The Swindle Review: Procedurally Generated Crime

Tasked with stopping Scotland Yard’s newest security system within 100 days, I set out into my thieving career, ready and willing to face the challenges before me. My life ended rather quickly. Thrown into a small building in the slums, I found myself caught within the gaze of a robot security guard. Thinking as quickly as I could, and having no idea what I was doing, I jumped forward with my weapon to take the enemy out. An alarm sounded, but I paid it no heed, instead setting my eyes on the towers of treasure the small slummy building held. That was my first mistake. Police sirens wailed, and as I struggled to make my way back towards my pod to fly back up to my airship, I began to hear the whirring of guns. Out of nowhere the wall exploded, a large flying contraption with even larger miniguns pinned to the bottom looked down upon me. I couldn’t help but stare as bullets riddled my body, and sent me to an early grave. This is the moment when I knew I was going to love and hate The Swindle.

Set within a steampunk world, The Swindle is a cybercrime rogue-like. Each death forces you into a new random character, and each level that you enter is procedurally generated to give you a different experience each time. This procedural level creation is a great thing for games like The Swindle, however I ran into issues with several early levels having paths which were completely blocked behind walls. This isn’t as much an problem once you have bombs, but earlier sections of the game can easily have you missing half the cash in an area, or stuck in a hole with no way out if you don't happen to have the Double Jump upgrade.

Additionally, the controls occasionally lacked responsiveness. When pressing the jump button, character would sometimes take a second or so to jump. It didn’t always happen, but it was enough of an issue to lead to my death several times. This is especially frustrating when you consider how the game’s mechanics work. If for some reason you don’t make it back to your airship you lose any cash you’ve gained that mission, along with any experience on the character. The Swindle leaves absolutely no room for reward with failure.

Despite these issues, I still love the game. It’s a brilliant look at what indie games should be, and the unique Don’t Starve-like art style is right up my alley. Pair this with a wonderful array of sound effects, and The Swindle is probably one of the most appealing indie games to hit the market this year. But looks and sound aren’t the only thing that kept me playing. The game’s upgrade system is challenging and brilliantly open-ended. Though it may be hard to earn enough money to upgrade items at the start, once you get into the routine of the game’s mechanics, you can slowly work your way up to the bigboy toys. This can create problems in lower levels where walls are blocked off, and holes are too deep for you to jump out of, but later on upgrades like Bombs, Hacks, Double Jump, and even a short range Teleporter can easily allow you to overcome these obstacles.

Although I complained about the procedural generating of levels, I'd like to point out that I'm actually quite fond of the idea. Each level is new, and different, and although some of them ended up putting me in impossible situations (situations that I could have escaped had I wielded the right upgrades), I wouldn't change it for the world. I've put several hours into The Swindle already, and still haven't beat it. But the story that's presented in the game isn't important. It's just something to work towards as you bash, sneak, and hack your way to being the most successful thief in steampunk London.

The Swindle is filled with moments of joy, success, and failures. More often than not my deaths were caused by my own mistakes, my own misjudgments, and not by faulty game mechanics. It was the thrill of sneaking into buildings, stealing all the cash I could carry, and getting back out before the police arrived that kept me logging on. The story laid within the game doesn’t drive the game, but that’s okay because there’s plenty of rogue-like goodness waiting to be found inside of Size Five Games procedurally generated steampunk heist simulator.

This review is based on a download code provided by the publisher. The Swindle is available via digital stores today, for 14.99.

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The Swindle

very good
  • Open-ended upgrade system
  • Procedurally generated levels enable unlimited replayability
  • Fantastic sound design
  • Beautiful and artistic style
  • Challenging enemies and scenarios
  • Some procedurally generated levels cannot be solved without specific upgrades or equipment
  • Occasional unresponsive controls