Virgin Interactive Europe (responsible for the famous Dune) decided to return to the market with an interesting game named Heist. There have been a lot of games recently that dealt with the criminal "underworld" Games like Grand Theft Auto or the somewhat more serious Gangsters received quite a lot of attention. In Heist you have to control a group of people, or to put it more directly a group of criminals, which will have to outwit security guards in their targeted buildings and get away with their prize. To make the story more interesting, you will have to equip your men, plan the action, and perform it.
Heist is an isometric third-person game. The player controls his men RTS-style. During the game you will have a chance to hire certain "experts" and include them in your team. This will be crucial in some missions. Every new member of the team will enhance team stats for a certain skill. The recruited gang members possess several characteristic skills: weapons skill, electronics, lock picking, health, and speed. It is easy to guess that a hacker won't handle his guns with highest proficiency, and that a hardened battlefield veteran won't be able to do much against sophisticated thermal cameras and digital alarms.
The central character of the plot is Jimmy "The Gent" Conway who uses burglaries as a cover for far more important business he does for his mysterious boss who got him out of jail. Each mission takes place in a different city and you will always have to perform several sub-quests (like meeting your contact) before you start with the actual mission. Sometimes, you'll just have to steal something; sometimes you'll have to rescue someone. All the locations are quite vivid with a lot of people and cars passing by.
As this is a game about robberies, you'll mostly be interested in buildings like seven-eleven's, tech-shops, casinos and banks. Basically, you're after merchandise that pays well, regardless of where it came from. Each building has its own security system, respective to the type of the building and the value of loot within. Most of the time, you'll be seeking for the right place to ransack, as each new member of the team makes at least one more location possible for break-in.
Each building has security personnel, security devices, locks and safes. Every one of your characters will prove particularly useful in dealing with specific obstacles: the hacker will be better at removing alarms and electronic locks and the assassin will be better at getting rid of the guards. I loved the fact that the designers introduced a lot of side elements that influence actual gameplay. For instance, Your observation of a certain locality will depend on the time of the day, and the more time you spend at it, the more suspicious the guards will get, and they'll probably kick you out and bring some reinforcements. The developers introduced two bars that indicate how much time you have to observe or ransack the place before they kick you out or sound the alarm. The amount of time will depend on the skill of your team. If the alarm goes off, the building will soon be surrounded by cops, and your team will have a really hard time in getting their asses out of there. The more "heat" (the bar with the little flame) you have on you, the more suspicion you will arise in the cops and passers by. Heat wears off when you're in a hideout, and once you're cool again, you can return to the streets without having to fear that the cops would shoot you at sight. This element has been well implemented and it improves the overall game atmosphere by far.
Well, that's about all you'll see from this game, as basically all the missions look like that. And if you looked forward to performing movie-like super-robberies, you'll have to wait for some other game. You will find buildings with highly sophisticated security equipment where you'll have to equip your hacker with infra-red glasses and send him into action, but most of the game will really come down to following the two aforementioned stealth-bars and hoping your team get away unnoticed. The thrill soon wears off when you realize that you actually saw all there is to see after the first couple of missions: there will be no advanced code-hacking, stealing passwords, and meddling with weird electronic security stuff.
Planning the missions was one of my favorite parts of the game. You will have to note all the patrol routes, check out the locality, spot all security devices, and ensure means for escape. The police won't be the only one to mess with your plans: you will also have to watch out for various biker gangs, drug lords, and similar organizations with no understanding for "healthy competition". The gunfights are fairly easy. You'll just have to tell your character to take a certain weapon, and then click on the desired target. The more you click on your enemy the more bullets he'll eat. When you kill a cop, he'll leave some money and a doughnut behind him (nice touch).
The graphics aren't much, but the bystanders, cars and buildings look pretty good. The night and day cycle has been presented with interesting lighting effects.
Looking at the two status bars won't really give you all the thrills you might expect. The designers tried to achieve the effect of adrenalin-boost you get from action movies, but it seems that they failed there. In fact, mission planning and design present the most interesting part of the game, and the real action has been totally simplified, not that it doesn't feature some exciting action segments and gunfights. Heist is an interesting game, primarily because of the game concept. On the other hand, I can barely think of any reason why I would recommend it to anyone. It does feature good voice acting, but you'll soon get tired of those, as they are pretty monotonous. The dialogue windows are particularly irritating, as you cannot close them before you read the contents, even if you read it before. The game is also full of various bugs (pause the game while you're in the building, and you'll be able to rob it without being caught), and will allow you to save the game only in-between missions. I guess you should try Heist on your own, if you found anything appealing about it in this text, and decide for yourself after you finished a couple of missions.
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