One of the most instantly engaging features of Shark Punch’s The Masterplan is the truly authentic atmosphere that the whole thing manages to maintain. Right from the beginning, the neat visuals and sleazy 70s soundtrack really paint the picture of where the developers have tried to place this game. If I wasn’t ready to try my hand at a jewellery store heist before, then the opening credits certainly gave me all the preparation I would’ve needed.
The premise of this game is relatively simple, and simplicity is a lead that I wished I had followed in my early schemes, but there’ll be more on that later. Shark Punch themselves have described the game as taking influence from both turn-based titles and classic heist movies, and it’s easy to see how that blend works. Set in the U.S against the backdrop of widespread turmoil during Richard Nixon’s reign as President, there’s a true sense of despair that opens the proceedings.
Within seconds of starting, the game quickly seeks to make the distinction that its protagonist is not – necessarily – a bad guy, but rather an unlucky one who’s fallen on hard times. I say that this is not necessarily his case, because the game becomes open enough later on to allow players themselves to decide what sort of person their heist leader is. It’s the player’s prerogative to decide upon the levels of collateral damage that will follow them through the game. Those who would rather blast their way through lawmen and civilians alike are able to do so if they wish, but those choices and their consequences have to be borne.
It’s this open-ended approach that offers one of the game’s major strengths, as players have the freedom to choose between a remarkable number of approaches at each new heist location. Though the first few are small-time busts at bars and kiosks, the game later opens up into larger heists that require the completion of various objectives to reach a successful end. Players are actively encouraged to retry the numerous, sandbox-style locations to employ different tactics and seek out greater successes on return visits. This offers a great practice tool, without the hand-holding of repeated tutorials or simple training modes. Repeated heists still maintain the same dangers and hazards after multiple attempts, meaning there are no gimmes in this game.
It’s also never the case that the game always wants its players to move through the action serenely and without harming anyone. In some cases, there will be NPCs carrying items or info that – if extracted somehow – can open up other possibilities for the heist or even the game as a whole. I found myself replaying the first few missions with an extra goon in tow to see if the extra muscle could help squeeze a little extra cash out of terrified civilians and concerned shop owners. The possibilities genuinely seem endless so long as you can conceive a new approach.
Later in the game, the added muscle will become a necessity rather than a bonus, meaning that extra goons and equipment will have to be procured as you progress. The game has a neat method of employing this, with separate phone lines at the player’s dingy hideout leading to contacts who can offer up thugs and weapons respectively. Like with most things in life, you really get what you pay for when it comes to hiring and sometimes taking the cheaper options really isn’t as smart as it may seem.
Once the action gets larger then things really do start get more intense; the game’s larger maps never get too crowded to feel impossible but they are well populated enough to provide a truly tactical test. Controlling groups of goons is made easy by the simple point and click mechanics, and the addition of a slow-motion pause option is great for when things get hectic and players need some valuable extra seconds to plot their next move. Since there’s very little in the way of forward planning before each heist, the ability to think quickly and be reactive is essential in this game. I found myself stuck in more than a few unfortunate shoot-outs with police when I panicked and chose wrong options, and the game’s simplistic approach helps this feel exciting and dynamic.
The Masterplan‘s few failings are relatively minimal and fortunately never detract from the overall experience for too long. The tutorial, for example, seemed a little rushed and as a result I found myself a tad frustrated trying to figure things out in the first few heists. It was great to see that the developers wanted the action to start as soon as possible, but adding a little more depth to the early help would have been useful.
Other disappointments include the fact that repeating heists will start to feel boring as NPC behaviour only ever exists within the same spectrum, making things too easy after a couple of retries. One encouraging note with this, however, is that Shark Punch have outlined a commitment to continuing to develop this game and adding new content and so this could be addressed in a future update.
The Masterplan is the perfect heist game for anyone becoming disillusioned by the frustrating likes of GTA V. Its simple approach gives players the freedom to take on the world their own way, and the authentic sound and visuals add an atmosphere that really caps off a great experience.
This game is available for PC/Mac, and a copy was provided to us for review purposes.
The Masterplan is simple, but detailed enough to offer an authentic atmosphere to its various heists.