The Swin­dle

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”

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