The Swindle Review

No plan survives contact with the enemy.

If there's one lesson that The Swindle so firmly imparts, that is it. A 2D, roguelike stealth-action game centered around heists, there are a lot of games that The Swindle pulls from. Everything from the Thief series to Spelunky are putting some of themselves into it, but do all the pieces fit together?

That's the magic question, and its answer is...complicated. But let's start back at the beginning.

The core story pitch of The Swindle is a pretty simple, very British feeling one. It's a steampunky 1849, and an old-timey form of everpresent surveillance system is going to go online, giving the government complete and total view into every window and alley street.

Which, considering you're playing as a series of thieves, is...kind of a problem.

So how do you deal with that? Simple, you have 100 days to get enough gear together to prepare for the job of the century, stealing the very system meant to keep the people safe

I never said you were nice people.

Actually getting to that goal is, of course, the real tricky part. How it works mechanically, is this: You start off only able to do heists in the slums, unable to even get into anywhere better. You can buy both power ups and security access to each new area, but we'll get to that.

You drop in in front of a building, which is A: randomly generated for that roguelike goodness, and B: guarded by various robot things, some traps, and so on and so forth.

What makes all of this tricky is that you don't just have to get to one place in the map and get out. Rather, loot is scattered all around, either in caches of hard currency or in computers full of investments. While you can cut the losses and run back to your drop pod at any time, if you want to get everything, you're going to be going all over the map and running through just about every threat.

One thing that separates the game mechanically from a lot of roguelikes is that the only progress you can lose is one stage's worth of loot, and a rising XP bonus. All of your actual gear upgrades and cash you've banked are locked in, and since every single little stage is a different randomly generated one, you don't even have any backtracking to do.

This makes it a firmly roguelite situation, though it does come with one little lingering problem, which we'll come back to.

(As an aside, while you don't get to choose your character, the randomly generated thieves bring a lot of diversity to the party. Not only do you have both men and women of many different backgrounds, a fair few are clearly using prosthetics of various sorts.)

So this all comes together in this really satisfying little loop where you scope out a place around the edges, see if you can duck in for any quick easy loot or advantages, then finally pick your entryway to start actually heisting the place. Managing enemies and cameras, trying to get everything clean, and if all else fails keeping a profitable exit route in your back pocket just in case things go south. New upgrades open up entire new tactics, while new areas mean higher profits and increasingly tricky countermeasures.

And when all this works? It feels fantastic.

...Here's the part where I tell you the spots where it doesn't work.

Okay, so, the single biggest thing The Swindle has against it is a lack of polish. Almost everything that I had trouble with came down to this. Little tiny bits of detail that just needed a little bit more work to be just right.

The single biggest one that I found were weird little issues with the wall jumping physics. The game seems to have no idea of how it wants to handle wall jumping and climbing. I had a very inconsistently triggered, but frequent bug where my thief would get caught up on the bottom corner of a wall until I let go of any buttons or directional input, at which point they would finally do their little 'scramble up onto the surface' animation and I'd have to immediately jump to avoid falling again.

This sort of thing gets messier in turn because of the decision they made to put your move where you hook in and no longer slide down a wall, as pushing away from the wall on the dpad.

Which, especially in a game where the jumping is so very vertical and any kind of back-and-forth wall jump isn't really something you do, just feels counter intuitive and against what I'm trying to achieve.

Physics stuff in general tends to be a bit...Odd in The Swindle. I actually had one heist scuttled because somehow, my thief slipped between two blocks of terrain and up into the room where I was remotely detonating a mine, taking me out even though I was well outside of its radius the moment I hit the button.

But you see what I'm saying, how a lot of this is just polish issues? Patchable stuff. We're not talking a lot of core design decisions gone wrong here, we're talking a game that needs some bug fixes to shine.

There is one thing, however, that's messy. The mix of roguelite replayability mechanics, alongside what starts as a fairly linear upgrade path and only opens up in tiered chunks, creates a lot of times recreating similar experiences. The first area is almost rote for me, at this point. If I were to suggest one thing for a sequel, it would be to put more variety into a run's upgrade path, either through meaningful choices or through outright randomization of costs and orders of upgrades.

Still, at the end of the day, what I'm left with a game that largely holds together well. Its reach perhaps exceeds its grasp a bit too much for me to tip it over into a full on recommendation, but...If you're down for dealing with the quirks, jump on in. And if not? Just hold on a minute. Keep this one on the backburner, let a couple more patches come in...then jump on it.