A stealth-based puzzler that tells the story of street art.
Vandals is the latest title of motion designers, illustrators, art directors and developers at French indie studio Cosmografik and it initially excels in these areas, including the game design, succeeding where a small game should: delivering a story and telling it through an interactive medium as gameplay. Unfortunately, this declines into a dull experience after the first two hours. Vandals is available for PC, iOS and Android.
Vandals is a stealth-based isometric puzzle game that takes players on a journey through the history of street art, from its humble beginnings in Paris to its artistic and revolutionary peak of post-war Berlin and its identity metamorphosis under environments like modern New York. Players will take control of a little graffiti artist trying to avoid being seen by police officers, while at the same time achieving his goal of leaving his imprint on different walls, trains and other public structures.
Players will be able to share their own creations with the community, as Vandals lets players design their own graffitis with a short variety of colours and strokes. In this sense, the game gives us the freedom to design and paint our own signatures, stamping them in our game experience forever. Although I’m terrible at drawing and painting, there’s an undeniable value in this particular feature.
As we progress through different puzzles and cities, each level hides a secret postcard containing a piece of history on street art and a vintage photograph to depict each particular moment being described. To anyone interested in the history of graffiti, its pioneers and its most memorable moments, Vandals tells a well nurtured, curated story.
Gameplay is centered in a few movements and actions available: moving through the predetermined paths, whistling to distract guards, throwing a bottle for the same reason, cutting some metal fences in order to create shortcuts and rapidly covering large distances by using manholes. Yes, there are some other options, but there’s a really limited amount of things we’re able to do in order to complete each puzzle.
Three stars means a puzzle has been completed perfectly, if managing to use less movements than specified, collecting an optional “bonus” that translates into walking to a specific tile just for that purpose, and remaining unseen. Being spotted by a police officer will trigger him to pursue you – and if he manages to catch you, it’s game over.
And that’s about it. Even though the game gives a sense of progression by adding new map designs, obstacles and ways of interaction, Vandals is quite a shallow experience only enriched by its focus on the story of street art and its evolution through different eras, cities and cultures.
The team behind Cosmografik manages to show off their illustration and graphic design skills by delivering a sensorially attractive adventure, with a nice neon palette of colours and a well-composed synth intro soundtrack.
To me, a player that really focuses on storytelling, it was an interesting setting and concept, although not enough to keep me engaged for long. After two hours of gameplay I felt that I was repeating myself over and over, without a real sense of accomplishment or any deep thinking. Maybe that’s because I’m not a big fan of graffiti (neither a detractor), but even to its niche audience the linear gameplay and lack of real variation or introduction of new mechanics will probably generate a similar dull experience.
Even being a real fan of stealth games, Vandals kept me going for a while before realising there wasn’t much more to it than some harder puzzles and more old – albeit interesting – pictures of street art and the history of the names behind its birth, growth and evolution through our modern, digital society.