The Swindle is dead, long live The Swindle. This Steampunk heist game was what Size Five Games planned on doing in lieu of another Ben & Dan / Time Gentlemen, Please point and click adventure, but lead dev Dan Marshall wound up quasi-cancelling it when he couldn’t find the fun, to borrow a line from Blizzard. Given that he’d also axed third Ben & Dan game Revenge of the Balloon-headed Mexican, he was in danger of developing A Reputation.
Instead, perhaps his reputation will be as the Uncanceller, for The Swindle is resurrected and rebooted as a quicker, simpler, gadgety action-stealth game, with its new form borrowing a few pages out of Spelunky’s high-speed procedural generation book.
I got to play some of it a couple of months ago at the Develop conference in Brighton, and I came away pretty optimistic about take two of The Swindle. Here’s a trailer showing off the heavily reworked caper title, with a few thoughts from me below.
What you’re looking at there is a risk-reward game, in which you dash or sneak into a heavily-guarded building and nick as much loot as you can before getting out again. The twist is that the longer you take, the more the security presence ramps up, so perhaps the key strategy is choosing when to cut your losses and make a break for the exit. (Or, just as frequently, getting caught and then having to make a break for the exit.)
It is an extremely difficult thing to leave money on the ground, simply because you’re scared of pushing yourself further. It’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire with hiding and hacking, basically.
Loot is spent, outside of missions, on upgrades for your tea-leaf, such as bombs, scanners and jump aids. Marshall is as yet undecided as to whether these upgrades should be expensive and persistent, or cheaper and lost upon character death. It was the former when I played, so I cobbled together enough for a few upgrades by grabbing easy loot then pegging it, but to get the high-end stuff I’d have had to pull off some major scores.
When I played it, I was struck by how quick it was. Drop in, have a caper, immediately want to try again whether you succeeded or failed the mission. The Spelunky influence was plain to see in its procedural levels, destructible scenery and immutable enemy behaviour rules, but it perhaps leaned a little more towards good times than self-disciplined times. Getting caught usually doesn’t mean failure, for instance, but it’s on you to get away before you’re clubbed to death by the guards.
It felt good to control, and to gradually learn its rules, though naturally there’s no way of knowing yet if that feeling can be maintained across several hours and several gazillion random level permutations. I’m glad it’s back.
In theory, The Swindle‘s due out early next year. Presuming Size Five don’t cancel it again, anyway.