Crookz: The Big Heist
Crookz: The Big Heist is a new tactical strategy game from Skilltree Studios and the Kalypso Media Group. As the game opens up, you find yourself in control of a group of crooks, but then you’re betrayed by your handler, and you end up going to jail. Five years later, you put your crew back together, and you decide to work out why your handler turned against you, and of course exact revenge. Gathering the supplies and information necessary for this leads to several burglaries, including against museums, palatial estates, night clubs, and even a police station — not to mention the Federal Reserve.
As you work your way through the game’s 18-mission campaign, you recruit six crooks. Each crook has a collection of four skills that they can use during the missions. The locksmith can unlock doors and safes, the technician can manipulate machines and turn off video cameras, the stealth expert can walk around unseen, the strongman can subdue guards, the acrobat can leap through laser barriers (think Catherine Zeta Jones), and the leader can run fast. You can only use at most four crooks during a mission, so you have to figure out which ones are the best fit for the job. Oddly, I only used the leader when I had to, since her main skill is underwhelming.
The missions start out straightforward, where you just have to open doors and avoid cameras and guards, but then they slowly get more and more complex, and you have to coordinate what your crooks are doing. For example, early on you might only need to have your locksmith pick open a door to go through, but then later you might need to toggle laser barriers on and off to create a route to the door, or hit a timer switch that only opens the door for a few seconds. You’re allowed to queue up commands for your crooks (including a “wait” command), and you’re also allowed to pause the game and issue commands, so coordinating your crooks is straightforward.
The interface makes it easy to play the game. You left click to select a crook and right click to give orders. If you right click on the ground, then your crook moves there. If you right click on an object (such as a door or a safe), then your crook uses the skill that makes the most sense. If you don’t want to use the default skill, then you can bring up a context sensitive menu to do something else.
Along with your crooks, you can also bring some tools with you into the missions, or find them during the missions themselves. These tools include things like keys to unlock doors, crowbars to pry open strongboxes, dynamite to blow open safes, noise emitters to lure guards to a location, and door blockers to keep doors closed. The tools give you lots of extra things you can do during the missions, like luring a guard into a closet and then using a door blocker to lock him inside, and they also mean you’re not forced to use certain crooks. For example, if there are enough keys and crowbars around, then you don’t need the locksmith.
The interface is also friendly in other ways. The vision cones for the guards are clearly shown, as are their patrol routes. If a guard spots one of your crooks, then the mission doesn’t automatically end. You just pick up some “heat,” and if the crook is able to slip away, then you can keep playing. Meanwhile, any heat you accumulate only costs you some bribe money at the end of the mission, and money isn’t much of a problem (you’re leading a bunch of crooks, after all). But if you screw up and want to repeat a sequence, the save and load times are really fast, so the game doesn’t get tedious to play.
If you’d like an analogy, the interface for Crookz makes it more Commandos than The Sting! (and it tells you something about the genre when I have to go back to the turn of the century for comparable games). The engine for Crookz is in 3D, but you generally use an isometric view, and you give orders to your team in real time rather than using “VCR controls.” Crookz can also be frustrating like the Commandos games, especially if you’re a perfectionist like me, and you want to reload your game every time you make a small mistake or figure out a way to do something slightly faster or more efficiently.
Along with the 18-mission campaign, Crookz also comes with 10 “challenge” missions, where you don’t get to choose the crooks or tools you bring with you. As the name implies, these missions are challenging, but they’re also good for learning the intricacies of the game, as you’re forced to use combinations of crooks and tools that you wouldn’t ordinarily employ, and develop new strategies as a result.
Of course, Crookz isn’t perfect. It has a variety of minor problems. I had a mission where most of my saves wouldn’t load. I had a few crashes. The dialogue is barely audible. The script and voice acting are somewhere between mediocre and awful (some of the “arguments” between the two female crooks are just cringe-worthy). When you finish a mission you get a meaningless score rather than a grade. And you earn a lot of money during the campaign, but there’s barely anything to spend it on.
But overall, I had a lot of fun with Crookz. It’s a part of a genre that I like and haven’t played in a while, and it does a lot of things right, from the interface to the goofy James Bond style campaign to the 70s theming. Between the campaign and the challenges, I spent over 60 hours with the game, and it didn’t seem like a long time at all. So if you were a fan of the Commandos games back in the day, or if you like the idea of dodging guards and disabling security devices, then Crookz is definitely a game to try out.
Reviewed By: Steven Carter
Publisher: Kalypso Media
This review is based on a digital copy of Crookz: The Big Heist for the PC provided by Kalypso Media.