I’ll admit it: I didn’t necessarily understand the allure of The Swindle until many days after I sat down to play it. Its controls and tool selection screen are slightly obtuse, it’s brutally punishing, yet I continuously wanted to attempt one more heist. Size Five Games created something that grasped me, yet for some curious reason I didn’t understand why. It’s not as if The Swindle is a bad game (in fact, it’s actually quite good so far), but whatever makes it thrilling isn’t readily apparent. Then, like a thief in the night, I was struck by a sudden epiphany: this is the type of game that perfectly corners two distinct markets.
Sure, The Swindle is coming to PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, and Wii U, but the procedural cyberpunk robbery simulator feels like it would be absolutely perfect on the Vita. Its bite-sized heists feel aligned with the pick-up-and-play nature of Sony’s handheld, yet its ability to keep you restarting lends itself to longer play sessions. Add this to the fact that The Swindle‘s unpredictable nature makes it a perfect fit for Let’s Plays, and it becomes easier to see the appeal of one of Curve Digital’s most appealing titles.
So let’s dive right into exactly what The Swindle is. After all, the previous two paragraphs used a series of vague descriptive words that were meant to set the stage, even though they wind up leaving the actual content a mystery. Well enough of that nonsense, friendly reader, The Swindle is a 2D heist-based title set in the midst of a procedurally-generated cyberpunk world (you probably could have gathered that much already, but I digress). Players have access to several tools that they can use to slip past heavy security (including, but not limited to, a steam-cloud generator, hacking equipment, bombs, and some sort of billy club), with the goal being to steal as much money as possible before leaving the area. Whether you pick up those Pounds one by one through exploration or simply hack a computer to load up your account, there are multiple ways to obtain that almighty British currency. How you chose to tackle your mission is completely up to you, though, if you’re me, you probably will lean towards blasting a hole in the roof due to sheer coolness and badassery.
What takes The Swindle from an interesting title you might spend an hour playing to a potential Let’s Play goldmine is its crushing difficulty. Once you enter the building each stage is focused around, it’s readily apparent that everything is working against you. Robot patrols can put you down in one hit, cameras can cause an alert system to shut down certain areas, and mines can go off without a moment’s notice. At first, it might seem logical to treat The Swindle like every other platformer, but this particular game requires a methodical touch. There aren’t really any instructions to speak of, which creates a wonderful sense of experimentation that slow-paced games almost require. If you’re unable to properly utilize every tool at your disposal, there’s a phenomenal chance that you’re going to wind up with a dead robber on your hands. It’s also worth mentioning that everything is completely destructible, giving The Swindle an almost Steamworld Dig-like feel. Those who are willing to go the extra mile, be creative, and take risks are going to find themselves with the heftiest rewards. You can bank on that. Wait a minute, that was the worst pun I’ve ever written, so let’s move on before I slowly begin weeping out of embarrassment.
One of the more annoying aspects about games that boast their procedural generation chops is when said randomness doesn’t equate to extended replay value. Games like Rogue Legacy and Spelunky do an incredible job of making every run feel fresh, regardless of the standard set of rules given to the player. In this sense, The Swindle appears to succeed, though to be fair, thirty minutes of demo time isn’t necessarily enough to properly assess replay value. Still, every attempt felt different from the last due to a number of circumstances: my character’s appearance, the layout of the target, and the placement of everything inside of the building. Because of the high level of destructibility, placing a mine in Spot X might cause a completely different ripple effect than what would have occured if the mine was in Spot Y. A great deal of novelty comes from every playthrough, which is why The Swindle has the potential to be a successful YouTube title, as well as the perfect title for Sony’s Little Handheld that Could.
The Swindle isn’t a completely solo project, as some of the UI and coding, as well as the art and the music, were completed by a number of talented artists and developers. All of that withstanding, a vast majority of the credit goes to Dan Marshall, a man who seemed to ooze passion for his game (industry secret: the more excited about a game the developer is, the more excited you, the player, should be — passion breeds creativity). Out of all of the developers I’ve met in recent months, he was easily one of the most informed and jovial about the state of his work. This isn’t meant to turn this article into a bona fide Dan Marshall roast, but the idea that one man is working his tail off on The Swindle actually makes me believe that it’ll be a cult success. The thing is, the hardcore contingent has to be able to discover this quirky puzzle game as easily as possible, and something tells me that’ll wind up happening.