ARTE’s new Vandals ($4) is an intriguing new turn-based puzzle game that adds an interesting twist to the genre, letting players explore the street art of five different cities while creating their own artwork and evading police along the way. Vandals incorporates a turn-based play style that’s reminded us of Hitman GO and Square Enix’s subsequent Lara Croft and Deus Ex titles, so users familiar with those games will find themselves right at home playing Vandals.
For those not as familiar with the genre, however, game play involves moving your character along a maze-like path, one step at a time. As you make each move, other characters — police officers in this case — may also move to intercept you, assuming they’ve either spotted you or heard you, meaning that you’ll need to craft a strategy to stealthily avoid them when possible, and distract them when not. In Vandals, however, there’s a slightly different objective — you’ll need to navigate to a wall on each level where you can paint your own creative work of street art, and then once you’ve done that, find your way to the exit.
Vandals is still primarily about stealth, and bonus points are given if you can manage to remain invisible to the police, although they’ll wake up and start coming to investigate as soon as they hear you spraying your creation on the wall, however as long as you don’t end up in their line of sight, you still get points for remaining invisible. Each level uses a three-star scoring system — one star for remaining invisible, one star for collecting an extra ‘bonus’ marker that’s on each level, and a final star for finishing the level in under a certain number of moves. More advanced levels will also add dogs and cameras to the mix, changing up the dynamic and presenting more challenges.
You also have some additional tricks up your sleeve to help distract the police and get them out of your way so you can make your mark and make your escape. A “whistle” will draw any police within a certain radius to your current location, allowing you to divert them away from where you want to go, and some levels also let you pick up a glass bottle that can be tossed to another location to draw the police over there. Dotted routes along your path also allow you to duck under fences and other obstacles — routes that the police won’t normally take, helping you to get around them. All of this adds a nice level of strategy to the game, and in many cases there’s more than one way to accomplish the goals in each level.
What really distinguishes Vandals from other games of this genre, however, is the artistic aspect. Once you reach the target point on each level, you’re presented with a blank wall to use as a canvas for whatever piece of street art you’d like to create, and the game goes into the mode of a rudimentary drawing app. What you spray remains on the wall for that level — even if you come back and play it agian later — and your creations can be easily saved to your camera roll or shared on social media. The game is also designed to expose players to both the creative environment and the evolution of street art in general, with actual works by iconic artists such as Keith Haring and Blek Le Rat appearing at various points in the game, which is also focused on real-world street-art-rich cities such as Paris, New York, Berlin, Tokyo and Sao Paulo.
The game also has a very nice “noir” feel to it that does a great job of drawing the player in, something that the game’s creator, Théo Le Du Fuentes, was clearly trying to emphasize, adding that the game was born out of his own street art projects with RaspouTeam, and this led to a desire to “put the stresses inherent with illegal painting, the anxiety of being caught, and of course the pleasure that is covering the urban grey in bright, volatile pigments, into a video game.” The background soundtrack, and the subtle use of color actually gives the game a very relaxing and laid back style; it has a similar feel to Framed, but as a pure strategy game, it has an ever more “chess-like” meditative approach.