The Grinder: 1886
Curve Digital have always been one of my favourite devs that have provided us PS Vita gamers with some epic indie games for our beloved handheld – the Clones games to The Swapper and the massively underrated Proteus.
I’ll freely admit that I overlooked The Swindle as the screenshots unfortunately don’t do this game justice. It’s like Borderlands in that respect. The hand drawn look doesn’t instantly jump out at you in static form. You need to see the game in motion. When you do set off on your first playthrough, it becomes oh so apparent that we have an absolute sleeper hit on our hands. The game is cross-buy, but for the purpose of this review I’m keeping it all PS Vita.
The basic premise is you have a hundred days to horde as much of the Queen’s old faithful, the good old £ (I do love a good British game!) as you can. You will need to upgrade your Swindler’s abilities to allow for taking on the harder and more rewarding later levels, along with the final area entitled The Swindle, before the local Met activate the Devil’s Basilisk, rendering all crime null and void.
The upgrade tree is a nice touch, with plenty to work towards as you grind through randomly generated levels which add a nice re-playability as you amass your fortune. Win, lose or draw, the 100 day counter will drop by 1. If you do come a cropper and lose your crook, fear not, the game has a similar mechanic to another awesome indie game, Rogue Legacy. You get another hapless soul to do your nefarious deeds. The lure here for me was seeing how many ‘raids’ I could get on one character, and as the upgrades thankfully stack across your overall playthrough and are not linked to individual characters, you don’t lose any of that progress.
Your upgrades are all handled in your Airship that you can escape to after a heist by returning to your ‘pod’ that you land in. The main source of money comes from computer terminals randomly placed around each building. These have a nice hack mechanic that has you pressing and holding a direction but in quick succession. This also adds to the manic feel that time is against you, and just like escaping where you have to hold Triangle to access your pod, you really have to plan every move otherwise it’s curtains and everything you have collected is lost. Only returning to your Airship will bank your spoils.
There is a rather nice charm to The Swindle, from its grimy cyber Victorian setting to its exquisite hand drawn look. It’s this aesthetic that reminds me of one of my favourite 2000AD Judge Dredd artists, Ian Gibson. Each level takes place at night. Some nights it’s raining which is yet another brilliant touch to add atmosphere, and a treat to the ears when using headphones. Also as you upgrade, the randomness of the levels not only change cosmetically with pickups and enemy placement, but also they become slightly harder as new enemy types appear. This could be based on how many days you have left, or it could be how much you’ve upgraded your abilities but, whichever, it adds yet another layer of brilliance to the proceedings.
The music also plays a big part in setting the scene. The title music is filled with a mash up of electronica and that stringed Victorian orchestral vibe. The in-game music is paced with an almost ‘tick tock’ rhythm giving you a heightened sense of tension as you try to sneak and stealth your way through each building hoping to reap maximum rewards. If you do get spotted, though, the music lets you know in no uncertain terms, plus everything goes red, showing you that the robot enemies are on high alert a-la Metal Gear. Hang around too long and the Police will appear with their advanced crime fighting equipment and a rather brilliant ‘NEE NAAR, NEE NAAR’ sound effect!
The Swindle really got me hooked by offering what at first seemed like an unlikely gaming experience that was ‘limited’ to 100 days, but actually they have hit a sweet spot. It really works to give you enough time, yet makes you feel slightly on edge that you can’t mess around, and those £££ are SO important to push for the bigger upgrades in the shortest time possible. If you love loot grinding, The Swindle will tickle that gaming foof for you and remind you why you’re the only one who still loves playing Destiny to 3am. There’s more depth in here than you realise and as far as faults go, the small screen could be a turn off for some, as there is a lot going on and not just with the text. It all works, though, and doesn’t affect the game overall, but the one tiny issue I found is the loading times between heists. Get used to that loading screen. This may be only a Vita issue, so it may be quicker on the PS4, but after games like OlliOlli 2 and Velocibox, the instant restart of a failed level goes a long way in keeping your frustrations at a stupid death to a minimum.
If you can look beyond a few small issues, The Swindle will offer you bags of gameplay that is so rewarding. This is a game that you’ll come back to over and over again. Miss it at your own cost!
Northlander Rating – 9/10