Monday, August 3, 2015
Game Diary - get the Bug in The Swindle. ASAP.
I have never yo-yo'd on a game like I have with The Swindle, a stealth-action platformer with procedurally-generated levels and a ton of upgrades. Over the last week with the game my impression of it went from "kinda' cool!" to "this is a bit uneven" to "fuck this game I'm never playing this awful thing again," and, from there, to "this is absolutely wonderful."
I scanned reviews - never actually reading them - and sites were either giving The Swindle 9s or 4s. There is no middle ground - it's either spectacular, or awful - and I was in the "awful" camp riiight up until I reached out to a fellow gamer who was playing it, and he noted in passing that the Bug upgrade is super-important.
The Swindle kind of does that to you. Doesn't let you in on super-important information, I mean. Its tutorial is nonexistent. You start by going in to slum buildings, picking up stacks of dollar bills off the floor, taunted by the odd computer you'll find that suggests you get the Hack upgrade. Obviously, then, you get the Hack upgrade.
Once you get it, you can access computers in the buildings you're assaulting and make off with far, far more cash than you can pick up off the floor - the game feels like it should. You feel this nice sense of progression as you invest a few thousand pounds in the ability to double-jump or lay down some bombs to knock out walls when necessary.
In this way, I clawed my way up to the third district and was stopped cold. The next tier of upgrades were prohibitively expensive, and my current now-laughably-limited toolset meant that even when luck and skill in concert could get me to one of the higher-level higher-paying computers, it was near-impossible for me to make it out with the money and thus actually progress in the game.
After ten or fifteen attempts with no discernable increase in my bank and repeated deaths as a result of nothing I could see onscreen, I threw up my hands.
Fuck this game, man. Fuck it. This is where all those 4/10 and 2/10 reviews came from.
I reached out to a friend who had announced he was deleting the game and fuck it forever to vent my frustration, and by the time he got back to me he'd overcome that hurdle. In his response he mentioned, in passing, that the Bug tool is super-important.
The game never tells you that. You have no idea that once you open up the second area, all you should be doing is saving up for the Bug tool. Once you have it, the game cracks wide open, and it becomes what you - and developer Size Five Games - hoped for.
It's very Roguelike in that you, the player, get far, far better at the game over time, and very not Roguelike in that, without upgrades, it is absolutely and completely impossible. With the bug tool - which you can place at computers to steadily leech far more money than you would get by simply hacking it, and continues to siphon money even if the thief you've sent in dies seconds after placing it - you're more willing to experiment. You're more willing to let your latest charmingly-named thief risk it all and die, because he's already placed two bugs and as far as you're concerned this mission is a stunning success.
You poke and prod at the world and really begin to understand the nature of every weird bot guard type, you throw your hands up with a laugh instead of a cry when your thief lands goggles-first on a spike trap and an explosion of green notes wallpapers every flat surface,
Once I understood the Bug tool, the game cracked wide open. I beat it on my next playthrough, and the playthrough after that was spent just faffing about. I unlocked every area and every upgrade, and then just set to discovering how much money I could accumulate before even trying for the game's ultimate heist.
The initial cycle for the end-game is to save up £400,000, spend it on buying your way in to Scotland Yard for the final, titular heist, and - if you fail - saving up another four hundred thousand to try again.
As of this afternoon, I am chilling on a money bin filled with ten million pound notes.
It's not Mark of the Ninja - its platforming is not that smooth and slick - but it's very stealth-Spelunky. You can blast through a completed playthrough in an afternoon, or spend your time just rolling around in its stealthy, randomly-generated missions - an infinite amount of content and a very creative toolkit at your disposal.
It is absolutely wonderful - but as soon as you gain access to the second zone, it needs to be forcing the Bug down player's throats. If my friend hadn't nudged me in the right direction, I might have given this game a huge thumbs-down.