The 1970s played host to a number of important events in history, from the Watergate scandal to the death of Elvis Presley. It was also a decade of unique fashions and trends that remain ingrained in our collective consciousness to this day. Flower prints, lava lamps, and funk music may still be around, but never quite like they were back then.
As you might imagine of a title advertising its “slick and groovy atmosphere,” Skilltree Studios’ upcoming Crookz: The Big Heist skips the history lessons and instead opts to style itself in the tradition of beloved Seventies kitsch. That’s not a bad thing in this case: it’s shaping up to be a fun dose of strategic thieving action, and a lot of its appeal comes from this goofy aesthetic.
The narrative of Crookz seems to primarily go for humor and style, and as such, it provides an appropriately light background for your activities: you control different members of a stylish group of thieves, who used to pull heists together until one of their number sold them out. Reuniting after five years, the sextet of playable characters decides to get revenge on the backstabber, hoping to make off with scads of loot in the process.
The early parts of the story are integrated creatively into the game’s structure; for example, the mission just before Murray two-times the group serves as the tutorial, and the reunion of the six friends takes place across multiple jobs — you start off with just two thieves and can find more in the different locations you visit. The personalities on hand seem a bit archetypal, but it’s fun to listen to their witty repartee nonetheless; if you like cheesy action movies, you’ll feel right at home with the one-liners and exchanges here.
Having the ability to select from a choice of characters naturally adds a strategic element, as each one brings a unique skill to the table: Cleopatra is the fastest, Bishop can pick locks, Rufus can knock out guards, and so on. These individual skills can also be used by buying items for your characters, meaning Cleopatra is able to take guards out as long as she has chloroform in her inventory. Picking the right team for the job is a matter of figuring out which abilities you value the most, then supplementing each thief with enough tools to complete tasks they can’t do on their own.
Actually carrying out a heist is where the majority of the strategy comes in, of course, and Crookz makes use of a helpful pause/resume feature that lets you survey the situation and build a plan before executing it. To command your team, you draw a path for each of them to move along and place nodes where they need to do specific things. Each path is color-coded based on the character, and each node gets labeled with a simple icon that serves as a reminder of what action the character will take in that space.
This system makes it very easy to survey your work and make sure your plan is sound, which is especially welcome when you consider that the game rewards quick completion. Speed is something that can only be achieved with expert multitasking on the part of your crew, and the levels seem designed to allow for a smooth-flowing operation if you manage your team effectively.
The places you’ll be stealing from are frequently a joy to look at, filled with the sort of gaudy furniture that was popular in the 1970s. It’s nice to see each room in these facilities getting a nice level of detail, too; it would have been easy for Skilltree to stick to the bare essentials or copy and paste locations willy-nilly, but each has its own identity that’s a colorful pleasure for the eyes. The funk soundtrack is another highlight, with bouncy tunes that serve as the perfect backdrop to your sneaking and swiping activities.
Crookz: The Big Heist has quite a lot going for it: a pleasing 1970s aesthetic, easy-to-use interface, and tight set of level designs are heartening evidence that that fans of strategy games will enjoy Skilltree Studios’ funky take on the genre. Style and substance don’t always go hand in hand, but so far this is looking like an exception to the rule — we think it’s got the potential to be groovy, baby. If you agree, you can join these Crookz on a PC or Mac near you when the game launches August 25.