Bliss is probably a word I can use to best describe my experience with Sharkpunch’s The Masterplan. As a fan of Mafia II, I always found games about gangsters fascinating — It’s a setting not many games really explore. The Masterplan takes a squad based tactical strategy approach to mafia heists, as opposed to Mafia II‘s Grand Theft Auto style gameplay, and does so rather well.
The Masterplan follows the criminal life of Joey Green: An honest working man of the 1970s turned sour by a lousy economy in the wake of the Vietnam War. Joey resorts to selling drugs on the street, but ends up getting thrown in jail as a result of Richard Nixon’s newly declared war on drugs. After breaking out, he and his brother Gregory decide to start their own gang, pulling off various heists for their own ill gotten gains. You start small, robbing places like run down bars and diners, but soon you collect intel on much larger scale theft opportunities.
The Masterplan is played from a top down perspective, and works very similarly to many squad based tactics games. You can order your characters around, have them perform actions, and you can pause the game (slow down time in this case). This type of gameplay works very well for the game’s style. Rather than just going in guns blazing, you can carefully plan out your actions, and react accordingly. Believe it or not, the most optimal heist is one where no blood is shed. Death matters in The Masterplan — if you leave bodies lying around, you’ll have to pay cleaners to hide the evidence, which detracts from your final earnings. In addition, if you lose a gang member, they’re dead for good. This adds a layer of depth and strategy to the game. In most games where the goal is to forcibly take money from people, you would usually shoot the joint up, but in The Masterplan, thinking things through and assessing your situation intelligently will lead to greater rewards.
In the game, you have to go on various heists to get money. With money, you can eventually buy weapons, and hire on more thugs to make heists easier. All of the characters pretty much play the same way, except for the hired thugs, whose health, weapon accuracy, and walking speed can vary. An interesting mechanic in The Masterplan is holding people up. If you hold a gun to someone’s face, they’ll do your every bidding, as long as you keep the gun on them. You can make them unlock doors, turn out their pockets, or lock themselves in closets. Certain characters won’t be easily persuaded though, as they feel they can outsmart you. This mechanic, again, really adds a good layer of depth to the game. It allows you to better take control of your situation, and keep things from going south. Keeping control of civilians is key, unless you want the cops called on you.
The missions in The Masterplan are very nicely made and rather diverse. Some missions will require you to simply loot a cash register, and some require you to break into a safe. One mission even has you rob an arcade and steal thousands of dollars in quarters. The missions slowly get more and more complex and interesting, and it really makes the game that much more entertaining. You get a feeling that you’re quickly moving up in your career, taking on more dangerous jobs and reaping greater rewards. The game quickly becomes challenging, but in a good way. It really requires you to make good judgement calls and make sure that all your Ts are crossed.
One instance of this involved me hitting a small convenience store. I had everything perfectly set up. I had stolen a key to get into the back room and hit the safe. Unfortunately, I had neglected to notice that one more customer was still left in the store, and I didn’t think to use the store key to lock the front doors. He quickly escaped as I kept the store clerk at gunpoint with one character while sending the other to break into the safe. The civilian promptly called the police, complicating my mission substantially. Afterwards I had laughed at myself for being so stupid as to overlook something that simple. You can’t fool around in The Masterplan, all of your bases have to be covered unless you want a shootout on your hands.
Unfortunately, pulling off the perfect heist can be problematic because of how the game controls. Everything is done with the mouse — you click on a character to select him (or drag a box to select more than one at once), and right click to perform actions. You can also right click on a character to open their inventory. In the heat of the moment, this can get rather cumbersome. It would be nice if there were some keyboard shortcuts so that you wouldn’t have to constantly click on a bunch of stuff, especially if you’re in a hurry. Often times I’d end up misclicking and doing something completely different.
Another small annoyance is pathfinding. Pathfinding is how characters are programmed to find the optimal path to the location you tell them to move to. A lot of the times my characters would take the scenic route to a location. One time I had a character standing in front of an open door, I told him to go through, and rather than going through the door in front of his face, he opted to go all the way around the building and enter another open door in the back. This kind of stuff can really make missions stressful, and it happened more often than I would have liked.
The graphics and sound in The Masterplan are decent. The graphics are cartoony, but at the same time, have a nice polish to them. The sound effects play a big role in the game: Being able to hear footsteps to figure out where characters are situated in a building can really lend a hand in pulling off a heist successfully. The soundtrack to the game, however, is probably my least favorite. The tracks are very catchy at first, but quickly become incredibly repetitive. I swear there are only three or four songs in the entire game that just loop every 10 seconds. While the music does compliment the style of the game, it definitely falls flat in the variety department.
The Masterplan is a challenging and entertaining tactical heist game that really does its job well. The gameplay is addicting and really allows you to think, the levels are very well made, and the thrill of pulling off a perfect heist is just great. The controls and pathfinding can prove to be problematic, and the soundtrack gets very grating very fast, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t stop the game from being a heck of a good time.
A press copy of The Masterplan was provided by Sharkpunch for the purpose of this review