One hundred days in the future, the heists to end all heists is going to go down, and you’ll need to spend the time til then working on your preparation in The Swindle.
On each day, you get to tackle one house. Viewing the house from the side, you need to negotiate all kinds of hazards and enemies and pick up all the money that’s just lying around the place before returning to the capsule which you arrived in in order to make your escape. The Swindle is set in a Steampunk themed world, where the enemies are all automated and mechanical, so you’ll need to work with movement patterns to figure out how to approach each enemy. You use the Y button to swing your club and deal damage to the enemies, but you need to make sure you go nowhere near their line of sight, because just the slightest of glances is enough to set off the building’s alarms and place everything on red alert, at which point you’ll need to make do with what you already have because the police will arrive at the building to take you down in just a short amount of time.
The money that you collect in each level – you’re maxed at around £1500-2000 in the earlier levels, which then multiplies in the more difficult ones – is to be taken back to your airship to purchase upgrades. These can go from quality of life measures like double jumps to tools which hack computers for big funds, or which can switch off the pesky surveillance cameras. You can also get bombs which help with accessing out of reach rooms and taking out enemies, and most importantly, unlock new levels with bigger money rewards up for grabs. Each of the new levels brings more complex enemies with it, and with a finite number of heists to play with, you have hardly any room for practising with them to figure out their weaknesses.
What you’re trying to achieve in The Swindle is the perfect burglary – arrive, collect your loot and leave. The game rewards you with bonus cash for leaving enemies undisturbed, so while it may be tempting to go around knocking them all out and leaving you with a free run through the entire house, in practice it’s more beneficial to employ more sneaky tactics. That’s nowhere near easy though, and that’s one of the game’s biggest criticisms. From early on, there are too many guards in the buildings, and the movement mechanics are not as precise as they need to be. In situations you’ll want to make a smooth jump and landing, things never come off quite as you’d hoped, from accidentally sticking to the walls and sliding down therefore knocking your timing off, or feeling let down by accidentally falling onto spikes or into an enemy’s line of sight when you were sure that you’d nailed the jump.
It’s too frustrating for its own good, really. You can clock up a mountainous hall only to be killed in the blink of an eye, and you can even get taken out within seconds of starting a level, wasting a precious day. But a successful heist is a thrill – though it’ll take you more practice than the initial 100-day playthrough.
There’s nothing quite as agonising as getting every penny in a house only to get hit by an enemy and leave with nothing. But The Swindle does feel good when it’s going well. It’s just very, very tricky.