Title: The Masterplan
Developer: Shark Punch
Publisher: Shark Punch
Genre: Action, Indie, Strategy
Platform: PC (Steam)
Rating: N/R (although I’d say Teen at least)
Release Date: June 4, 2015
I’ll say it now – I always get the weird Indie games.
Let me actually elaborate a little. When I first signed up for this gig as a reviewer, I sold myself a guy who would review just about anything. Especially the lesser-known, exciting independent developed games. My boss on the site (well, bosses now, as in plural) thought it would be good for me to review the weird Indie games.
The Masterplan sort of falls into that weird Indie category.
The Masterplan is a game by Shark Punch. I have never heard of these guys before, save that they are Finnish. I’m sure soon everyone will know who they are, since their game is very good. I don’t normally laud a game this early in the review, so let me repeat – this game is very well done. Watching the introduction and going through several levels in tutorial mode instantly grabbed my attention. I quickly began to explore it with more enthusiasm as I waded through the review edition. NOTE: I have not played the entire game, because I only received a key for a REVIEW version of the game.
The entire game takes place in the 1970’s, as a war on crime and tough economy make for hard criminals who are desperate enough to break out of jail and start heist gangs. You are one such criminal, and you are building one such gang. The entire game is about escalation and money; as you gain more money, the game escalates the danger. What might start out as a simple smash and grab turns into a chaotic shootout with the police. Or you may just do everything by the book and pull of the perfectly stealth crime. It’s pretty fluid, and you can play it any way you want (and the missions over and over again).
There are two main interesting game mechanics that make this game good. The first is threatening people. If your goon has a gun and is threatening enough, any one in sight of their weapon will surrender. Now, while that sounds normal, the thing that makes this better is that you gain control of that person as long as they feel threatened. You can make them use their inventory, drop things, open things, etc. As long as they feel threatened (stay in sight of your intimidating thug and his weapon), you can control the hostage. This strategy is extremely helpful. It kind of helps you can make threatened people act as bullet shields, for example.
The other mechanic is the ability to slow down time for a bit to map out your plan and to give people multiple orders to follow. While you might remember Rainbow Six as the game where you meticulously plotted every move and every callsign/go point, The Masterplan is a little more elaborate. Goons can interact with about 90% of their environment. They can pick locks; crack safes; take money or other things; turn off lights and alarms; and basically disable cameras on the CCTV system. They can also shoot or knock out everyone they meet in the game, which can go against you if you are not careful or get click happy. Combine that with the slow down feature and everything gets to be a lot of fun.
You also get a large choice of weapons, tools and goons to choose from. It hinges mostly on how much cash you can steal from every mission before you have to bail that hinders your expansion. The best stuff is the most expensive, but eventually, you’ll want the best stuff just to survive a job. Goons aren’t free, and as you get great goons with super skills, you won’t want to waste them or the money it took to hire them. You start thinking more strategically, trying to react to situations that can randomly pop up. Again, being able to take control over people who have guns pointed at their heads is an essential part of that strategy. Be careful, though – the police are difficult to fight, and killing people is largely frowned on by the society you interact with (did I mention the police are super hard to beat?)
The graphics are fairly old-school 2D, with a top down perspective on the entire game. It’s what you expect from an Indie game developer, give or take 10%. Graphics do what they set out to do – pull the player into the period using pixel art and other crazy methods. The sound is good, and the music is very funky. You definitely get a 70’s vibe from the game, and I found it soothing to be doing something other than harvesting or extensive fishing. Stuffing bags of money in the back of a van or a goon’s pockets is somewhat cathartic, and I found it funny or frustrating how many ways one can foul up a mission. This game is not only fun, challenging and somewhat out-there in graphics, but it is also very HARD. You’ll spend a lot of time going back to maps to try and scrounge up every last penny to perfect your team. Which will change.
Which brings me to the downsides of this game. Pathfinding for goons and civies isn’t great. It can be downright frustrating to plan the perfect heist and then have someone go the long or wrong way to the objective. While the graphics are intentionally retro, sometimes it’s not clear what you can and can’t interact with without slowing everything down and panning across the screen repeatedly looking for hints. The game has no OPTIONS menu – I can’t adjust the window or the graphics, or the sound. Which is one volume the ENTIRE time. It can get annoying after a while. The game can crash from time to time, although not very often. I hear there is a patch coming to fix that, though.
All in all, I liked The Masterplan. It is what it is, and it’s clever even that way. Even if it is a weird Indie game, I think people will enjoy running their own little crime syndicate, pulling off heists over and over again. At least watch some videos of people playing it to get some idea if you are on the fence, because it might just be your thing.
Nathan is a 40-ish year-old gamer, father and programmer. His hobbies are board games, video games and watching his son. He wrote for http://www.ironmanmode.com/ for the years of 2012 and 2013 to make money for Child's Play. He has been basically playing games since the 1980's in one form or another. His very first favorite video game was actually an arcade game called Dig Dug. He has played every generation of video game console (including the Magnavox Odyssey)