When you enter the world unknown to the law-abiding, you live with a certain risk. Sure, grand theft is profitable. But a life of crime is a dangerous one. One small slip and you could end up in jail or worse. Fortunately, I live a soft, well-behaved life, so my worst regret is having to play this game.
The Swindle is a heist game. And while the game follows the general idea of "steal as much cash as you can and leave," the overall goal is more about self-preservation than profit. Set in a steampunk society, you are a master thief. Unfortunately, the local law enforcement is developing a special artificial intelligence that would watch all places at all time, making your job impossible. You have 100 days to gather enough funds to stop the AI's development.
Each day, the player is deployed into the local area of choice. This will start with the slums, with few dollars to be found, working your way up to classier and more wealthy neighborhoods. The level is procedurally generated, so no two stages will ever be the same. The money you pilfer can be spent on upgrades to your character, increasing stats and unlocking new items and abilities.
The Swindle leaves a very short, but positive, first impression. The sharp graphics overlayed by elegantly glowing lights and effects are a sweet welcome wagon. Soaking in the environments before you instill a certain artistic immersion. It didn't take long, however, for this to sour almost entirely.
The more I played the game, the more frustrated I grew with it. At first, it was due to lack of information. I wasn't told that large robots cannot be struck down with your standard attack. I was never taught the purpose of those large computers. If I wanted to learn about what abilities I need or have, I had to browse the upgrade menu. This made it difficult to figure out what I should be focusing on early on. I distinctly remember having to step away from the game after looking a large haul because I didn't know what height you could die from fall damage. With a 100 day countdown to failure, I felt pressured to only make the "right" purchase and not waste money.
This is, assuming, the randomly generated levels didn't make collecting cash any easier. Instead, it would be the driving source of my irritation. The level generation lacks a certain degree of unreliability. You couldn't guarantee that a room was particularly easy to get through, or even accessible at all. Rooms are often generated behind solid walls with no way in (at least not until I unlocked the dynamite). Sometimes rooms ARE within reach but end in a three-meter room with two guards and a flying sentry. As it turns out, the "you never know what to expect" side of procedural generation applied to the ability to make any money as well.
Then there was the countdown. If the poorly generated levels are the monster of this game, then the 100-day limit is the eldritch magic that brought it to the realm of man. I already explained how it adds unneeded pressure to purchasing upgrades. It also amplified my anger toward every level that was randomly built against my favor. There are five parts of town you have to go through before you can take on the government AI, each one costing exponentially more money to unlock. That means I had to, at the very least, progress to the next area after no more than 20 days. When I started to run past that marker without having progressed as far as I should have, each and every "bad luck level" added to my feeling of unfairness.
There are still a number of smaller problems with the game, such as the profit margins on computer hacking over cash on the ground and the over-ease of death. But in the end, they all culminate into one unpleasant gameplay experience.
It's unfortunate that such a lovely looking game would be soiled by all of these issues. The artistic direction is clear and of a good quality. The edgy (in the sense they have edges, not that they listen to My Chemical Romance) graphics find a peaceful middle ground between steampunk mechanics and the dredges of urbania. The music very appropriately follows suit.
The Swindle is close to being an interesting and unique game. But as you step within its grasp, you're stuck down by a sudden brick wall of gameplay problems. Since the gameplay is such an important aspect of enjoying a game, it's hard to enjoy what the game has to offer, assuming you don't run out of days to reach it. This is why we rate the game as follows.
If you're wanting a heist game, a steampunk game, or even a steampunk heist games, there are better options out there. I can't recommend you play the Swindle, at least not until some serious improvements are made.
The Swindle was developed by Size Five Games. It originally released on PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Wii U in 2015, with a Nintendo Switch release taking place earlier this year. The Switch edition was provided for the purpose of this review. More information about the game can be found on the official website.