Picklock is a stealth game developed and published by Deqaf Studios. I played the game on the Nintendo Switch, although it is also available on PC through Steam. I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the game free from No Gravity Games for the purpose of this review. On first look, I was excited to jump into the shoes of a notorious thief, Picklock. The wrong side of the law can be a great area for games to explore, especially when the core gameplay revolves around stealth mechanics. So let’s talk about how well Deqaf Studios was able to help the eponymous thief stay undetected.
Story – The Birth of Picklock, Master Thief
The game starts with our “hero”, Picklock, currently a reformed thief, returning from an exhausting day of honest work. The tedium of his day has clearly taken a toll on him, a feeling I personally found very relatable. What I didn’t find quite as relatable was Picklock’s choice to return to the world of crime. Aided by the local pawn shop owner, we set off on a quest to hit the big time by whatever means necessary. At this point, the story got a bit confusing for me. The opening cutscene we just saw looks like it takes place in the present tense. But when I read the first mission briefing, it was written in the past tense. It doesn’t take anything away from the gameplay, but it did raise some questions about the story. I came to understand later that the game takes place in the present, but that just makes the error on the first briefing even more bizarre.
But it was always very clear what my missions were and why I was undertaking them. I thought the town map used as a level selection screen did a great job of fleshing out the world. It shows the location of each mission, as well as the town’s local bar and nightclub. It also included a few places to spend the money I’d made, like a store to upgrade Picklock’s car or house. The map gives a great sense of where these places are in relation to each other and help to explain how Picklock gets such a big reputation after only a few robberies. That also helps to explain why levels increase in difficulty as people around town step up their security. But despite all this, the guards in each location never seemed to notice that the valuable items I’d taken were missing. I thought it was inconsistent that the game stepped up security, but not the difficulty of the guards.
Gameplay – Our Hero’s Biggest Hurdle
Even though the guards didn’t make the game much harder, the controls certainly did. Initially, the gameplay reminded me of Serial Cleaner, also available for the Switch. But Picklock’s map and control systems fall far short of those in Serial Cleaner. It took me nine out of 13 levels to get the hang of moving my character effectively. In early levels, I kept finding myself bumping into things and stalling, which isn’t something you want when a guard is rounding the corner. The overzealous camera controls frustrated me as well. Because of the high sensitivity, I found myself trying to make slight camera turns only to do a complete 180, facing the opposite wall. Issues like that made seeing the map very difficult at times, particularly in smaller rooms. I sometimes overlooked items I was supposed to steal because of my poor vantage point, forcing me to double back for them later.
There were also a few choices, in-game mechanics, and UI that were hard to understand. I was very disappointed by the lack of any sort of lockpicking mechanic. With a game named after the task, I expected an interesting way to get past the locks. But all lockpicking, safe cracking, and camera disabling happen automatically after a quick prompt. Then, once the security cameras are disabled, their line of sight still appears on the UI, forcing me to check each camera manually by walking in front of it. That’s the sort of risk players shouldn’t have to take to see the result of their actions. There was also a puzzle I could only solve by leaving the level once I’d started it to talk to someone in the hub world. I then had to restart the level afterward. Small puzzles like this are more than welcome in a stealth game, but I felt this one, in particular, was poorly implemented. But the worst offenders were the bugs I encountered in movement and enemy detection. There weren’t many, but they were present. Once I even had to exit to the home menu to allow button inputs again.
Graphics and Music – Steal the Scene
Though the game may be unpolished, the music is a particular high point. The jazz tune on the title screen fits the game perfectly. It had me excited to sneak past guards and cameras to find my big score. The music during levels is similarly jazzy. The song repeats after only a short time, but it’s infectious, staying stuck in my head long after I’d put the game down. The graphical style suits the game well. If I’d been able to control the camera and character better, the isometric viewpoint would have been a great asset. Once I found a good camera angle, the style helped me orient myself within the rooms, making it much easier to navigate. I also thought the isometric viewpoint worked well with the voxel style of the characters.
The Importance of Localization
One unfortunate factor in Picklock is the dialogue that seems to have been lost in translation. Deqaf is a Russian indie studio, so naturally, the game had to be translated and reworked for an English speaking market. The translation is very noticeable in this particular game. There are some strange word choices and syntax errors that had me rereading text to figure out what it meant. If a native English speaker checked over the game, I’m certain this wouldn’t be an issue. I also found a few typos, like words that had letters in the wrong places. Indie game development is notoriously difficult, so I can’t fault Deqaf for not using professional localization. But it is worth pointing out that the issues present here took away from my experience.
I played Picklock on the Nintendo Switch. No Gravity Games provided a free copy of the game for the purpose of this review.