Review: Vandals24 Apr 2018 0
Released 12 Apr 2018
Have you ever asked yourself what the lovechild of Hitman Go and Sega’s classic Jet Set Radio would look like? Well, if you ask me it could go one of two ways: On one hand, suited vigilante assassins would be on a mission to take out graffiti spraying skater dudes. Or, the stealthy turn-based mechanics of Square Enix’s Go series would be combined with the goal of spraying tags rather than bullets.
The designers of Vandals have opted for the far less bloody second option, placing the player in the sneakers of a graffiti artist who is keen to make their mark on the scene. Graffiti, or street art if you prefer, is a rather contentious issue; for every Banksy, there are a million annoying little scallywags happily spraying anatomically inaccurate male reproductive organs on your garden fence. Thankfully, Vandals takes a much more academic approach to the subject. As you make your way through the game, chances are that you will learn a lot about the history of street art and its most famous protagonists.
The game is set across five famous cities and spans sixty puzzling levels. Each city is depicted at a time of social unrest and upheaval. We begin in Paris during the student riots of 1968 before witnessing the social hardship of 1970’s New York. Other stops on our globetrotting tour include 1980s Berlin and Sao Paulo before we finally end our artistic odyssey in Tokyo.
Your task on each level is to reach a specific destination, maybe a nice big wall or the side of a subway train. You then need to get creative with your cans before escaping into the night. If you have already played any of the games in the Go series such as Hitman Go or Lara Croft Go then you will instantly feel at home. You move around the level from spot to spot by tapping or swiping the screen and must reach your goal whilst avoiding arrest. Thankfully, the police behave and react in predictable patterns and can be avoided by using tried and tested distraction techniques such as blowing a whistle or throwing a bottle. Sometimes a cop may be taking a nap, but more vigilant law enforcers will patrol set paths, forcing you to hide in bushes or drop down a manhole for a quick shortcut.
Each puzzle gives players the potential to earn three stars. Two are awarded at the end of the level for finishing within the turn limit and remaining invisible to the police. The final star can be collected from a tricky place on each level map. Getting through the levels should not be too much of a challenge but earning three-star ratings considerably ramps up the required brainpower. Also scattered around the levels are small icons that when collected will give access to a snippet of illustrated history. These are interesting and informative, ranging from the history of prehistoric cave paintings to short biographies of the most renowned street artists.
When you reach the target location you get the chance to showcase your skills and maybe even join the ranks of illustrious street artists. A simple art utility allows you to come up with your own artistic creations and you can also lay your tag over the top in a number of different graffiti style fonts. Your works of art can then be shared on social media if that is your thing. You only have the most basic of design tools available to create these works of art, and beware, as the erase tool immediately wipes your entire masterpiece. Creating your own designs is not only very thematic but it is also anarchically satisfying to spray your own work on the side of a building.
Graphics are rather simple and stylised, with little to differentiate between the different geographical locations. They use a restricted and moody palette of blues and greys, which, I guess, is in keeping with your clandestine activities. The soundtrack also has a cool sneaking-about-afterhours vibe. It is pleasant enough but still feels like a missed opportunity. It would have been cool if the different soundtracks had been better tailored to represent the different eras. I would have loved a Krautrock inspired soundtrack for the Berlin Level.
The Go series with its simple, responsive controls and small self-contained levels has always been a perfect fit for mobile play. How long the game will maintain your interest levels will depend upon how determined you are to strive for three-star ratings. If you are merely happy to spray and then scarper then the levels will flash by very quickly. I felt a little deterred from gunning for three stars by the unforgiving lack of an undo feature. It can be really frustrating to meticulously plan and time your route through a level only for one false move to send you right back to the beginning. After a while, the realisation that the game is very linear and quite repetitive will soon have your enjoyment levels dwindling
Although Vandals is a stylish offering, with lashings of street credibility, it still feels uncomfortably close to the games that inspired it. To me, it seems ironic that a game paying homage to a trailblazing subculture, that is full of innovation and energy, doesn’t really have an identity of its own. It feels like the principal aim of the developers was to tell the history of graffiti and Square Enix’s Go style of gameplay presented a convenient canvas. Representing a much maligned and misunderstood culture is a worthy endeavour, it is just a pity that the game feels so derivative and lacking any real spark of originality. If the theme appeals then Vandals makes a fine introduction to this stealthy puzzle-driven gameplay but it doesn’t introduce anything new for players already familiar with Hitman, Lara Croft or Deus Ex variants that are already available.