By Josh Kenehan
The Swindle takes place in London, 1849, where the thieving business is in danger of being terminated by an artificial intelligence that will make police surveillance absolute. You have 100 days to hone your skills and build your armory to steal the AI from Scotland Yard before the thing is turned on.
The game sees you control a thief that you must maneuver through a series of 2D buildings, stealing as much cash as possible, while avoiding the gaze of the security. Start from the bottom, robbing from the poor and build up through the ranks, to the rich and to the banks. With each heist you gain money to improve your skills, so you can steal more money. It’s simple really. Except from the increasing security. Robots, flying cameras, mines and much more want to see you fail. And then there’s the police. And this game is not forgiving. If your thief is caught, their career is over, and you’ll have to take on a new employee. A single blow from the enemy is enough to take you out of action, so stealth is essential.
This difficulty can be very frustrating, as it’s easy to make a mistake, especially with the slightly awkward movement. With only 100 days, there’s a lot of pressure to get through the levels as quickly as possible and that only makes the player more accident-prone. Ideally, you want to keep your first thief alive as long as possible, for cash bonuses, but it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s refreshing to see a game turn up the heat, though. There won’t be many people that will blast through it, feeling unfulfilled.
Visually, The Swindle is simple but charming. The world seems to be a cartoonish, ramshackle mess held together with rivets. Satellite dishes poke out of everywhere, and steam pumps from every device, even your thief’s backpack. With a procedurally-generated world, every heist is unique, so there’s no learning the maps. Each mission requires a different approach, and planning your entrance and escape is one of the most enjoyable aspects. Each new character you control is unique also, and you can grow very attached to your little thief. It’s a pain to lose them, every time. The music is perfect, it suits the stealthy burglary as well as the fast-paced chases from the police. Plus it helps immerse the player in this steam-powered universe.
The game has huge replay value. You probably won’t beat it in your first 100 days, but even if you do, there’s plenty to enjoy the next time around. As mentioned before, each heist is different, and each thief. There’s always room to improve, to grab more cash. There are many tactics to take, many skills to level up. It can be quite addictive, and it’s easy to pump a lot of time into your heisting. The Swindle seems like a small game at first, but it sucks you in and doesn’t let you go easily.