IF Comp 2018: LET’S ROB A BANK

bankrobLET’S ROB A BANK, by Bethany Nolan, is a choice-based game in which you pick a team of criminals – distraction, getaway driver, muscle – and, well, rob a bank. It does not go well.

There’s the germ of a good idea in here. Choosing a team of quirky specialists for a risky mission is a fun thing, and the character concepts offered trade-offs in a way that made me genuinely struggle with my picks the first time around. But the execution is pretty slight. The writing is utilitarian, the characterisation thin, and there’s little management of pacing. It’s not really aiming to be serious, but it doesn’t really click as comedy or over-the-top action either.

Most of this is because it’s very short. There’s almost no time to develop any of your accomplices beyond the descriptions you get when you choose them: the character qualities which you thought would be problems turn out to be problems. There’s no time to get invested in the protagonist, so none of the endings feel very consequential; there’s no time to feel like you have a relationship with your co-conspirators, so there’s not much weight to betraying or being betrayed. There’s no time to build tension and cringe as the plan falls apart. There’s more pressure on the writing to do something amazing because it has to make an impression so quickly. Perhaps the idea was for this to be a puzzle, a thing where you have to figure out how to get away with the money unscathed – but if so, there wasn’t enough logic to the outcomes for it to feel like a thing to be analysed and figured out, rather than brute-forced.

There are three options each for distraction, getaway driver and muscle – but one of the getaway driver options always leads to an unrelated Rocks Fall ending. This suggests that the author bit off more than they could chew.

This is a combinatorial-explosion kind of design, but I don’t think it necessarily needs a lot more options. There’s one set of fairly weighty choices at the beginning, and actually quite a high density of them throughout play. What it does need to do is make the choices after team-selection feel more impactful. You could potentially do that with slower pacing, building up to each choice – but it feels as though a lot of what this is interested in is frenetic chaos, of making bad decisions quickly.

I don’t know a whole lot about real bank holdups, but it seems as though this thing’s assumptions were derived more from videogames than movies or crime statistics. Guns get fired in pretty much all playthroughs, often as an opening gambit; people are killed off-handedly. Again, this is to some extent a function of time – the bit that this game’s interested in is the plan messily falling apart, and shooting guns is a quick way to make things messy and unpredictable. But it makes the thing feel pretty unreal.

I didn’t hate thisbut it feels like a missed opportunity. 4.

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