|System: X360, PS3, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: InXile||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Codemasters||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: TBA||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Pending||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Tom Becker
April 27, 2007 - The late 1960s were a golden age of action films. Even as American art films came into their own, classic action flicks like "Bullitt" defined a genre that was more concerned with cool dialogue and amazing car chases than big ideas. It's a fast-moving, slick, visually engaging medium, and it's fertile ground for a solid adventure game. That game is "Heist," the latest sandbox-style action adventure from inXile.
The game centers on San Francisco, or a slightly compacted version of it, in 1969. The player takes the part of Johnny Sutton: veteran criminal and the latest in a proud line of highly respected miscreants. His father was even gunned down while on-the-job, so there's no denying Johnny is to the manner born. Recently released from jail, Johnny reunites with his uncle Sal and the old crew and sets about the business he knows best. Johnny must coordinate all his contacts and rob his way around the Bay Area until he takes on the big score: the San Francisco Mint.
The gameplay is essentially like any other sandbox game. The world is an open playground wherein the player can run amok either following missions in the main storyline or devoting oneself to loftier pursuits like stealing cars and driving them off parking garages. Heist takes a significant, more sophisticated turn than the average sandbox game. In order to succeed, the player must strengthen their contacts around the city to establish a reputation, develop a crew, and nurture leads on potential heists. It's more than just showing up at the Leone mansion for a mission assignment, boosting a car, and heading off to some corner of Liberty City. As the player progresses through the story, the game will adjust to their individual playing style. If you're a strongman who's short on patience and quick on the draw, you're likely to encounter more armed resistance during heists. If you're more of a smooth operator, bank employees and bystanders will be more compliant and you'll have to be more subtle to get what you want. Perhaps the biggest break from traditional sandbox games is Heist's focus on crowd control.
In order to do your job efficiently you need to be surrounded by dependable hoods who know how to keep innocent bystanders in line. It's not just the bystanders you need to keep an eye on either. You may have to slap one of your thugs upside the head if they're too busy flirting with a teller to focus on the matter at hand. Finding dependable professionals who share your robbery style is the key to this aspect of Heist. A well-controlled crowd of customers and bank tellers can mean the difference between walking right in and having to blow the doors off. There's always more than one way to get the job done, and even when alarm bells ring and security gates slam down in front of you it's not necessarily over. Once you have the loot in hand, it's time to make your getaway.
Developers at inXile claim the game is about 50 percent robbing, 50 percent driving. This is crucial to the look and feel of the game, as bank robberies and car chases go together like night follows day. Like GTA3's Liberty City, the San Francisco of Heist is a simplified, scaled down version of the real thing, designed to capture the ambience and basic geography of the place while allowing for maximum playability. There's more to driving in Heist than just getting away from the pigs. A variety of strategies can be employed to use traffic in your favor. For example, you can aid your escape by having one of your team create a traffic altercation, allowing you to slip by while the cops get stuck in gridlock. Driving is as sophisticated and integral to Heist as the robberies themselves, but a balls-to-the-wall car chase is a big part of the game. It's no mistake that Heist is set in one of the hilliest cities in the world. Many a sweet, physics-defying jump will be taken before the game is through. Playability is key here and, like a lot of sandbox games, graphics and sound take a back seat.
The game looks good, but about as good as any of the recent Rockstar games. The biggest criticism of these titles has always been that they were tremendously innovative and playable, but essentially ugly sandbox games. Heist is an improvement with its attention to the atmosphere of the time. Saarinen-style chairs fill the lobby of some banks, bellbottoms are ubiquitous, and afros abound. The focus here is clearly more about setting the tone for an open-ended experience rather than dazzling the player with an endless stream of eye candy.
Playability and re-playability are key to the long-term success of any game and represent the strongest draw of any sandbox game. Heist seems to have playability down, but it demands a bit more of the player than no-holds-barred power fantasies like Crackdown. If you're more into atmosphere, strategic gameplay, and story then Heist may just be the score you're looking for.
CCC Freelance Writer