The Swin­dle

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher/devel­oper Size Five For­mat PC (ver­sion tested), PS3, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox One Re­lease Out now

360, PC, PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox One

The al­ter­nate Lon­don of high-drama thiev­ery sim­u­la­tor The Swin­dle clearly has many mal­adies, but prison over­crowd­ing can’t be one of them. Not with in­tri­cate home se­cu­rity sys­tems that make a dober­man and a shot­gun un­der the bed seem like a welcome mat and a pro­cliv­ity for bru­tal­ity among the ro­botic of­fi­cers of the law that en­sures 100 per cent of caught felons skip the pen­i­ten­tiary and go straight to the morgue. Size Five doesn’t sim­u­late blood when you slip up and ba­ton cracks skull, bring­ing about the per­ma­nent end of one of your net­work of larce­nous rogues, but if it did then ‘caught red-handed’ would quickly lose all metaphor­i­cal value in this take on 1849.

That’s not re­ally your prob­lem, how­ever. While you do take con­trol of each thief for their plat­form­ing-styled smash and grabs, as the de­tached pup­pet master be­hind the en­tire ne­far­i­ous or­gan­i­sa­tion, your prob­lem is that soon there’ll come a day when there won’t be even this much room for naughty men like you to sneak around. In pre­cisely 100 of them, Scot­land Yard will be bring­ing online the Devil’s Basilisk and putting an end to your caper­ing days for good.

It’s a high-stakes setup that means ev­ery time you launch a thief from your air­ship base into one of the five char­ac­ter­ful dis­tricts, there’s fric­tion. Each heist con­sumes a day, so steal too lit­tle and you’ll never be able to af­ford your passes through the zones to reach the fi­nal swin­dle in time, let alone up­grade your tools. Get slightly too greedy and your take will be noth­ing what­so­ever, since your cur­rent meat­sack avatar takes just one hit to send off into a dirt nap. Any ex­pe­ri­ence, and thus money bonus, is gone with them – Size Five may of­fer an end­less sup­ply of ne’er-do-wells and bought tech­nolo­gies may trans­fer to your next thief, but per­madeath can still sting.

You will feel that sting of­ten. To say The Swin­dle is chal­leng­ing is to un­der­state it. At times, play­ing the game feels like hang­ing with Spelunky’s de­mand­ing younger brother. There’s the same fo­cus on sweet loot, cash made here ei­ther by hoover­ing up the wads of fold­ing money and con­tents of easy safes se­questered about these pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated lev­els, or by hack­ing com­puter ter­mi­nals for mas­sive pay­outs. There’s the same need for pre­ci­sion plat­form­ing skill, with only ac­cu­rate jumps and well-timed strikes of your cosh able to see you through these death traps safely. And there’s the same propen­sity for sur­prises and hi­lar­i­ous deaths, the game’s pro­ce­dural al­go­rithms spit­ting out fiendish ad­dresses that com­bine with the devil­ishly com­plex se­cu­rity sys­tems cooked up by Dan Mar­shall’s per­ni­cious mind to de­liver un­cer­tainty and cas­cad­ing chains of dis­as­ter. You will fail of­ten, but the way these el­e­ments com­bine to de­liver the trans­gres­sive thrill of push­ing your luck be­comes mag­netic. If you stick at it.

You may ini­tially won­der if it’s worth the bother. The Swin­dle goes too far in its de­mands at times, but never is that more ex­ac­er­bated than in an open­ing that’s openly hos­tile to the unini­ti­ated. Mar­shall’s pro­ce­dural level al­go­rithm will coldly serve you a flume into a room from which it’s im­pos­si­ble to es­cape with­out jump­ing up­grades long be­fore you could pos­si­bly af­ford them, leav­ing self-ter­mi­na­tion your only re­course. While you have a wall jump with sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter reach than your ver­ti­cal hop, cer­tain stacks of win­dows are like­wise in­sur­mount­able un­til you can dou­ble-jump or stick to glass. All-im­por­tant com­put­ers will be sus­pended in rooms with no doors, ask­ing you to mine them out with bombs you have not yet bought, or ma­te­ri­alise in with a tele­port you do not have. Two or three bad shuf­fles close to­gether can be ru­inous to your en­joy­ment. Be­ing screwed over by luck in a game de­mand­ing such lev­els of skill is dou­bly in­fu­ri­at­ing – you can’t learn from these hic­cups, only en­dure them.

Of course, there’s al­ways a so­lu­tion wait­ing in the up­grade menu on your air­ship, but prices are steep and you don’t have the days to waste, es­pe­cially when the fairer-feel­ing mix of deadly ro­bot guards and cam­eras present a mighty chal­lenge al­ready. It’s not even as if the game is sig­nif­i­cantly eas­ier on a sec­ond or third playthrough – you’ll still be re­buffed by im­pen­e­tra­ble set­ups once you’ve de­vel­oped the skill to parse the dif­fer­ence be­tween a dis­tance sur­mount­able with pixel-per­fect leaps and a flat-out killer of level ge­om­e­try.

And yet, if you’re te­na­cious and pa­tient, it as­suredly is worth steal­ing some time for The Swin­dle, be­cause it knows how to serve up a Hol­ly­wood heist like noth­ing else we’ve played. The ro­bot guards are stupid in the best tra­di­tion of stealth game guards, pro­grammed to ig­nore any­thing in their sight cones ex­cept a care­less thief. The game’s best trick is that get­ting spot­ted is far from game over, fill­ing lev­els with an­gry red and the blar­ing of sirens, but also start­ing an in­vis­i­ble timer un­til the fuzz ar­rive. So long as you can dodge traps such as clos­ing shut­ters, mines, elec­tric­ity arcs and a das­tardly va­ri­ety of ro­botic at­tacks – in­clud­ing, but not lim­ited to, psy­chotic crow mobs, fur­nace-like blasts, me­tal fists and jump­ing mines – then you can keep pil­fer­ing or make good your es­cape. You haven’t got for­ever: even­tu­ally a po­lice gun­ship will tear though the level and, shortly af­ter, you. But the ratch­et­ing stress of slowly un­pick­ing each room is all the more sat­is­fy­ingly re­lieved when it’s punc­tured by a scram­ble to the exit and you make it to your get­away pod just in time.

So de­spite its faults – its wil­fully mean level gen­er­a­tion, its tight-fisted ap­proach to pro­gres­sion, its high bar­rier to en­try – Size Five’s once-aban­doned crime caper isn’t short on rogu­ish charm. Rarely has some­thing so un­even and in­ter­mit­tently frus­trat­ing stolen our hearts this brazenly.

It’s worth steal­ing some time for The Swin­dle: it knows how to serve up a Hol­ly­wood heist like noth­ing else

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