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Video Game / Heist: The Crime of the Century

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Opening scene

Heist: The Crime of the Century is an Interactive Fiction (text adventure) game written by Andy Phillips (his second following Time: All Things Come to an End) and published in 1997.

As the name implies, the game revolves around a heist - several in fact - and puts the player in control of a young woman named Elaine. When attending her hated Uncle Henry's funeral, Elaine is approached by a mysterious man who offers her a letter from the recently deceased. It seems Henry was a master thief and wishes Elaine to follow in his footsteps. To do so, she must pull off a series of daring thefts (and solve many puzzles along the way), before going after the ultimate prize: the Crown Jewels of Denario in the National Depository vault.

While not as linear or difficult as the author's first game, Heist still rates as cruel on the Zarfian forgiveness scale because of some very hard puzzles and certain situations that can easily put the game into a permanently unwinnable state.

The game was a finalist for two 1997 XYZZY awards: Best Puzzles and Best Individual Puzzle (setting the digital clock). More information on the game can be found at Interactive Fiction Database.

Heist: The Crime of the Century contains examples of:

  • Anti-Frustration Features: Each scenario is independent. At the start of each heist Elaine only has her trademark gloves, and any items needed to solve puzzles are found within that particular scenario.
    • Not that solving the puzzles within those scenarios is easy.
  • Anti-Hero: The central character is a thief.
  • Bank Robbery: The final heist at the National Depository.
  • Booby Trap: Stealing from the tomb of the nefarious female pirate was never going to be easy. A working knowledge of Roman numerals is required to bypass a trapped door.
  • Book Ends: The game begins and ends with a message from your deceased Uncle Henry.
  • Bookcase Passage: A creepy mansion? A breeze from a bookcase? It's obvious there's a secret passage, but the question is how to open it. Answer: The change channel button on the TV remote control.
  • Camera Spoofing: A polaroid punk variant involves using an instant picture camera to take a snapshot of a museum display case and using the photo to fool the surveillance system.
  • Classy Cat-Burglar: Elaine develops into one as the game progresses.
  • Cranky Landlord: An early puzzle involves getting past a pesky landlady to gain access to Uncle Henry's apartment. She's prepared to accept flowers as a token of respect, but only once they've been gift wrapped (which requires polythene and ribbon).
    • Once that's done you must break in, create an alternative access route so you can return later, and get out before the landlady becomes suspicious. There's only one opportunity to do this so hopefully you brought the necessary items along.
  • Cyberspace: Two puzzles in the final scenario involve this: changing the details on a stolen ID card to match Elaine's appearance and bypassing a time lock on the vault door.
  • Dark Action Girl: Averted. This is the only game by Andy Phillips that doesn't feature one (so far), unless you count the mafia henchwoman with the silenced pistol.
  • Dead Man Writing:
    • A letter written by Uncle Henry before his death sets the whole adventure off. Once you get into his apartment, there's also a voice recording to listen to.
    • There's one final hidden message from Uncle Henry concealed in the crown jewels, intended to set Elaine on a better path.
  • Delighting in Riddles: Uncle Henry was particularly fond of them, it seems. There are three in the opening area: a cryptic postscript on a posthumously delivered letter, a verbal clue provided by the messenger and the plaque on his coffin.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: To gain entry to the ship captain's cabin, Elaine must acquire a beautiful evening dress and join him on the dance floor.
  • Fingore: The mob boss keeps a collection of severed fingers in his mansion. Thankfully they're just for atmosphere and not used to solve a puzzle.
  • Glass-Shattering Sound: The key to Uncle Henry's apartment is hidden inside a glass sphere which must be broken by playing a specific series of musicial notes on a church organ.
  • Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: On the cruise ship Elaine steals a waiter's uniform while he's busy frolicking with a woman in a swimming pool.
  • Grave Robbing: A necessary action as there are vital items concealed on Uncle Henry's corpse.
  • Guide Dang It!: While most puzzles are difficult but logical, others are likely to stump nearly everyone.
    • Accessing the six heist scenarios requires you to find photos hidden in the starting area and take them to the memorabilia room in Uncle Henry's flat. That's the easy part, but then you must trigger the scenario by kissing the photo. The only hint to this obscure and illogical action is a mention of "loving family" in a recorded message from Henry (which you can only listen to once).
    • On the cruise ship you need to steal a countess' evening dress. Gaining access to her cabin is not that tricky, but she wakes up when you attempt to leave. To avert her suspicions you must knock on the door to make her believe you just came in from outside.
    • The museum is arguably the most unforgiving scenario. Entering certain rooms triggers time sensitive puzzles that can't be solved without the right equipment, so the order in which things are done is paramount.
    • In the final chapter Elaine finds a seemingly useless toy doll. The important detail is a spike that's revealed by pulling off the doll's head. Except the head is never mentioned as part of the doll when the item is examined.
  • Impossible Theft: Several - if one considers how Nintendo Hard some puzzles are.
  • The Infiltration: One heist has Elaine access a military base disguised as a soldier.
  • Locked Door: Many examples. No surprise given the theme.
  • MacGuffin: The fabled crown jewels of Denario. The 'good' maximum point ending sees Elaine dump the priceless treasure in a lake after all the trouble she went to, in order to pursue a career as an honourable thief and not repeat her Uncle's mistakes.
  • The Mafia: The mansion heist and the subsequent airfield rendezvous are themed around this. All the stereotypes are present: mob boss in dark shades, ruthless bodyguards, weapon concealed inside a violin.
  • The Maze: Two in the final chapter. The first is a sewer network where the correct sequence of directions must be inferred from an obscure reference. The second - set in cyberspace - is more logically laid out, but still several dozen locations in size.
  • Mugged for Disguise: Corporal Bates at the military base, who kindly 'donates' his uniform after being knocked unconscious. The player can even examine his boxer shorts.
  • One Last Job: An unusual aversion. This particular story revolves around a thief's early career.
  • Paper Key-Retrieval Trick: Opening the garden gate at the mob boss' mansion requires sliding a conveniently shaped leaf under it and pushing out the key with a tungsten peg.
  • Pirate Booty: One scenario involves raiding the tomb of Merciless Maria, a notorious seventeenth century pirate captain. Naturally there's a treasure chest along the way.
  • Press Start to Game Over: Within the first few turns Elaine has the option of refusing her uncle's challenge. If she does it's a very short game.
  • Robbing the Dead: Elaine must assassinate the mob boss with a sniper rifle before stealing a precious item from a briefcase. Justified considering how sadistic the owner is.
  • Safecracking: It wouldn't be a heist story without one, and there are several locked storage containers in this game. The best example is the safe in the cruise ship captain's cabin, which must first be damaged with a flare before picking the lock with a hypodermic needle.
  • Secret Test of Thieving Skill: The premise of the game, which begins with Elaine accepting a challenge from her late Uncle (unless you want a very quick Game Over).
  • Shoplift and Die: In the starting area there's a jewellery store containing a famous jewel known as the Python's Eye. Disabling the alarm involves flipping the switch under the counter and replacing the real jewel with a fake. Screw up and your thieving career comes to an abrupt end.
  • Significant Birth Date: The secret room in Uncle Henry's flat is opened by setting a cuckoo clock based on his birthday. This can be pieced together from two snippets of information - the year on his gravestone and a date mentioned in a recorded message (which can only be listened to once).
    • Merciless Maria's year of death (from her portrait in the church) is required to open a stone door in her tomb.
  • Slipping a Mickey: To knock out the cruise ship's captain Elaine drugs a glass of wine with a sleeping pill.
  • Throwing the Distraction: Getting past the female bodyguard at the mafia boss' estate requires throwing a metallic item at some shrubbery.
  • Unwinnable by Design: Not as harsh as the author's earlier Time: All Things Come to an End, but there are quite a few situations where it's possible to miss key items and lock yourself out of victory. Notable examples are the museum (where starting the guided tour also triggers a timer) and the captain's cabin aboard the cruise ship.