Despite the fact that it contains safe-cracking, laser grids, a prison breakout and the liberal application of chloroform handkerchiefs to the faces of surprised guards, the most satisfying moments in Kalypso’s 70s-era heist caper Crookz: The Big Heist occur when you get your timing just right. The game’s real-time with pause system, which allows you to set up complex waypoint orders for your team, makes for some fun, responsive thievery that also allows for on-the-spot improvisation.
Crookz is set in a charmingly cartoonish version of 70s America, full of wise-cracking mobsters and glitzy, cheesy luxury pads. Your main goal is to steal a glowing green space rock, which gives you some idea of the general tone, which is, by and large, carried off with charm. Voice acting veers between amusing and slightly embarrassing, and the graphics are functional at best, but the game’s resolute determination not to take itself seriously won me over.
You control a squad of seventies heist movie archetypes including a disco diva, who can sprint faster than anyone else, a hippy locksmith, a schlubby Bronx mechanic and the muscle, who specialises in knocking guards unconscious and sitting on them. Each character has a specific set of useful abilities, which you’ll need to use in concert in order to work your way sneakily through the story campaign’s twenty or so missions. Get caught, or get spotted a few too many times, and it’s game over. Certain moves and items make a lot of noise, while others take several vital seconds to perform. You need to constantly be aware of your surroundings, and complex maneuvers require you to use several different characters in union, micro-managing and adjusting their orders with liberal use of the pause button.
Levels are packed full of objects to interact with, and different paths open up depending on the team you bring
The strength of Crookz’ levels lies in the fact that that not one character is essential in order to navigate them (save for a few key story missions). Pick the locksmith and you’ll be able to bypass certain security doors, but opt for the contortionist Rocket instead and you’ll find that her ability to crawl through air ducts and vents opens up a whole new path. Once you have a full roster of thieves to choose from, you start to realise how cleverly knitted together the environments are – levels are dotted with secret routes, switchbacks and one-use tools, encouraging on-the-fly improvisation and a variety of different approaches. The ultimate mission goal doesn’t change, but the fun is in how you get there.
Each character can take three one-use items into a mission, offering him or her a bit of extra variety to go along with their innate specialisation. Useful trinkets include a noisemaker – perfect for a timely distraction – camera jammers, a trusty bottle of chloroform and many more. Once you’ve emptied some space in your limited inventory, you can also scrounge new items hidden across the level. They’re scarce enough that each item usage has to be thought through very carefully. The last thing you want is to mess up right at the end of the level because you used your laser-grid disruptor to grab a measly $200.
Later levels can be intimidatingly large, but a slow and steady approach generally wins the day
Not that the game ever really tempts you into doing so. In fact, Crookz’ economy is perhaps a little bit too generous to the player. The more specialised items you can buy before a heist do become increasingly expensive as the game goes on, but I always had a huge wad of cash to spare, which made trawling through the level in search of extra funds rather pointless. Completionists may want to do so if they’re aiming at a high score, but it’s a shame that Crookz never really plays on your greed as much as something like Invisible Inc. The only time you’ll really be tempted into going out of your way is if you spot a Construction Plan, a special piece of loot that permanently upgrades one of your limited-use tools.
In fact, Crookz remains a very forgiving game even as the levels ramp up the difficulty and complexity. A generous autosave system means that you never have to backtrack more than a minute or so, and guards are almost laughably nonchalant about getting repeatedly thumped on the head. This is no hardcore stealth game, and there’s a breezy, carefree tone to the whole affair that carries through to the mechanics. Visual feedback is simple and clear, with vision cones for both enemy guards and security cameras, and massive blaring green lights marking out potential hazards so you don’t obliviously blunder into them.
Before each mission you get a planning phase, which lets you observe the general map layout and guard movement patterns
That’s not to say that Crookz can’t be occasionally tricky. Later missions feature huge environments that require patience and concentration to complete, and a couple of these levels cross the line between challenging and arse-achingly annoying. In particular an extended jailbreak mission that turns from a breezy sneaking job into a trial and error minefield packed with invulnerable armoured guards within the space of one scene transition. Fortunately, even when things get a bit heavy on the quick-load key, speedy loading times and regular checkpoints do much to soften the worst frustrations.
CROOKZ: THE BIG HEIST VERDICT
When you’re busy weaving past guard sight-lines and slipping past security doors just before the cameras come back online, it’s easy to forgive the game’s minor issues. My worry when I previewed Crookz was that it wouldn’t build on the simple fun of the early levels, but thankfully those concerns were unfounded. While the game never abandons its forgiving approach, increasingly ambitious and interesting level design and a steady drip of new items and skills continue to provide a satisfying new challenge throughout the game’s accomplished story campaign. Crookz is a very enjoyable crime caper, and one of the most pleasant surprises of the year.
TOP GAME MOMENT
When everything comes together; your noisemaker distracts the enemy guards, and your locksmith slips into the security room to rewire the cameras. Very fun.
Before each mission you get a planning phase, which lets you observe the general map layout and guard movement patterns.
Fun, campy setting.
Satisfying, responsive stealth.
Nothing to spend your huge cash reserves on.