Developer: Eko Software.
Release Date: April 2007
Ever since I was a kid, I always loved a good heist movie. It wasn't so much for the criminal aspect, as for the excitement of seeing a plan go off, and watching the team work through the various flaws and unexpected circumstances to pull off their heist. From older classics like "The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3" to the current remake/sequel "Ocean's Twelve," I'm a sucker for heists. Even the worst movies have something to make them worthwhile to watch. Surprisingly, while there are a number of video games built around the idea of a solo thief, there are few very that revolve around a team working together. Thankfully, The3 Plan is a game that finally brings this idea to life.
Th3 Plan tells the story of a trio of thieves — Robert, also known as "Mister Mind," Alan, AKA "Poker" and Valerie, or "Cat." When the gang is hired to steal a matching pair of Rembrandt paintings from a museum, they are betrayed by one of their own, and Poker ends up in prison for five years. The game opens up with Mind visiting Poker in prison with information on "The Plan." The Plan is, of course, the ultimate heist, which will make the trio filthy rich and allow them to exact revenge on their former ally. After breaking Poker out of prison, they get to work … although, not everything will go as smoothly as planned, especially when Interpol and The Mafia get involved.
The most interesting thing about the story is perhaps the way in it is told. Rather than regular cut scenes, Th3 Plan uses a Max Payne-ish comic book style. The cut scenes themselves are all made up of still panels, with very minimal animation showing the action. While a bit strange at first, it adds a real sense of style and flair, giving the game a unique feel. The trio seems to have strong chemistry with one another, and watching them interact is a real treat. The in-game graphics are good, but they are a bit weak in comparison to recent PlayStation 2 titles. Still, with a good amount of time before the final release, it could easily be improved, and even if the graphics are the same at the launch, they do the job perfectly well.
The gameplay in Th3 Plan is built around a very unique mechanic. Rather than controlling one character at a time, the player is in charge of all three members of the team. The top half of the screen focuses on the main character, which the player is controlling directly. However, the lower half is split into two more cameras, showing the other two characters' viewpoints. You can switch between these three at any time at the press of a button, or even simply command the secondary characters with the press of a button. Using all three of these characters in conjunction allows for a number of unique puzzles and ideas, and adds a number of interesting mechanics to the game.
Each of the three members has his/her own unique skills and abilities. The Mind is, naturally, best at the mental aspects. Be it distracting a guard or using complex machinery, he's the man for the job. He's no slouch in the physical department either, as he's perfectly capable of knocking out guards. Poker is the stealth man, and while he isn't quite as bright as The Mind, he is the master of sneaking around. He's also just as fit as The Mind and has access to a wide variety of tools, such as special glasses that allow him to see in the dark. Naturally, he's also quite the smooth hand, able to pickpocket with ease. Cat is the femme fatal of the group. Unlike the boys, she isn't much for combat; she can't knock out guards or even move while crouching. However, her good looks and grace make her a natural for any situation which requires finesse. She can also be used to chat up guards that are not quite as willing to discuss things with The Mind.
Using the trio's abilities together is the key to the gameplay. No situation can be solved by just a single member, and you'll often find yourself controlling more than one member at a time. For example, in an early mission, The Mind is forced to sneak outside of a moving train. Occasionally, he has to crawl alongside the train to avoid losing his head to passing lights. Of course, if anyone inside the train sees him, it's all over, so Cat works inside, talking up the guard nearest to the window that The Mind. While you're getting her into position, The Mind is hanging off the side of the train and must occasionally dodge obstacles. While this may sound like a complex and daunting task, it isn't at all frustrating in play, thanks to the smooth controls and ease of switching between the various members of the team.
Combat in Th3 Plan isn't too different from what you'll see in most third-person games. The team has access to a number of weapons, ranging from pistols and stun guns to strange weapons like the "soporific puck," a small object filled with sleeping gas. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that you can surrender in combat. Unlike most stealth games, if a police officer spots you, you can choose to raise your hands in surrender instead of shot full of lead. While a team member is being arrested, another can work to save him before he gets carted off, so getting caught isn't the end of the game. It's a seemingly small idea, but one that opens up a number of tactics, and isn't it just nice to actually have the option for once?
For those who find the concept of working between three characters frustrating, the good news is that Th3 Plan offers multiplayer versions of its missions as well! Each mission has a Secondary Objective — an optional task that the players can complete. If it is completed successfully, and the player earns enough money in the mission, the bonus mode for that particular stage is unlocked. Once a bonus stage is unlocked, up to three players (with a multitap) can go through that stage together, with each controlling one of the members of the trio. Playing through the stage with friends instead of by yourself offers a significantly different experience, as you can complete the stage faster, but you also must rely on others to help you.
Th3 Plan is shaping up to be an excellent addition to the PlayStation 2's lineup. A unique take on the stealth genre, Th3 Plan's three-character control scheme is surprisingly easy to master, and the game is even more fun to play around with. The comic book cut scenes are stylish and enjoyable to watch, the plot feels like a classic heist movie, and the characters are likeable. Sadly, Th3 Plan is one of those games that few people are paying attention to, which is a true shame, because it has the potential to be a real winner.
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