PC, PS3, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox One
Rebecca Wrenchshaft-Blackcurrant won’t be remembered as one of the world’s finest burglars. But she’s hardly to blame for us not clocking that, while a security camera’s field of vision is indeed curtailed by doors, it’s unwise to expect the same when standing behind a window. Alarms blare, the patrolling robots’ searchlights glow red, and the police are on their way. Fortunately, we’ve inadvertently created the perfect escape route. Having absentmindedly left the front door open, we’re delighted to discover two security bots have left their posts to wander out to our escape pod. We sweep up the cash they’ve left behind, crack them on their heads, and make our getaway. If you can’t be stealthy, then being lucky isn’t such a bad contingency plan.
The Swindle is full of moments like these, when your carefully formulated schemes go horribly awry and you’re forced to adapt, to improvise on the spot. When you trigger a red alert, you’ve got a little while before the cops show up, but even before then you’ve got a decision to make, and it’s one that nags at you as you sneak around: do you risk venturing farther to increase your haul, or cut and run? In the early build we’re playing, there’s little reason not to try to grab the lot. In the final game, however, you’ll be tasked with earning a certain amount of money within 100 days, after which Scotland Yard will activate an all-seeing surveillance system and put an end to your pilfering. It’s a simple plot designed to give you a motivation to steal while letting you get on with it.
When Dan Marshall originally conceived The Swindle five years ago, it had a far more substantial story. “At one point, there were television screens with someone talking at
“Having 100ft drops in the middle of a house makes the level design more interesting”
you, and people on headsets. And everyone who played it agreed The Swindle isn’t that kind of game. It’s more of an arcade game. Having this thrust upon you –where you’re playing and suddenly a voiceover kicks in – it was annoying because you really just wanted to get on with the next heist.”
The game’s changed quite a bit since that first incarnation, which Marshall once likened to “Sonic The Hedgehog meets Deus Ex”. Now there are hints of Spelunky: Marshall realised his hand-built levels were a little too neat to work, and that procedural generation was the way to go. “When I first started, I wanted the buildings to look realistic. And so I spent a week [doing that], having all the rooms next to one another across four floors. I got to the end of that week and thought, ‘God, this has just made the game shit.’ Because the levels were really dull. So now they’re kooky. Having 100ft drops in the middle of someone’s house makes the level design more interesting.”
The Swindle’s procedural systems put together each building in a manner akin to a Roguelike dungeon. “It builds a tile map that it cuts rooms out of,” Marshall explains, “and then it connects them all up with corridors and eats away at the roof to make a nice roof structure, and then it sets about rigging that building with an appropriate type of enemy, creating little puzzle rooms procedurally.”
The result: the highest concentrations of loot are almost always the best guarded, though we have a set of tools to get around that. A smokescreen obscures us for long enough to dart into a room, grab some cash and shut the door behind us, and our remote detonator triggers mines, ideally when a guard is walking by. The blast might just remove a chunk of wall, however, as in one case where our hidey hole was rudely exposed.
Is it possible, we wonder, to reach the final day and have no way of achieving your goal? “Yep!” Marshall laughs. “You know when you played XCOM for the first time, and completely bollocksed it up? When all the countries leave the Council and you wonder how you’re going to solve it and realise that, no, that’s it, you’ve just messed up? It’s kind of inspired by that a little bit. You might find yourself having to play through the game two or three times before you can complete it.”
That’s a surprisingly appealing prospect. The grimy, characterful aesthetic means the game’s almost as good to look at as it is to play, while the metronomic soundtrack lends it a nervy urgency, even before you realise that just a single hit can kill you. “It has to be satisfying to die,” Marshall tells us. “I’ve watched people playing it at PAX and they hammer the A button to get it to load quicker. You die and you immediately want to start again.” The continuing adventures of Rebecca Wrenchshaft-Blackcurrant are testament to just how true that is.
Marshall doesn’t want to draw many comparisons with Spelunky, but the robot AI was inspired by that game’s ‘dumb’ enemies. Guards here are still deadly, but they won’t prompt any Benny Hill-style chase sequences where you’re pursued across the level
Dan Marshall’s previous games include Ben There, DanThat and Time Gentlemen,Please
TOP LEFT Hacking computers is tense: often you’ll have a limited window before a guard returns or your smoke cover fades, and the camera pulls in close as you input directions to clear bad sectors while the progress bar slowly advances.
ABOVE You’ll begin your life of crime in the slums but gradually move onto larger buildings, eventually robbing casinos and mansions
Marshall scrapped a training area when he realised it was unnecessary, and players will learn more about the world through play. “It’s more interesting than having a popup [warning] for a landmine – that’s not how landmines work, is it?”
Taking the game to PAX was, Marshall says, a real eye opener: “I figured there were more efficient ways of getting feedback than going there and standing behind people. But actually it was invaluable watching them play, learning what was working well and what needed tweaking”