PAX Aus 2017: Heist manages to non lethally nab our attention

Feature article

Lethal violence is unfortunately a very prevalent theme across gaming. From the small stuff like Mario stomping a Goomba into literal dust to some of the monstrosities that creep up on you in The Evil Within. Plenty of games have offered a non lethal approach to solve problems but it’s rare for a game to take away other options and force you to walk the path paved in the least amount of blood. Well Atomizer Games plans to pair that puzzling pacifism with a classic art style in their upcoming title — Heist.

“The premise is pretty straightforward. A noir cat burglar game where the goal is to ‘get in’, ‘get it’ and ‘get out’.”

Heist was created after the team designer, Travers Dunkinson, finished playing Dishonoured and was craving more stealth action but with a less lethal outcome. As a result production on Heist begun in 2013 but after a rocky start was scrapped and started again in 2014. After a successful Greenlight campaign in 2016 the game became one of 9 games to be funded by Film Victoria.

The premise is pretty straightforward. A noir cat burglar game where the goal is to ‘get in’, ‘get it’ and ‘get out’.  Set at the peak of the 1920’s against a backdrop of organised crime and smooth jazz. You play an unnamed lone cat burglar on the hunt for infamy and riches all while avoiding spending a life behind bars.

As previously mentioned, the game focuses on a non lethal approach. The burglar will have an array of tools and gadgets at their disposal. Is your burglar a planner, slowly observing your enemy and planting traps to catch them unawares? Or perhaps you’re are a wildcard constantly causing chaos with hit and run tactics?

Some of the gadgets at your disposal include coins to distract your enemy and let you slip by, a fake gun to intimidate foes, trip wires and more, each with a unique effect on gameplay. The fact that out of an array of gadgets you can only take three means that before you even set foot onto the scene you’ll need to know what kind of burglar you’ll be.

The art style is extremely reminiscent of the Pulp Fiction noir stories that the game is inspired by. Greyscale tones effected by light sources send shadows across the stage to effectively let you know when your burglar is out in the open or concealed in darkness.

The Art Deco style of the HUD means that you’re never destroyed by too much information. The simplistic nature of the gameplay means that everything you need to know is always right in front of you. Adding to the great art style is the fantastic sound direction. The jazzy tunes that accompany your cloak and dagger actions really set the scene and amp up tension.

During my hands on time with the game I made my way through a quick tutorial that got me familiar with all the important elements of tricking guards and staying out of their line of sight. I’m a fan of stealth games and have played plenty and even I got myself caught out once or twice for being a little too confident and impatient. The most exciting part is that once you’re dropped off into the map at the entrance point you need to figure out your own way to the hidden riches and then make your own way out. This is where stealth works its best — when choice is a vital part of how the stage plays out.

I was also lucky enough to have a chat with Travers and he brought to my attention how they had deliberately worked to make the burglar as nondescript as possible mixing both male and female practicalities to the trench coat wearing mysterious stranger. Choices like this meant that the game saw a diverse range of players coming by and trying it out — the fact that the game seemed to always have someone playing it across the full three days of PAX Aus means that this choice seems to have worked like a treat.

Heist at the moment is enjoying a closed Beta but if you’d like to stay up to date with all the latest news and updates make sure to check out their website which also has links to the game’s social media.