Thieves have a lot to worry about on a day-to-day basis. Police officers are always watching, security cameras wait to sound alarms, and they suffer a general stigma that they’re not swell people. In the universe The Swindle creates it’s even worse, because in 100 days from the moment the game starts, Scotland Yard will implement a new technology, The Devil’s Basilisk, that makes thieving nearly impossible. Well, the good thieves in The Swindle can’t have that, and so they set out on a mission to collect funds, through thievery of course, and eventually gain the skills and technology needed to steal the device itself.
The Swindle’s heists all take place in randomly generated levels with the goal being to steal as much money as possible and make a clean getaway. There are only 100 days to unlock the final heist and complete it to win the game. Each time you die or finish a heist, a day is ticked off the countdown, giving the game a great sense of urgency. The main form of gameplay is a mix between stealth and platforming as you avoid vision cones and hop around buildings while stealing a small fortune. This money is then used to upgrade your thief with new equipment, abilities or traits to make the game easier. You can also use money, once you have enough, to unlock new levels that offer greater fortunes and harder enemies. When a thief dies, their upgrades and money carry over to the next thief, thankfully. In between levels you stay safe on your airship, every thief has one, and upgrade your character before moving out to your next heist.
The only way to make sure that money grows, however, is to safely exit the level without dying, and that can be challenging. Each new level comes with its own tricks to learn and weaknesses to exploit. Patience is key in The Swindle and rushing through a level will get you killed quickly. Being seen by an enemy or tripping an alarm calls the police who show up in a flying car and their presence usually means death unless you manage to out maneuver them. Despite all of this grimness, each randomly generated level is beautifully detailed with a steampunk look that mixes a hand-drawn artstyle with a drab, dystopian setting.
The Swindle leans heavily on a steampunk aesthetic and in some ways it’s a detriment. The world is dark and filled with smog, robotic police officers scamper around as they patrol areas of the building you’re trying to infiltrate. The fonts used in the game look like computer terminal text which look good on menus but makes for a clunky looking game UI. This is especially true when using the “bug" equipment that leaves ugly lines of text at the bottom of the screen to notify you of incoming money. This ugly look also extends to the enemies vision cones that seem unfinished in a way as they’re just straight yellow boxes that blink slightly. Enemies themselves look great and the character design is really fun and twisted, but there are certain elements that just feel unfinished. Speaking of enemies, there are all sorts of obstacles in your way from security cameras, to noise detectors to straight up mines that will blow you to bits should you trip them. But fear not, your thieves are not going into this without the proper preparedness you’d expect from a world class sneak.
Whether you’re talking about a world-class government agent or a two-bit robber, equipment and skills can make or break a job. Controls in a stealth game are a huge deal. You need to feel in control of your character, otherwise you’ll be screaming when you get caught when you did nothing to deserve it. For the most part, The Swindle controls tightly enough to feel like you have the ability to decide what happens. A lot of the platforming in the game comes in the form of wall jumping and landing in just the right spot. Occasionally I felt like the hit boxes were off just enough to feel odd, leading to an early and unexpected death. Jumping around the environments and taking out enemies definitely takes a bit of getting used to as The Swindle has a “sticky” feel to its platforming. Control wise, my only big gripe is the odd inability to jump when you’re right on the edge of a platform, this led to a lot of me falling into spikes or worse.
Once you figure out the controls and how to sneak around levels without getting caught, your tech becomes the focus. No good thief is going to get in and out without making a sound without the right equipment. Luckily for the rotating cast of thieves in The Swindle, equipment is a plenty and skills carry over so when one thief dies the next thief retains their upgrades. On your first playthrough of the 100 days you can expect a lot of trial and error learning. This is normal. I would actually recommend not going on YouTube for walkthroughs or checking boards for the best setups, all that will lead to is a too easy first run that’ll suck the enjoyment from the game. It’s actually fun to die over and over until you learn the finesse required to get past certain guards or which equipment becomes most valuable. There are definitely pieces of equipment I wished I bought earlier on my first run through but on my second time around I did just that and felt like I really got the hang of it. It’s rare that a game is so easily able to not only teach a player how to do something but also make that player aware of the fact that they are learning.
Dynamite, computer bugs, robot confuse arrays and smokescreens are just a few pieces of tech you’ll be using to get the job done in The Swindle. To my surprise and despite the wide variety of items in the game, I didn’t feel like any particular device was useless or unnecessary. Each piece of equipment serves a purpose and is useful in its own way and each skill upgrade, such as stronger melee attacks or being able to stick to walls, comes in handy as the game progresses.
I would be remised to not mention the game’s stellar soundtrack. While The Swindle has no in-level timer, only the 100 day countdown, each level feels urgent as the music ramps up to make you feel like you need to get in and out as quickly as possible. It says a lot about the quality of the soundtrack that it made me feel nervous and tense, just like a real thief would in this situation…I assume.
With all that being said, I have one major gripe with The Swindle and it’s the gripe that I’ve struggled with since my first playthrough. The final mission costs $400,000 to unlock and if you fail, another $400,000 is required to re-purchase the privilege of playing it again. Even with all of the upgrades and tech you have by the end of the game, that’s still a substantial amount of money to raise. Raising that money isn’t the main problem, it’s that on two separate occasions I had odd things ruin my run at the Devil’s Basilisk, leaving me only a few days left to raise funds. The first time around a droid I hacked went crazy and raised the alarm, a complaint I’ve seen from other gamers. The second time, well, I’m not really sure what happened but somehow I un-stuck from a wall and fell right into a pile of spikes. These sort of deaths are hard to come to terms with when you feel like you play the game well and have learned its mechanics. It makes you feel like despite your progress in the game there’s still a bit of randomness that can screw you over when you least expect it. And once the 100 days count down you lose the game and start all over from day 1.
I enjoyed my time in each individual level of The Swindle. Learning a map’s layout, where to go and what to do, was a lot of fun. I felt like I started the game rushing through each level and making little to no progress at all. But by the end of my time with it I felt like I had learned the ins and outs of the game, despite a few deaths I didn’t feel I had earned. My problems with the game came at the overall game structure and the fact that the last mission can hinge on a bit of randomness that is unstoppable from the player’s standpoint. I realize some have managed to steal the Devil’s Basilisk successfully but having the rug pulled out from you when you’ve done so much to learn and improve is not a great feeling for gamers. Regardless, I enjoyed my time learning the ropes and dying, a lot. The Swindle might be missing a few finishing touches that would make it feel tighter overall, but it’s still a pretty fun stealth platformer that’s worth checking out.