With only 100 days to prepare and pull off the heist of the century, your time is limited and valuable right from the start in The Swindle. Each day is another heist, another opportunity to hone your skills, gather cash and prepare yourself for ever greater challenges. In 100 days, The Swindle proves itself to be an exceptional roguelike, a decent stealth game and an absolute Steam-powered blimp load of fun.

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The steampunk Victorian London of The Swindle is delightfully realised, with some exceptional artwork that brings to life all manner of steam-powered automatons that hiss and wheeze as they go about their business. Did I mention all of them want to hunt you down? You enter each level in a satisfyingly clunky and haphazardly constructed drop pod, revealing you, a randomly created thief adorned in all manner of steampunky ornaments from top hats to goggles to finger-less gloves. The aesthetic of the world itself looks like a cosplayers first attempt at realising a creation of Verne or Wells, lovingly bolted together in a way that makes it look both shoddy yet simultaneously charming.

Played from 2D side-scrolling perspective, The Swindle borrows heavily from other games such as Spelunky, Rogue Legacy and Mark of the Ninja. You play as a lone thief, tasked with infiltrating and looting various procedurally generated building, picking them clean of any money on the floor and hacking computer systems for rewards. At the start of the 100 days, you start with only a limited set of abilities: a simple jump and a short range melee attack that allows you to meet only the most rudimentary of challenges. The money you’ve pilfered can be used to buy various upgrades that improve your abilities immensely. With a few successful heists under your belt, you’ll be able to stick to walls, plant bombs and tinker with all manner of devices to pull off the job successfully.

I grow contemptuous at my avatars insistence on dry humping the brickwork before leaping onto the nearest pit of death.

After a brief bit of experimentation with the game’s controls (The game has no real tutorial), I quickly found myself getting a grip on how platforming, hacking and combat worked. The platforming element of the game takes up a large proportion of your time, as you navigate the many procedurally generated buildings. Early game upgrades like a double-jump and the ability to hang off walls quickly prove themselves invaluable as the game creates many deliberately obtuse sections that will require deft use of the controls. It’s a pity that at times the controls become your greatest adversary. Frequently you’ll find yourself becoming involuntarily stuck to a wall at a crucial time or find that the game registered your jump command a little later than you expected, leading you to face plant on a nest of spikes. While most of these cock-ups must surely be blamed on my own incompetence, I find that these incidents repeatedly draw me out of the game as I grow contemptuous at my avatars insistence on dry humping the brickwork before leaping onto the nearest pit of death.

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For a game dedicated to being about thieves, the actual practice of being sneaky is surprisingly barebones. Only two states exist in the world of The Swindle, you’re either out of sight or you’ve been spotted and an automaton is trying to wear you like a glove. With no shades of grey in the system, the game becomes very all or nothing and each encounter that could result in being spotted suddenly takes on a heart-pounding quality as you try to time your movements perfectly. Common stealth elements such as the degree to which you are hidden in the shadows are replaced by all or nothing cones of vision which you must avoid at all costs. Most foes can be neutralised with a simple bop on the head with your handy cudgel, but the cudgels hit detection at times seems inaccurate as blows that looked like sure things whiff off the target harmlessly, leaving me in perfect position to be spotted.

The games many upgrade trees allow for you to mix and match all manner of skills and tools but after three or so playthroughs it’s clear that some items are must haves while others are pointless. I always needed advanced hacking, bombs and the ability to stick to walls, while other upgrades like the ability to bust down doors or smash through windows either seemed useless or didn’t work in the first place. I eventually started to figure out how I liked to play. Planting bombs to get through certain walls and using smoke screens to slip by guards were my preferred methods but by the time I had acquired these upgrades time was becoming short and I still found myself butting my head against ever increasing difficulty. Some of the upgrades available feel like the type of things other games would have given you from the start, in many 2D games, the ability to look a bit above and below yourself is a useful way to recon the area around you, but here that ability is locked behind a price tag. It’s a little thing that can irritate at times, especially when money is often tight and the shopping list of more pressing upgrades is always so large.

These respites from misery are outweighed by the times I took one look at a levels layout and knew it would be pointless to waste my time with it.

Many of my issues with the game came from it’s procedural generation of levels. At the start of each day you’ll load into a randomly created level that you must navigate to find all manner of loot to find. It’s a shame then that many of the levels the generation system creates are impossible to navigate or filled with so many enemies and security systems that they become death-traps. The game puts the player on a strict time limit of 100 levels then proceeds to waste that time because its systems couldn’t provide a fair challenge. Of course there are levels when the game’s procedural generation makes some levels incredibly easy, but these respites from misery are far outweighed by the times I took one look at a levels layout and knew it would be pointless to waste my time with it.

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The Swindle’s biggest crime is thinking that I cared about the eponymous “Swindle”. After a hundred fun, but frustrating days are over and the playthrough comes to an end I’m left with nothing but a game over screen telling me that I didn’t steal the “Devil’s Basilisk”. But who gives a shit about the Devil’s MacGuffin when all I want to do is sneak around some houses and pilfer! Some sort of endless mode would be a welcome addition to a game that is both charming and infuriating in equal measure. It’s a testament to the games appeal that as I went about writing this review I’d regularly take breaks and boot up the game for a few more attempts at larceny. As with the best roguelikes on the market, The Swindle leeches your time from you with a moorish mix of harsh but fair mechanics and near-endless replayability.

About The Author

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All round song and dance man. Best known for his use of expletives, casual quoting of Jeeves & Wooster and his love for all things Timesplitters. Host of the Played Out Podcast and proud victim of five different gypsy curses

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