With Cyberpunk 2077 creeping it’s way into the subconscious of the gaming community, thanks to a break in the dam that was their marketing strategy, it’s easy to forget that there’s the other awesome kind of punk subculture that deserves more gaming attention, not skater punks (though I am still waiting for my for my Sum 41 class based shooter) but instead Steam Punk. As a genre it’s been somewhat neglected in terms of gaming, there was the awful Damnation on the last generation of consoles and there’s an argument to be made for something like Dishonoured to be considered, though purists would describe that as Diesel Punk. Either way, when day dreaming about a potential Steam Punk genre game it’s easy to fall back on the ‘lets make it a 3rd person action shooter’. Instead Size Five Games has brought to the table a mix for the genre that is fascinating in itself. The Swindle is a rouge like, stealth, platforming heist game, even with that accurate description after many hours with it I can safely say that it’s basically a bastard of a puzzle game.
Set in the 1800’s Scotland Yard has gone a bit crazy and decided to launch a pre-Orwellian surveillance system on the country to keep an eye on both the good eggs and the bad eggs. Named the Devil’s Basilisk your task as a thief is to half inch it before it gets launched in 100 days. To do that you need to start from the bottom of the crime food chain with zero gear apart from your club. As you start robbing what are essentially slum houses you’ll make some money and be able to invest that either in unlocking better locations to steal from or buying new gear or abilities to aide you in your task. At no point does it seem like you’re 100% sure whether you’re stealing the Devil’s Basilisk for the betterment of society and not turn the UK into a police state, or if you’re just worried about someone cramping your style and life of crime.
Being Steam Punk the houses in The Swindle are defended by robots, at first. As you begin the game you are lured into the a false sense of security as you fly through the first few houses grabbing all the money and defeating all the robots. The security robots start off with the most basic of vision cones pointing straight forward a couple of feet so jumping over them is no issue at all, but as the game progresses you’ll soon realise that The Swindle just wanted you to think that it was possible to finish it successfully as drones, spikes, hardcore robots that just want to put an end to the fleshy ones and other foul defenses. The difficulty curve is pretty brutal and as you unlock more and more locations you’ll find it only gets worse. This is a game about grind, you need to be repeating levels to earn the cash to buy better gear, but even with this improved arsenal you’ll need to hope your skills have improved also as it just doesn’t let up.
Thankfully the levels are procedurally generated so at no point will you have to replay anything exactly, though the same colour and design motifs are used in each location. The big thing here is being a rogue like you are expected to die, and when you do a new character rocks up hoping to pick up your mantle and be the one to do a solid for thieves everywhere. Whilst this sounds harmless enough in theory you are then taunted by having the days drop down closer and closer to day 1, when the Devil’s Basilisk is deployed. A large problem for me was dying four levels in a row, did I mention this was a hard game, and finding I lost 12 days, I couldn’t work out if I was just better off restarting at this point or if there was enough leniency towards failure, I decided to restart and hope for the best with my next attempt.
Once you start getting the wall grab and double jump abilities the actual traversal becomes much more manageable and easier to implement into your stealth. Hanging onto a wall above a robot waiting to drop down and cave its head in with your club never gets old and the sound design gives a particular meatiness to the whole experience. The sound in general is a great addition to this game, between the soundtrack that really drives you forward to all the little touches with the sound effects of combat and atmosphere just complement the world perfectly. A special mention must go to the art design however as this is what is inevitably going to capture most attention to this new audience for the game. With a story book art style it’s easy to forget what a dark story this is and the fact you are in essence the epitome of an anti-hero. The world, the characters and all the little touches to the aesthetics like the command line style font all really make me want more games in this universe.
In a former life writing for another website I reviewed Gun Monkey’s, a game also by Size Five Games, that was far far ahead of its time. An online arena platform shooter with the wonderful Kevin Eldon providing his voice for the game. This was painfully underrated and something I wish had taken off as I personally had a blast with it. The Swindle was first released back in 2015 and this latest port is just another opportunity for The Swindle and Size Five Games to get the attention they deserve. A perfect pick up and play whilst out and about this is exactly the kind of game that should do amazing on the Switch. The controls are relatively tight, apart from the wall grabbing which just feels a bit off, but with great design, a great concept and a really addictive gameplay loop it’s easy to get lost in this caper. The risk/reward nature of the game, run back to base with what you have or push a little further for a better haul, just gives the players full culpabilities for their actions and the outcomes. It’s a hell of a game, that I simply wish I was better at.