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Platform(s): PC
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Kalypso Media
Developer: Skilltree Studios
Release Date: Aug. 25, 2015

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


PC Preview - 'Crookz: The Big Heist'

by Brian Dumlao on Aug. 3, 2015 @ 12:01 a.m. PDT

Crookz is a tactical strategy game with a funky 1970s setting. Organize a band of fun-loving misfits and help them on their way to riches and debauchery by plotting high-risk heists and robberies with maximum reward.

If the games of the last few years are any indication, tactical strategy is best left to soldiers. Whether you're fighting aliens in XCOM, terrorists in Jagged Alliance, or zombies in Breach and Clear: Deadline, the tactical strategy game has always relied on a small group of well-trained personnel with guns. Games have rarely looked beyond this scope for the genre. A recent example is Omerta: City of Gangsters, where everyone might be mobsters but combat was still the focus. Crookz: The Big Heist is an attempt at taking the tactical strategy genre in a different direction, and we got a look at it before it's released later this month.

The story is reminiscent of caper films in the past few decades, like "The Italian Job." In the '60s, in the middle of the Space Race, a moon stone was sent to a museum in Europe. A crack team of thieves was hired to nab it but was soon caught when one of the team members betrayed them. Years later, in the '70s, with the rest of the team members split up, the stone has resurfaced in a museum in San Francisco. With a second chance at the prize and the knowledge that their former comrade is aiming for the stone as well, the team decides to reunite for revenge and riches.

At the start of each mission, you're given a chance to survey the area, complete with some suggestions from the team about what the approach will be. You can select the members of your team who will participate in the mission. Each member specializes in something, whether it's lockpicking, moving faster than others, or fitting through air ducts. You can also equip up to three tools per person, like shoes that dampen noise or adrenaline pills for a temporary speed boost, though this is completely optional since you can obtain some of those same tools in the field.

The action in the mission can be best described as stunted real time. At any time, you can pause the action to survey the field and plot out where your team members will go and what they'll do. There are no restrictions to the number of moves you can execute when you stop time and no limit to how many team members can move, so if you want, you could execute a full run-through with a full team once time resumes. You can also stop to modify your commands at any time, so you're never really committed to your actions if things have gone south.

When you get into the action, you're not going to get access to firearms to kill anyone, and you can't take cover to hide from enemy fire. Instead, this game is completely invested in stealth to the point where the mission ends when one of the team members is caught by guards. All of your actions are centered on not getting caught, and your main adversaries are usually things like cameras and laser gates that alert everyone to your presence. Tools like crowbars emit tons of noise, but the team aspect of the game also means that you can use such noisemakers to your advantage as you lure guards away from an area in order to leave an opening for the rest of the team. Should you need to deal with guards, you can use your bruiser character to knock them out or use tools like chloroform and tasers, though the knock-out time is short enough that guards will eventually wake up and start looking for you.

The change in focus from combat to stealth is refreshing mostly because there aren't many tactical games on the market to use that approach. It also helps that the levels are flexible enough to encourage replayability. The first real stage after the tutorial level exemplifies this, as you start off with your runner and locksmith to tackle the stage. You can easily complete the stage with those two characters alone, but you'll soon notice that the stage also contains air vents that only the contortionist can use. Follow that pathway, and you'll see that the same stage can be completed in a shorter amount of time than the one you make with your initial team. Each stage you encounter possesses several routes that fit with whatever combination you choose, so you never feel like you're in an impossible situation simply because one member of the team wasn't the optimal choice.

The other thing that helps out the title is its approach to team members. Unlike most games, where your team members are blank slates, your classes are actual characters with names and personalities. Their upgrades are pretty linear, though, and there isn't any customization beyond the upgrades. For a game that is more story-based, though, having established characters is nice.

The presentation does a good job of embracing the theme without going overboard. The graphics are simple but have a few flourishes, like fireflies roaming around some bushes. The characters run around in established '70s fashion styles, but nothing has really been exaggerated for humor. The time period music is great since it isn't overpowering, and the voices follow the same track where the slang of the time period is present but not overused. You get the sense that there's a reverence for the time period instead of a desire to lampoon it.

So far, Crookz: The Big Heist is shaping up to be a very good tactical game. Though it may not feature an extremely high level of strategy, there's enough to be more than functional. The difficulty scales nicely, and each of the levels presents you with several different pathways to accommodate any team configuration. Most of all, the change in theme is refreshing and makes for a title that will interest stealth fans. Look out for the full release right before the end of August.

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