Skip to main content
If you click on a link and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. Read our editorial policy.

The Masterplan Early Access Impressions

I wish that name reminded me of something other than an Oasis b-side

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.

Read this next