The Big Con brings 90s’ malls back to our screens in vibrant technicolour

Do you remember the 1990s? For those of us of a certain age it’s inconceivable that the decade of grunge is as distant to the present as the 1960s was to us growing up. Aside from the unsolicited reminders of our own fragile mortality and the existential threat of our aging faculties abandoning us, what really stands out is how familiar much of the fashion and culture still is.

Nirvana T-shirts are still commonplace and the cynicism of fin de siècle indie culture such as Kevin Smith films is still rampant. Much like the 80s before them, the 90s were hugely influenced by American culture. Despite malls being far less glamorous in the UK we were all familiar with their neon signs and exciting shops and food courts. The Big Con is a game that absolutely celebrates the period and the bulk of its demo plays out in a typical American mall.

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For a game that is centred around pickpocketing and theft, The Big Con is surprisingly charming and nice. It’s not just illegality and hijinks though, as there is the clear potential for an emotional narrative and a coming of age story. Ali is a sarcastic and cynical teenager who works in her family video store (that most retro of settings) but discovers that her mum has taken on loans from predatory loan sharks and is massively in debt. In order to save the family business, Ali sets out on a road trip to con her way to the $97.000 dollars needed.

This is an interesting premise for a game in and of itself and the resulting mechanics of pickpocketing and finding ways to earn the maximum profit from a range of situations make for a nicely varied experience. What could be a nasty and cynical game about the fundamental unpleasantness of humanity actually seems to be something far more optimistic though. Even in the early stages we start to see Ali beginning to question her choices and the game looks set to make you question your own complicity in the crimes she’ll commit. To reach the target amount of cash it’s pretty obvious that things will quickly escalate from small time shoplifting and pickpocketing too so I’m intrigued to see what more elaborate schemes will crop up.

So the demo showcases the interesting premise, the basic gameplay of picking pockets, finding objects and working out the best way to profit from them but more importantly than all of these, it sets the tone for the game. It is here that you’ll probably either be drawn in or pushed away. The radical dialogue, 90s comic book colour scheme, and self-referential humour won’t be for everyone but it certainly didn’t grate in the time I’ve spent with it. In fact, the bright graphics and slacker dialogue makes it feel like a perfect holiday game, which is just as well as it is set to be released during the summer this year.

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