades in, the game runs smoothly. It's the start that's killer. You have to steal a substantial amount of cash for the heist to be considered "successful," and the procedurally-generated homes can result in you being unable to access the big bucks. It might not seem like much, but my first play through (that I knew what to do), I spent five days going through houses where I could only access about $12 (sorry, I can't find the "pounds" key on my keyboard, forgive my conversion), and it takes $100 to get the first hack upgrade. Next, double jump to get over really tall windows, and then the bomb to dig down to the hard-to-reach basements. Once I had those, the game opened up, but the enemies quickly leveled too, and I found myself having to twist my brain a bit harder to figure out how to bypass the protectors of the homes.
Your thief is very fragile. Not only will one hit from an enemy end their time on this earth, but even a long fall without the proper upgrade will make them meet an untimely demise. The game has fun with this mechanic, procedurally generating your character as well, so when someone's dead, they're DEAD, and it's up to a new criminal to finish your legacy. So with 100 days, you could have up to 100 criminals you control, though with zero dollars earned any time you are apprehended or killed, you can guarantee you won't be successful at the final heist. The game keeps a running tally of your current criminal's streak of successful heists, though the brutal game will gladly reset it to zero if you slip up once.
Procedural generation may allow more variety once you are in gear, but you may end up resetting several times to get that good start, as you're only allowed one save file, and the game saves for you. Once you mess up, it's forever. I feel like a successful run of this game is going to take a while. After all, I have no idea how "far" I need to be on Day 50, and I may realize it's fruitless on day 97, having to reset my game and start at day 1 again.
If you have patience, The Swindle will develop rapidly, making you feel like you grew from a nobody who barely runs out of a home with twelve bucks into the master criminal extrordinaire, eventually pulling off the master heist and saving your profession. Much like a true criminal, there's a chance you're doomed from the start to a piddly life of crime, but if the dice roll in your favor, you're in for quite a ride. Getting that perfect die roll results in an amazingly fun action strategy adventure.
The Swindle is currently available as a cross-buy on all Sony systems for $14.99. A review copy was provided by the developers, and tested on PS4 and Vita. Controls were fine, but more comfortable on the larger analog sticks of the console edition. The game is also downloadable on Xbox One for the same price.
Final Review Score: 4 out of 5