The Swindle Review: The Imperfect Heist

The Swindle is simultaneously a frustrating and immensely addictive gaming experience. Developed and published by Size Five Games The Swindle has been around and aggravating players for a few years. It was originally released on Xbox One, PC, PlayStation 4 (and 3) back in 2015. Yet like dozens of indie games The Swindle has recently come to the Nintendo Switch.

The Nintendo Switch release of The Swindle is exactly the same to the previous releases. Size Five Games didn't even give The Swindle a complicated subtitle to make it seem special like so many others do. It’s a wonder that it’s taken this long for The Swindle to come to Switch because it's totally at home on Nintendo’s new console with its action-stealth pick and play mechanics. Sadly a perfect platform doesn’t make for a perfect game. The Swindle has its moments but it’s definitely a very acquired taste.

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The Swindle has possibly the MOST “video game-y” premise ever. It's 1903 in a steampunk version of Victorian England and soon a device named The Devil’s Basilisk will be created. The Devil’s Basilisk will make it impossible for thieves to go about their burglary business. The playable crew of The Swindle has 100 days to steal as much as possible and stop the Basilisk from being created. The Swindle does a tremendous job of constantly making the stakes of the 100 day timeline felt to a promote a very addictive structure. No moment ever feels wasted.

Each turn or "day" a thief will venture out to one of The Swindle's procedural generated maps. There's a nearly endless amount of territories to explore and steal from in The Swindle. However, the game world is broken up into five sections, six if you count the final mission area. All of these sections have specific themes, appearances and quirks. They're progressively unlocked by gaining enough cash, which means that if the 100 days are going well there's a continuous sense of progression. Even if you happen to fail a heist and die, the current playable thief will be replaced with a new one from the crew. This alone is a reward because each thief makes great use of The Swindle's storybook-esque design and has an impossibly British name.

When The Swindle works and the crew of thieves is raking in the cash, there's hardly a more satisfying gaming experience. Pulling in big hauls from the various maps doesn't just unlock new areas to explore. It also opens new power-ups and abilities. There's always a shiny new objective on the horizon in The Swindle and it can make the 100 days fly by in no time. Although realistically it's going to take about 6 hours to beat the game from start to finish ... on a successful run. This is the problem with The Swindle. While it can be extraordinarily fun when the game is going well it's a controller breaking level of frustration when the heists are going down the metaphorical toilet.

The Swindle starts off slow and easy. There are guards around but they're dumb enough to let you sneak around them to get the money that's just lying on the ground. About five or so turns into The Swindle the difficulty curve ramps up dramatically. The moronic human guards are replaced with vicious robot ones. The floor becomes more like a bedrock of deadly spikes and the biggest cash rewards are hidden teeth-grinding platform challenges. Worst of all, since The Swindle gives out bonuses based on how many successful turns have happened in a row. One failure can lead to a spiral that's almost impossible to escape. It's punishing and not in a manner that always feels fair.

Like most stealth games The Swindle builds itself off twitch reactions and patience. Staying in the same spot for a second too long is the difference between success and failure. In concept that's a fine way to build difficulty but the game feels unfinished. Jumping and clinging to the walls like Spider-Man is key to remaining undetected in The Swindle but the controls are so finicky. The thief, no matter their punny name, always feels like they're made out of paper. They're floatly and hard to nail down. This makes the most basic of platform obstacles too harsh. The physics engine and controls shouldn't be dictating the difficulty of the game. The map design and player skill should.

It is possible to learn The Swindle's quirks and beat its airy controls into submission but that detracts from the actual challenge of the game. The Swindle is fun and its addictive structure urges players to get better but it's also frustrating. There are too many issues for The Swindle to be a full recommendation but those who can see past the blemishes will undoubtedly love it.

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The Swindle is available now for 14.99 on Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One and PC. Screen Rant was provided a Nintendo Switch copy for review.

Our Rating:

2.5 out of 5 (Fairly Good)
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