The Golden Heist

by George Lockett and Rob Thorman


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Number of Reviews: 8
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1-8 of 8

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Outfoxing Nero is, happily, as fun as you'd expect, January 27, 2022
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2021

I'm always a bit leery of ancient-history or mythology entries in IFComp, because I worry I'll have to know a lot about said history or mythology. Usually, though, I'm proven wrong, and GH was no exception. It deserved the high placing it got, and I'm disappointed I didn't really revisit it before posting this review.

Because this is one of those entries that you just like from the start. So many heists or heist movies rely on crazy technology or gadgets, and--well, that's the case with one of your three companions (inventor, sneak or fighter). But the focus is more on contacting your person on the inside and cashing in on favors your family gained when your father built Nero's huge decadent palace. These days, well, your fortunes are reduced. So you need to rob Nero's vaults and get out. Seems easy enough, since nobody likes Nero, but on the other hand, everyone has good reason to fear him.

Of course there are complications. This is one game I wish I'd seen sooner so I could have looked at more paths through. I can't really speak for historical accuracy, but I appreciate that they didn't take something too obscure, and they didn't put in too many gross details about Nero's legendary overindulgence. I had no clue how many characters were real and who was added for flavor. I wasn't particularly worried. Those that appeared, like the Captain of the Guard, often knew me or my companion, and I saw connections as to how they would maybe interact with others I might take in the future. And a few surprise twists made sense--there are a few once you get in the vault!

The dialogue's also very good. It could easily fall into "look at us, we're making fun of cocktail parties," but the tension of looking for the right person to say the code-phrase to helps avoid that. The misdirection and potential false positives make for quite a story, and thrown into all this is how your companion has made enemies at the party.

I took Fabricius, the inventor, and he seemed to have the right amount of "do I have to" and "you can't make me" and even pushed back when I asked for hints, which worked far better than a fourth-wall voice saying "Are you sure you want to X?" Fabricius had some crazy ideas, too, and I did so want to try them out to see how they'd fail, but then I didn't want the story to end early. Hooray for save points to revisit later. While his storyline was surreal and had an anachronism, that anachronism worked!

A scan of the game text, along with the authors' postmortem, suggests a balance to each of the three companions and how you deal with them that makes things replayable. I wish I'd spent more time doing so before this review was up, but the gist is--there are several bad ends, and you can ditch them or be ditched. Incompetence can be punished, and your choices along the way also affect what happens.

The story makes liberal use of timed text, which you can thankfully click, and I also found the music pleasant and unobtrusive. It doesn't call attention to itself, and it changes just right.

I escaped with nothing but the knowledge I'd performed a successful heist, and yet I'd had my fill of excitement and entertainment. I panicked when I had a priceless relic, because I figured I'd be arrested for just having it. I guess that is why I have to rely on games like this instead of becoming an actual criminal. GH is as impressive as its first impression, and it ended too quickly for me, which was a surprise since I played it near the end of the IFComp gauntlet and was just trying to get through all the games. That speaks to how entertaining it was for me.

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A classical romp, December 7, 2021
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2021

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review posted to the IntFict forums during the 2021 IFComp. My son Henry was born right before the Comp, meaning I was fairly sleep-deprived and loopy while I played and reviewed many of the games, so in addition to a highlight and lowlight, the review includes an explanation of how new fatherhood has led me to betray the hard work the author put into their piece)

Iím a firm believer in playing games in the random order that the Comp page spits out. Sure, itíd be easy and immediately-rewarding to jump around looking for games from authors I know and picking the ones with blurbs that immediately appeal. But that would mean I wouldnít give as much attention to games by new or lesser-known authors, and would probably make me burn out on getting through the full Comp, since Iíd be front-loading the stuff Iím likely toto dig and backloading games that might take more of an effort to play. With that said, I am only human, and every Comp, thereís a game or two that strikes my fancy right off the bat, leaving me to furtively scroll down, drool over the blurb, and anticipate the moment when I finally get to play.

Reader, since October first Iíve been jonesing to dig into The Golden Heist, since it seems laser-targeted to appeal to my interests. Iím a sucker for a good heist, and the record will show Iím quite a fan of lightly-comic Classical settings (ahem). And Iíve long wanted to visit the ruins of the Domus Aurea Ė while I havenít managed it yet, I have walked past the entrance while pestering my wife with fun facts about it (she really appreciated that, Iím sure). So while I think this is a fun, well-designed game that anyone will enjoy, you might want to take the following rave review with a grain of salt given how many of my buttons it manages to hit.

To be successful, The Golden Heist needs to walk a tightrope between breezy accessibility and historical grounding Ė anyone drawn in by the specificity of the premise is going to want to see the game reflect what we actually know about this time and place in early-Imperial Rome, but at the same time, a heist needs zippy dialogue, narrow escapes, and surprise reversals that canít be too indebted to plodding realism. Itís a tough balance to strike, but the game manages it really well, with incidental details about things like the fire hazards endemic to ordinary life in Rome lightly scattered throughout the story. The take on Nero, too, is pretty pulpy, but I think is closely modeled on the portrayal in Suetonius (whether or not the dishier bits of the Twelve Caesars were anything other than scurrilous gossip is whole separate question).

Of course, the player needs something to do in this well-realized setting, which brings us to the heist. Itís all well-motivated Ė your father was an architect who helped build Neroís new golden palace, but was cruelly cast aside after an injury, so now youíre out to rob the place blind as an act of revenge that will incidentally make you rich Ė and while thereís not much of a separate planning phase, which is something I enjoy in these kinds of stories, you do get to choose one of three mutually-exclusive partners for the caper and bring their particular specialty (fists, wits, or brains) to bear. I went with charming rogue Felix Ė he seemed lucky Ė which had a major impact on how things played out, both lending his talents to overcoming some of the obstacles we encountered and adding some complications of his own, as some of his past swindles caught up with him at the wrong time.

The heist itself plays out as a series of obstacles that need to be confronted in sequence, from making your way in (I had the choice to blag in the front or sneak in the back) to connecting with a contact to setting up your distraction to the light puzzle-solving required to get into the vault, and climaxing with the desperate rush to escape once things go inevitably pear-shaped. While the tone stays breezy (and bringing Felix along set up some pretty good jokes, including his threatening bluff that the main characterís a Macedonian known as Alexander the Great With His Fists), thereís definitely a ratcheting up of tension.

Iím not sure whether itís possible to have to abort the heist early if things go too wrong, but it certainly feels like there are degrees of success or failure that have consequences later, especially in the push-your-luck escape bit. I have to confess that my run was more Benny Hill than Danny Ocean, with a few small missteps in the opening cascading into big problems on the way out. Still, I managed to get away with a reasonable chunk of loot (though the game seemed to think Iíd lifted Neroís golden lyre when Iíd actually left it behind), and Iím eager to replay post-Comp to see if I can do any better. And given how big a role Felix played, Iíd imagine that picking one of the other sidekicks would feel like a substantially new experience.

There are certainly some parts of the game that donít work as well as the rest Ė in particular, the puzzle to unlock the vault feels too adventure-gamey to me Ė plus there are a couple typos, and itís a little disappointing not to have the larger cast and cross-cutting of scenes that you sometimes get in heist stories. Still, even discounting the way the setting and vibe play to my preferences, Golden Heist is a fun, fleet piece of work that lived up to my high expectations.

Highlight: Picking just one is really hard, but I did especially enjoy the bonkers way the running-away portion of the heist played out, with priceless treasures of the Julio-Claudians bouncing across the marble floors.

Lowlight: Iíve refrained from mentioning it so far, but much of the gameís text is timed, fading in sentence by sentence. It comes in pretty quickly, but still, why must authors do this?

How I failed the author: While I was 2/3 of the way through the gameís major puzzle, Henry woke up hard from a long nap, with a dirty diaper, a gas back-up, an empty stomach, and a nose stuffed with boogers. Seeing to all that took quite a bit of time, but itís a testament to how much I dug this game that I felt like Iíd barely missed a beat when I came back to it.

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A friendly Roman romp, November 5, 2021
by Rachel Helps (Utah)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2021

I enjoyed this short game where you steal from Nero's palace. You can choose from three companions and they change the narrative considerably. Parts of the game are randomized with each playthrough. There was one puzzle which I couldn't solve on my own, but an in-game helper made it so I didn't stop playing because of it. The background music is very cool.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
You have to rob the emperor, October 31, 2021

What I liked about this game is that it builds very well to its climax. It is well-paced enough that you feel you have earned it when you make it to your destination. I played through twice with two different accomplices. On my first go-around, I thought my choices were what led to my success. However, the second try was so similar that it felt like nothing I did mattered. Even when I made reckless choices during a critical stretch, things turned out the same. The walkthrough seems to confirm this. Given that the mission is supposed to be incredibly difficult and dangerous, I was hoping there would be mistakes that could lead to failure. As it is, the first playthrough is nicely written and enjoyable to play, but once you realize your choices don't affect anything, it takes something away from what seemed like a nice challenge.

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A heist in the heart of Rome, October 27, 2021
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: About 1 hour

Your father did not die a rich man, despite being a talented architect who worked on building Nero's perfect palace. But he did leave you with something of incredible value: the plans to the palace and the vault hidden inside. Now can you use them to pull off the greatest heist in Roman history?

This choice-based game, written in Ink, takes you from conception, to planning, to execution, and hopefully to escape, of your attempt to rob the emperor blind. Pick your accomplice, your entry point and improvise along the way. I feel like these games where your choices feel like they should matter in the outcome can go either way. Sometimes you will take a path that seemed fine from all the clues you were given (or weren't along the way) and you'll end up dead through no fault of your own and be forced to restart if you want to make it to the end. This game is not one of those. It deftly allows you to make choices that carry a certain level of intensity to them, without (at least in my playthrough) killing you unnecessarily. The game alternates between funny and nail-biting well, while also giving you some genuine emotion too.

While I think this game did what it set out to do very well, there were a few points it could have been a little better. There was one scene transition that I didn't really follow (but you catch up quickly). There was one moment in the (Spoiler - click to show)escape scene that seemed out of place to the point that I was expecting a big surprise that never came. It didn't really fit the mood of the what had just been happening prior and the timing was off. Finally, I think the denouement went on just a touch too long.

However, I loved the humor, made it feel more like an Ocean's 11 style heist, rather than something like The Score. The soundtrack was great as well (highly recommend playing with the sound on) and helped set the mood in each scene. Finally, I loved that authors clearly had a good knowledge of Roman history. There were lots of references thrown in that really helped cement the setting for me.

Very good game, well worth your time. I will probably play it again soon.

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Rob Nero blind: if you can!, October 21, 2021
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

This is a choice game with some images and sound. In it, you play as a poor young thief whose father was the architect for Nero's palace. With the insight that gives to you, you decide to rob the place.

It seems that your choices matter quite a bit in this game. You can choose three different companions. My companion had a major effect on the story, so I can only imagine the other paths were very different. Also, the game referenced how I treated my companion and several other choices.

So there's a lot of replay value here, quality writing, good interactivity. There was some strong profanity and a few filthy-minded romans I met that put me off, so I don't plan on checking the other paths. I also learned some history from looking up things related to the game.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A heist and a half, October 17, 2021

Set in Ancient Rome during a turbulent time, this game follows a protagonist who seeks to avenge their father by facing off against a power-hungry and unpredictable emperor.

The writing, tone, and pacing are expertly carried out, with a particularly great sense of setting. I appreciate how this has the feel of a tabletop RPG campaign: the story has a fixed direction in mind, but the ways in which goals are met and obstacles are overcome vary in a tangible way based on the playerís choices.

A minor note is that I expected more negative consequences for messing up, e.g. when I wasted time talking to a couple at the party, or later missed the inside contactís secret symbol. The game fell forward almost too smoothly with not even ďclose callĒ types of consequences, which dampened the tension of the narrative somewhat.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Lovely, October 12, 2021

A beautiful piece. I especially enjoyed the background music.

The game is set in ancient Rome, during the reign of emperor Nero; your objective is to rob his palace. The description describes the game as a "comedic historical heist caper" but I would describe it as more "tense" than "comedic."

The slowly revealing text mostly annoyed me though I suppose it did help to build suspense. I wish I could control the pace of the text, because I can't imagine playing the game again while Ö waiting Ö for Ö each Ö†sentence.

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