The Swindle is a game of intensity, challenge, reward, and satisfaction. The core of the game is great, yes, and the visuals and music are fantastic as well, but it’s the sense of stakes that the game has that puts it over the top into becoming a true indie classic – though, sadly, plenty is not perfect.
In The Swindle, Scotland Yard has created a revolutionary artificial intelligence program called The Devil’s Basilisk, which will give them total surveillance. You, as a master thief, must infiltrate Scotland Yard and destroy the program before it goes live and ends your thievery for good. This really isn’t a game focused on plot, but it sets up the scenario perfectly and gives you a reason to be worried about that 100 day timer.
Gameplay is in the style of a 2D stealth platformer. You can run with the D-pad or control stick, and jump with B. You’ll open or close doors by hitting X while near them, and hit Y to swing your weapon and take out an enemy or window. You can also wall jump, even on a singular wall. That’s about it at the start, though as time goes on you will add additional tools and abilities to your arsenal.
Every level, you are sent on a randomly generated mission. There are several areas in London to steal from, each more challenging than the last, and each has different types of enemies and level designs. In the levels are stacks of bills to pick up, as well as computers with massive rewards to hack. Your goal is to steal this money and get back to your ship without being killed.
It’s absolutely thrilling. You will wait behind a door, waiting as an enemy turns its back, before bursting through and hitting him on the back of the head. You’ll jump onto walls, hanging there, until you can crash through a window undetected and take out the guards. You’ll explore the environment, discovering the locations of money, computers, and other areas of interest, and discover the best routes to get to them. You’ll hack computers, doors, and mines breathlessly, hoping you don’t make a mistake as prompts pop up on the screen.
If an enemy spots you but doesn’t catch you (you can see enemies’ lines of sight, and others track you based on sound), things get really intense. Money starts to drain from computers little by little, and police begin to show up, eventually blockading the path back to your ship, running through the level trying to catch you, and even bringing in vehicles to take you down. Little is more exciting than getting 100% on a heist even after you’re spotted.
None of this is easy, either – levels are consistently challenging and will require your absolute best gaming skills. You may not beat this game on your first try, and to many, the game will probably be a little bit too challenging. But despite this, it’s easy to see the appeal: you truly feel like you’re taking part in a thrilling heist. It’s exciting, it’s satisfying, and because the slightest mistake can end in your death, it is very, very tense.
With the money you gain from heists, you can upgrade to a new difficulty level, and get closer to being able to break into Scotland Yard itself. However, if you only spend money on new areas, you won’t be able to upgrade yourself and your abilities. These abilities range from double jumps to additional speed to more money from hacking. These tend to be very necessary.
To make this all come together is the 100 day limit. See, every time you complete a level, a day passes. If you die, a day passes and the level changes. If you want to switch the level, you lose a day. That means you’ve got to play well, and you’ve got to play smart. You’ve got to decide how far into the level you want to go. If you’ve already gotten around half the money in a level, is it worth going for the other half? You might try, and lose all the money you gained; yet, if you succeed, you’ll get enough to upgrade or unlock faster. So it’s worth knowing which challenges you’re capable of pulling off, and when it’s worth it to try.
This adds real stakes to the proceedings. Every wrong move could result in your death, putting you one step further behind your final goal. The 100 day limit may seem like plenty at first, but soon your deaths will start to ramp up, your progress will not be where it should be, and you’ll realize that every move counts, every failure is catastrophic, every success is huge. It makes the experience incredibly exciting, tense, and fun. And to bring this message home, every time you die, you lose your character forever, controlling a new thief instead.
But the game has some problems – and they all come from the random level generation. See, sometimes you will be placed in levels where you can’t do anything; to get any meaningful amount of money, it forces you to have certain upgrades which you may not even have. This is on purpose at the start, but it soon becomes very frustrating when you just can’t get any meaningful amount of money for several days because the game won’t give you levels that let you get money.
The random level regeneration also has the standard issues you might suppose: sometimes it creates challenges that just aren’t quite fair, or are disproportionately hard for when it appears in the game. This isn’t a big problem though; it’s actually nice in a way having really challenging spots early on. The game doesn’t hold back.
The Swindle looks fantastic. It has a very distinct style, with charming animations, vibrant environments and enthralling backgrounds. It really brings this steampunk world of London to life. Every thief looks unique, as well (an impressive feat, considering how many you’ll go through), which adds quite a bit to the experience. Losing a thief hits home even more than normal because they always feel like distinct characters—even though they never speak. Just having them all look different makes an emotional connection. Musically, The Swindle is superb as well. Upbeat and exciting, the soundtrack never fails to get you in the mood to pull off incredible feats and close calls. The dynamic way the music changes when you get spotted is particularly thrilling.
Unfortunately, there are some technical problems; at one point all sound stopped working, and it crashed on me a couple times, forcing me to restart my Wii U. Still; these are small issues. The game was good enough that I simply booted back up the console and got right back to playing. There was nothing that caused any consistent problems.
So should you buy The Swindle? Absolutely; the game is, quite simply, fun. It has real stakes, and that makes every jump, every break in, every move all the more intense. With great gameplay, great visuals, and great music, it’s hard not to suggest The Swindle; just keep in mind that it has got some issues, and it is not for the faint of heart.