This title was reviewed on Nintendo Switch, but is also available on PS3, PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
As an avid fan of stealth games, I’m generally very excited to play one I haven’t already blazed through. I grew up playing the hell out of the Splinter Cell series, as well as the Metal Gear series, and a few other IP’s here and there. I really enjoy that feeling of taking down an unwitting enemy, of going into your objective unseen and unknown, and coming out again the same. That’s why I was so surprised by The Swindle; it doesn’t encapsulate that feeling at all. Rather, it encapsulates pure, unadulterated frustration. Between clunky, often non-working controls, frustrating random level generation, a constant grind that begins from the first run, hectic, often bewildering music, and an annoying time crunch system, this game’s unique art style can’t save it from it’s downfalls.
There isn’t much background to give, as this doesn’t exist as part of a series or anything like that, but I can tell you it’s made by Size Five Games. The story centers around a seemingly infinite group of thieves all dedicated to taking down the Scotland Yard’s soon to be online AI. That’s about it as far as story and background. As for gameplay, you break into.. Places? The first level isn’t very specific, it’s just houses in the slums.You’ll steal money, knockout robots, and get out safely. If you die, you come back as a new thief, on a new level. Use money to upgrade your abilities and your ship, unlocking later levels by buying them. You have 100 days to beat the game, or else, you lose. Dying consumes a day, as does completing a heist. Robots have a field of vision, and if you get spotted, you get chased. Robots vary in type, from flying surveillance drones to beefy asskicking tin cans. There’s also traps and whatnot, like mines, spikes and other such lethal contraptions.
My issues, however, lie in the artificial difficulty, the random level generation’s suckiness, and the really annoying controls. First off, the difficulty of the game lies in the often overly abundant enemies placed in ridiculously stupid places, as well as the traps being placed randomly as well. The enemies will often spawn 3 – 5 at a time, all in the same small area, and sometimes even bordered by a trap. In these cases, you have to jump into the fray and pray they don’t see you. They most likely will regardless. Combat consists of swinging your billy club, and, if you can get any money, using tools like bombs and whatnot to destroy, hack or confuse your enemies. Speaking of money, if you die, you lose everything you got in the area. That in itself isn’t an issue, but the difficulty incited by the randomness, which ramps up with new enemies and traps each time you get a new skill, makes getting enough money to progress a horrific slog. I can honestly say across 80 days, I didn’t get enough money to progress to the next level, because I had to keep buying skills to progress through awful random levels that would produce scenarios I couldn’t pass with my normal skillset.
Another part of this suffering is the controls; they’re very clunky and oftentimes your character will get caught on the smallest of things. Trying to jump from a wall to a hallway is like trying to nail jello to a fence. Yeah, you can maybe achieve some semblance of it, but it won’t be what you really wanted. Jumping doesn’t even work half the time anyway. I died many times trying to jump over spikes only to nonchalantly jog my face into impalement. The level generator will create scenarios that can be ridiculously impossible in this way, and it’s very frustrating. There are also inconsistencies in mechanics, such as fall damage and sight line. Generally if you’re behind a closed door, an enemy can’t see you. That’s what you would think at least. Well, here, it’s about half and half. As in, half the time you’re fine, and the other half the time you’re unlucky enough to encounter the Superman 9000 unit, who uses his mega X-Ray vision to see you through the door, and promptly beat your ass into submission. Fall damage is confusing as well. I once jumped from a window at the top of a multi story house, hit the ground, and landed without issue. When I tried this again later, and from a lower height, I died on impact. This wasn’t an infrequent issue either; it happened on multiple occasions from multiple heights, some of which were confusingly low to the ground.
Overall, from what I got to play before just getting bored of trying to grind up enough cash to proceed, I had a bad time. It’s stupidly difficult via the random generation mechanics, it’s inconsistent, and generally, it just isn’t much fun. The art is pretty cool in itself, but it’s nothing too special, just 2D, Paper Mario-esque stuff. The music, however, tries really hard to be some sort of industrial fusion, and ends up sounding like pots and pans being dropped. This is especially evident when you’re detected by an enemy, at which point the music basically explodes inside of a solid steel box, and startles you into death. It’s generally not pleasing to the ears, and heightened my sense of disdain towards the game.
I really don’t have much else to say here. This game doesn’t feel like a experience that can be enjoyed by anyone but a dedicated masochist. I imagine this line of thinking will result in me being told I’m bad at the video games, but that’s fine, because I don’t really enjoy this game regardless. Between wonky controls, frustrating level design, and a harsh and annoyingly long grind, this game just upsets me. If you’re into that kind of thing, pick it up today. If not, stay far away. This is obviously the Dark Souls of 2D espionage games, and I feel swindled after playing it.