The Masterplan Early Access Impressions

The Masterplan is a real-time, top-down, strategyesque game about casing the joint then robbing it, using a small handful of silent, surly crooks to smash, grab and take hostages. It’s out on Steam Early Access & Humble now. Clowns to the left of it, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with it.

Oh stop it, you’re spoiling me. Two heist-themed strategy games in one month? That makes this a good month. While the delectable Invisible Inc took a cyberpunk-toned, stealth-centric (and turn-based) approach to getting in, getting the score and getting out, The Masterplan involves grungey crime, real-time and brazen thuggery.

Initial warning: it’s Early Access, and very much so. None of the squad/base management stuff is in yet, and we’re looking at just a quintet of disconnected missions of varying difficulty and with fixed ‘crews’. There’s also an occasional bug which makes it look like I’m playing a non-existent Oculus Rift mode, but without a Rift on. Any or all of these things could change at a moment’s notice, but I wanted to give fair warning before I get into discussing the game itself.

I don’t know that ‘strategy’ is the most apt categorisation of The Masterplan, so let’s break down how it plays in order that you might apply your own label of choice to it. You take a team of thuggy criminals into a location – a warehouse, a corner shop, a jewellery store – and to try to grab as much loot as you can and make it to a getaway vehicle before the cops show up. Staff or guards catching you in the act will try to call the filth, as might customers who you haven’t either terrified or beaten into submission.

The beatings (and shootings) are optional, but the terrifying is a component part of how this works. In most missions, at some point you’re going to have to point your gun at someone, at which point they essentially become your hostage and you can control them so long as that iron death-tube continues to aim in their general direction.

This means you don’t have to commit a savage act of brutality upon a quickie mart clerk who carries the key to the safe out back, but instead you can herd him over to it and have him unlock the door to it. I like to think of this as ‘visible stealth’ – you’re openly up to no good, but so as long as NPCs are under the gun you’re essentially hidden.

However, if the gun turns away from your hostage for more than a couple of seconds, he’s going to peg it – maybe simply to safety, or maybe to a telephone. Unless, of course, you gun him down before he can. Unless, of course, someone else sees you doing this and raises the alarm themselves. You can only keep guns trained on so many people at once, though carefully shepherding will bring multiple people into your chaps’ potentially lethal eyeline.

I can’t quite tell whether it’s my own ineptitude or a slightly fiddly interface that’s causing this to go wrong half the time (I lean towards the former), but so far the majority of my failures involve someone getting away because I’ve failed to keep the gun aimed at them as my own goons bimble about the place.

Success via outright carnage is possible, though your haul will be diminished by the need to ‘clean up’ the bodies and whatnot. There’s a Mr Wolf out there somewhere, and clearly he’s much better at going detected than I am. Your own thugs can get killed or beaten into unconsciousness by angry shopkeepers, and more than once the team limped home full of holes. While no ears were harmed in the making of this heist, it can certainly go more than a bit Reservoir Dogs.

Unfortunately it’s impossible to get a handle on the broader game, as all the character persistence and mission progression is absent for now, so the crucial aspect of caring about my goons and shedding manly tears should they perish is, as yet, absent. Also, the bally thing likes to crash to desktop with wild abandon, so it’s just as well I’m not invested in any of my guys.

Even so, The Masterplan includes enough mission stuff to clearly demonstrate its key concept, which is using a small handful of characters to make an escalating number of other characters unwillingly do what you want ’em to, then trying to adapt to the fly when everything falls apart. In that, it reminds me of Hitman at its best. Updates are promised every couple of weeks, so hopefully some of the meta-game stuff will come into play before too long.

This is just the barebones of the experience and there’s much to prove yet, but if The Masterplan’s masterplan comes to fruition I most certainly want to be a part of it.

The Masterplan is available via Early Access or Humble now.


  1. David Bliff says:

    Hopefully development goes well enough (and they get enough Early Access sales) to add online co-op, as a slightly slower and more tactical heist game than Monaco could be really fun with my friends. Also, this article has a few typos and repeated lines which slipped by in proofreading, it seems.

  2. slerbal says:

    Typo on “vehcile” in the 4th paragraph and you write “I like to think of this as ‘visible stealth’ – you’re openly up to no good, but so as long as NPCs are under the gun you’re essentially hidden.” twice there :)

    Aside from those minor comments (sorry!) the game looks interesting. I like the no-nonsense characterisation of the villains. Definitely one to watch though I think I’ll wait until it is out of Early Access as I could see myself getting burned out before it is finished. Still definitely worth a vote up on Greenlight.

  3. OliverM says:

    I thought the repeated “I like to think of this as ‘visible stealth’” line was some sort of meta-joke. I was waiting for it to show up a third time! Oh well.

    Game looks great so far. The pause & command UI reminds me of XCom: Apocalypse a bit.

  4. Craymen Edge says:

    All those characters in the trailer are terribly out of breath, it seems. Or maybe they’re just laughing a lot.

  5. SuffixTreeMonkey says:

    This looks so neat that I want to jive with the developers.
    That is, we’ll dance if they wanna dance.

  6. P.Funk says:

    I can dig it.

  7. ahmedabdo says:

    Well, I’m a little disappointed! I hoped it would be something similar to “stolen in 60 seconds”, which is a fantastic game for mobile OSes. Anyway, I will keep an eye on it.

  8. bonuswavepilot says:

    I think in the bit about Mr Wolf you mean “…better at going UNdetected…”

    Sounds like it might be worth a look…

  9. rabbit says:

    hmm … it’s definitely a cool idea and I like that it’s top down, but I …. *really* can’t dig the artwork. I guess it’s too much for me to hope that it’s placeholder art … but maybe/hopefully, given time, the game will be good enough that I can look past the visuals. will definitely keep an eye on this one either way.