I love heist movies. I also love video games. I have no earthly idea why it wasn’t until last week that I tried playing a heist video game. The Marvellous Miss Take had been on my wishlist for a while now, partly because it looked fun and partly because it appeared to be a video game starring a woman. The price was the only thing holding me back, but when it showed up in a Humble Bundle, I finally pounced on it. And, quite swiftly, fell in love with it.
The basic story of the game centers around a young woman named Sophia Take, whose late great-aunt’s fabulous art collection has ended up in the hands of vile billionaire Ralph Blackstock due to some dodgy business surrounding the will. What’s a girl to do? Well, steal it all back, naturally! Gallery by gallery, Sophia sets out to reclaim all of her great-aunt’s stolen art, and picks up a few sidekicks along the way: Harry, a painter turned gentleman art thief who has a few tricks to show her, and Daisy, a snarky teenage pickpocket who couldn’t give a toss about the law. (Did I mention they’re in London?)
The trio’s members only ever work solo, so there’s a lot of replaying the same levels as different characters, but their vastly different abilities and objectives remove any sense of repetitiveness. Yet despite this separation, the brief, humorous speech bubble dialogue between heists gave all of the characters a surprising amount of charm and depth. I quickly fell in love with this little family of friendly thieves.
Every aspect of this game is just so slick. It ran like a dream even on my poor, aging laptop. The colors and design are cartoony and charming—think miniaturized Team Fortress 2, but with less blood and gore. The steal-able art objects are all easy to spot by the way they sparkle, the guards’ and cameras’ fields of view are neatly shown with transparent colored overlays, and the minimal HUD tells you just what you need to know without getting in the way.
The game is entirely point-and-click, no keyboard interaction necessary, and gameplay feels very effortless. Each of the three characters has different styles and objectives: Sophia strikes in broad daylight, sauntering through the gallery and picking up both regular art and treasured masterpieces; Harry, who walks with a cane, creeps in at night to collect what’s left over, using darkness and distraction to make up for what he lacks in speed; and Daisy comes in after the patrons have left, swiping keys from the unsuspecting guards and unlocking safes that contain valuable intel on the nefarious Blackstock.
I think the single best decision made in the design of this game was to randomize the movements of the guards. Perhaps that’s controversial to say—I certainly saw a lot of comments online from people complaining about this very feature—but for me, it’s a huge part of what made the game such a joy to play. One of my greatest frustrations with stealth games is the feeling that when faced with guards moving in a set series of patterns, I completely lose my nerve and have to crouch in a blind spot for ten minutes trying to memorize their movements until I can figure out the one conceivable way to get past them. Miss Take removes that hide-and-plan element by giving the guards no fixed patterns; while they have predictable habits that you grow familiar with as you play, their overall movement in the game is half-random and half-affected by your own movement through the galleries.
By removing that sit-and-plan part of the puzzles, the game forces normally overcautious players like myself to take chances and dart around the game in a way that fits your own playstyle, rather than simply executing the same series of maneuvers until you pass the level. Your mileage may vary, but I thought the Wonderstruck developers managed to hit exactly the right balance of predictability and randomness to make stealth fun again. Best of all, the levels are rarely more than a few minutes long, and split into two stages with a halfway fallback point. When you fail, you’re never sent farther back than the beginning of whatever half you’re in. When you succeed … well, the thrill is fantastic. Like getting away with a million-dollar art theft. Er, or so I’d imagine.
To my disappointment, this appears to be the only game produced so far by Wonderstruck (apart from a rather gorgeous-looking MMO Minecraft clone called Oort), but I’ll be keeping an eye on them in future—and it looks like they’re still releasing updates for Miss Take from time to time. And I’m definitely hooked on the heist games genre. I even finally got around to changing my year-old desktop wallpaper to prove it. So long for now, Red from Transistor. Hello and welcome, Sophia Take.