There’s something cathartic about being a sneaky bastard. Ghosting in to a secure facility and pilfering what you can before slipping away unseen is tense and thrilling and has compelled gamers for decades. From Thief: The Dark Project to more recent indie darlings such as Invisible Inc, fans of stealth games are used to a high standard. Sadly, Filthy Lucre fails to deliver this to the PlayStation 4.
Filthy Lucre is the debut project from Manchester-based indie developer Fabrik and sees you tasked with recovering the ill-gotten fortune of a notorious London gangster. To this end you’ll be breaking into drug labs, penthouse suites and bank vaults of a rival gangster and hoovering up any shiny objects you can get your dirty mitts on. Each of Filthy Lucre’s 15 levels has a primary target, which may be a painting, valuable documents etc, and several secondary targets that give you a cash and experience boost if you escape with them.
Between you and your score are security cameras and guard patrols. Cameras can be disabled by finding the appropriate terminal to hack and guards can be disabled with bullets, knives, crossbow bolts and a good old fashioned stealthy take down. As you earn experience and advance in level you’ll unlock plenty of weapons and gear ranging from noise makers, remote hacking tools and throwing knives to silenced pistols and assault rifles. You’re limited to a loadout of two weapons and two pieces of equipment though, so I found myself something that worked early on and then stuck with it. Even then, equipment, ammunition and weapons are scattered all over the level so you’ll always have something on hand.
The biggest problem with the gear-based progression system is that you cannot hide bodies until you are level 10, and even then it comes in the form of a finite magical gadget that makes bodies disappear. The body hider (That’s its name. No seriously.) gates a quintessential stealth mechanic. Being able to dump corpses or unconscious guards is an important part of the stealth experience but for the early game of Filthy Lucre you’re forced to not only wait for a guard to turn his back on you, but to wait for them to be stood in that prime location that means they will never be spotted once you’ve dealt with them. Now you could say that stealth games are all about patience and you’d be right, but this is just a pain in the arse.
The rails come off the whole stealth experience in Filthy Lucre once you realise just how inept the guard AI is and how much leeway you get with heat. Guards will find corpses, you can be caught by the CCTV and still the alarm will not be raised. On the first bank level I murdered four guards with an unsuppressed submachine gun and nobody seemed to notice. I’ve kicked doors in only for the guard within to remain oblivious to my presence.
It seems strange for a game that prides itself on making the decision between a tactical approach or all-out assault should give such little consequence for going loud. It’s just quicker. More often than not you can just murder your way to the target and escape before re-enforcements arrive. While your character is quite fragile, your regenerating health means that only the most heavily armed guards pose any serious threat. Not helping matters is the bounty of grenades, guns and ammunition you’ll find on each level. Why impose limits on equipment use and then have the player wading through gear from room to room? You can only carry two clips for your pistol, but there will be up to half a dozen easily accessible ammo crates. When every restriction imposed on the player is done by half measure you don’t feel any sense of satisfaction for getting through each level.
Many of Filthy Lucre’s levels lack challenge and can be breezed through. The exceptions to this are the bank levels, which are much more heavily guarded. These pose a genuine challenge, but the spike in difficulty compared to the levels that lead up to them is jarring. A gradual increase in difficulty that encourages you to utilise different techniques and gear as you progress would surely have been better. As it is though, only a smattering of the 15 levels provide any sort of challenge.
The final self-defeating design choice I’ll mention are the secondary targets. Each of these is worth grabbing for the experience boost, but the longer you spend on the level the more likely you are to be discovered. You’ll have to engage more guards, bypass more security etc. It’s classic risk/reward. Don’t get too greedy if you want to make it out alive. The problem is that you can replay levels whenever you want without consequence, so you can focus on the primary target on your first run through and then hit the secondary objectives on a subsequent run. It renders the whole thing redundant.
Filthy Lucre fancies itself as a marriage between stealth and action, but what we have is a hollow and shallow experience that doesn’t provide a thoughtful stealth adventure or blistering action. The end result rather tepid.