The Swindle review for PS Vita, PS4

Platform: PS Vita
Also On: PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Wii U
Publisher: Curve Digital
Developer: Size Five Games
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: Cross-Save
ESRB: E10+

There are all kinds of really great ideas present in The Swindle. It’s stylish, with a steampunk-influenced aesthetic that feels much more lived in than, say, The Order 1886. It’s also an intriguing take on the roguelike genre, trading in dungeons and fantasy for old Victorian houses and a plot involving Scotland Yard. On top of all that, it’s neat to see how seriously it takes its subtitle of “A Steampunk Cybercrime Caper” — like any good caper, it calls on players to be as sneaky and stealthy as possible if they want to get by.

Unfortunately, while the game may be long on ideas, it’s a little short in the execution department. Or, to put it in simpler terms: The Swindle just isn’t very fun.

The Swindle 3

To a certain extent, I feel like the game’s issues are built into its DNA. Just consider its basic premise: you have exactly 100 missions in which to upgrade your characters enough that you can stop Scotland Yard from installing an anti-theft system that will stop your criminal ways for good. There are (by my count) 57 upgrades, and even if you don’t necessarily need all of them to reach the end, you certainly need a big chunk of them. This means that you basically need to pull off huge heists every time out, or else you reach a point very quickly where all your actions are for naught, and you’re just going through the motions until your inevitable failure. Even accounting for the fact that levels get more lucrative as you go on, there’s still pretty much no margin for error.

This would be challenging even under normal circumstances. The Swindle, however, has no interest in “normal” circumstances, and instead decides to pile on difficulty after difficulty in almost every single level. Loot drops are scarce at first, meaning you have to burn through a couple of missions — and your limited number of lives — just to get the most basic essential skills. Even worse, the randomly-generated levels were frequently designed in such a way that make them almost impossible; I lost track of the number of times I slowly descended onto a new floor, only to find when I touched down that it was so full of police and alarms that it was impossible to land without triggering something, which in turn meant that not only would the police smash every bit of money in sight, you’d also have to deal with even more hyper-aggressive cops who arrived shortly thereafter, armed to the teeth and accompanied by an invincible flying device with enough firepower to blast through walls. Other times, I’d drop down to a new level, only to discover that getting back up was literally impossible because the jump was more than I could do.

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Though I guess I should just be glad I was able to get into those floors. It wasn’t uncommon for the game to generate floors that were buried deep beneath the surface of the earth, with no possible way to even reach them.

It should go without saying that death is extraordinarily common in The Swindle. If the cops don’t get you, then a long fall will. Or a mine with a faulty timer. Or a pit of full of spikes. Or, in some cases, nothing. Do you have any idea how annoying it is to just suddenly find yourself dead for no apparent reason?

Actually, cancel that question: the random deaths aren’t even the most annoying thing about playing The Swindle on the Vita. No, that honour falls to the game’s absurdly long load times. It isn’t an issue with the PS4 version, but for whatever reason, playing on the handheld means you’re in for long waits every time you die, or go back to your airship, or…do anything, really. Even starting a new game means waiting thirty or forty seconds, just staring at a loading screen.

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Needless to say, I don’t think the wait is worth it. No matter how lovely The Swindle may look or how charming its premise may be, neither loveliness nor charm is enough to compensate for the fact that you’re stuck playing an incredibly hard game with no room for error…or, really, even for improvement, since once the 100 days ends, you’re sent right back to square one without any of your newfound gadgets or skills. The Swindle is impossibly hard, to the point that only masochists need apply.

Grade: C