Half heist-simulator, half adventure game, The Clue! was an unusual crime game even for its time

From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about rolling the dice to bring random games back into the light. This week, GTA is far from the only way to experience a life of crime. You could rob a bank in real life! Or, alternatively...

As credos go, a thief's is pretty simple: What's yours is mine. Why, it's so fundamental to the job, games about them may even pinch it from each other. Before Garrett though, and certainly before... uh... The Yellow Guy, the art of thievery was a little more of an adventure. A not very well translated one, admittedly, but still. The time is the 1950s. The place, London. The goal, to master the art of theft.

I hope it's fingerpainting. I was always best at fingerpainting.

So there I was, pretending to be in the middle of an anecdote, when I found myself on the platforms at Victoria Station. Three pounds in my pocket, a perpetual cigarette between my lips. No friends, no contacts, and only at 82% health. Probably something to do with the cigarette. This of course will not be allowed to stand. By the end of the week, I fully intend to be the Moriarty to this city's Sherlock, the Lupin III to its Zenigata, the Hamburglar to its Mayor McCheese. All I need to accomplish this is everything. Conveniently, that's also what I intend to steal.

But first things first.

Despite being broke, I call a taxi. I'm expecting a typically dour taxi driver, which will make it easier when I either Grand Theft Auto or Daley Thompson's Decathlon my way out of paying at the end of the ride. Instead, I come face to face with the terrifying sight of Dan Stanford, the taxi company's boss. "May I congratulate you on being the 1000000th client of our Taxi & Transport Company!" he exclaims.

With my free ticket, I head down to Holland Street to find a place to crash out, and start assembling my crew. Bed first. Crime later.

The Ugley Dog Hotel appeals to me, because any establishment that casual about typos must be confident of itself. "I've booked a room in advance," I lie. "Under which name?" the fiendish receptionist replies, cutting right through my lie like some kind of super detective bastard man. I can't use my own, obviously—which is "Matt Stuvysant", incidentally—so I go to the second name on the list. "Mark Goldberg," I say, as confidently as I can. Nothing happens. "Oh," I add, and actually click the option.

"Oh, Mr Goldberg, I'm awfully sorry I didn't recognize you at once!" says the receptionist. "We've got no room booked in advance under your name, but this is certainly due to a mistake in our administration!"

"Yes, well, don't let it happen again," I order him, taking the keys to Room 8.

"Home sweet home," my future self tells me, as I survey it. That makes me feel better, mostly because I can see that some time in the future, I'll be upgrading from a damp cigarette to a full on pipe. I wonder if he gets flash-forwards to his even more future self covered in Nicorette patches. I hope not, because that would be incredibly wussy thing, and a master thief like myself has no time for such childish nonsense.

Anyway, the first thing I do in my hotel room is phone Mummy.

"If someone listened to the rest of this conversation, he would surely believe that I'm quite a whimp for someone of my age," narrates my future self, who can't spell 'wimp', apparently. "However, it has to be said that my father never had enough time for me, and that therefore I had a very close relationship to my mother." What he doesn't mention though is that Mummy is connected. Where most mothers will advise wrapping up warm or wearing clean underwear, Mummy instead wastes no time setting up an underworld meeting with a man named Mr. Briggs, in what's technically called the Fat Man's Pub but looks disturbingly like the UK branch of Callahan's Crosstime Saloon.

Briggs is a fat man with a plan—probably involving an all-lard dinner. He also wants to arrange a really big score, which currently has just one minor problem holding it back. He's broke. How broke? He can't afford the tools, he can't afford the car, and his best plan for fixing this is to rob... a kiosk. Somehow, I don't see this guy going after the Crown Jewels any time soon.

To conduct a burglary though, I need a couple of basic things—a getaway driver, who will be behind the wheel of some clunking piece of crap that he can provide, and some kind of tool to jemmy open a lock. Both, I'm told, can be found on Watling Street, along with the police station should I decide to go and turn myself in for kicks at some point. On a whim, I head over to meet the Competition: Inspector Gludo.

He's very professional.

And he doesn't even notice me steal his police identity card. Score!

A second bar beckons, called—oddly—"Walrus & the yellow shades". It's a little funkier than Callahan's Transworld Saloon, so I figure that it probably has a better class of criminals. Like this lady, Elizabeth.

Coughing, I switch effortlessly into my most charming voice. "What's your job?" I ask. "Housewife." she replies. "Have you ever had any trouble with the police?" "No. I've never committed any crime."


"Would you like to help me break into a kiosk in Fulham?" I ask anyway. "I'll take 55 percent," she snaps.

I think we have our getaway driver!

Back at the hotel, it's time to plan a crime. Elizabeth will obviously be the Bonny to my Clyde, but unfortunately when I assign her to the car, she refuses on the grounds that she's sure I can find someone much more qualified. Her name turns out to be Justin White... Justine, presumably... who actually has the balls to follow a complete stranger into an illegal heist. Liz, you broke my heart.

Planning is a little strange. It's done in time units, with adventure game commands that build up into a full operation. Walking to a door will take as long as it takes, obviously. Breaking through it with a jemmy is another 15 or so seconds, while other things take longer. This being a smash-and-grab, there's really nothing more to it than Justin waiting outside, me going in to grab the cash, and then us all leaving.

You could have done that, Liz. This could have been you. This money could have been yours. But it is not, and it never will be, and that's on you, Liz. That's your fault.

After the heist, the police go over the scene in great detail but don't pick up a vast number of clues, or The Clue!s as the case may be. This one can be officially declared a success, unless your name is Liz The Coward, obviously. And Liz? That's your new name. To celebrate, I head down to the pub to find more work, only to be stopped by a totally legitimate looking bloke who definitely isn't the Inspector.

Telling him where to stick his pipe, and offering him a light with which to start smoking it, Not Inspector Gludo takes immediate umbrage. "Mon cher, don't be that aggressive. I've only got one toute petite question: Would you sell me your... how do you say... loot?"

Well, why not? Ignoring that the loot is already cash, obviously.

"Ha! You thief!" Gludo screams. "You are under arrest, in the name of Law! Everything you say from now on... may be used... and, um... everything else... may be, umm... used as well!" And from there, it's mostly downhill. To the station. Booking. A long jail sentence, with much time to reflect. Finally, a quieter, more honest life, as a monk who takes the old 'smoking habit' joke a little too literally.

Yeah, right. As if. Though honestly, the idea that I'd fall for that trick is almost as insulting as the offers I'm given from local dealers. See, despite having stolen cash, The Clue doesn't see it as regular money, the kind which you might be able to just spend. As such, I need to take it to a fence. About £175 for £190 seems like a distinctly poor rate of exchange, even on the streets.

At this point though, I feel free to be my own criminal... more or less. Mr. Briggs claims he has some big score planned, but that I'm not a bad enough criminal yet. Please! I raided an unoccupied kiosk. I'm basically Scarface, only better, because I have no scars. I'm... uh... Face, I guess.

Most of the rest of The Clue is at least somewhat open, with seven places to rob in ascending order of complexity—an old peoples' home, an art gallery, the grave of Karl Marx. Yes, really. You break in at night to lift his bones. Not jump them, mind. That would be a very different game.

Each one involves going to the site and Investigating, which means sitting outside and filling up an accuracy bar without being caught, then assembling a team, buying the equipment and getaway vehicle, and setting out a plan with pinpoint precision. The catch is that while you do get to see guard movements while conducting the plan, it's only when actually carrying it out that they're able to trigger alarms and call the police. This is officially known as "A Bad Thing". Possibly even "A Very Bad Thing."

Of course, the more heists you do, the more heist-gear you can afford. In that first mission, it's just a jemmy. Later, more advanced breaking and entering gear is on offer, as are useful extra tools like chloroform. No rope arrows or Outsider powers though, more's the pity.

But what's all this in aid of? What's Mr. Briggs' big mission?

The Tower of London, of course. He really does want the Crown Jewels.

Can't fault his ambition, I guess.

But that's a lot of crimes away, and there's a little bit after it when it turns out that there's no honour amongst thieves. Not even Carmen Sandiego's crew, as they discovered after one too many karaoke performances of her theme song led to her deciding that her next theft would be 'their oxygen'.

The Clue, itself an enhanced remake of an older game called They Stole A Million, would later get a 3D sequel called The Sting, which took the game into 3D but focused more on the heists in a world so foggy, it's like going treasure hunting in Silent Hill. 

Technically, that was always the meat of the game. The Clue though was far more fun for its adventure-game leanings, with the characters wandering around town, the weird conversations that sometimes popped up, and the sense that you weren't just ticking heists off a list. Though obviously, you totally were. The Clue gives up any pretence of being a hardcore criminal simulator round about the time it provides free boarding, taxis, and only objects to you standing around for literally days on end without food and water because you're being boring.

Though it is enough of one to suggest that a modern remake could be seriously cool.

As for my little crime spree? It ended in ignominious failure after a watchman caught me digging up Karl Marx's bones from his grave, mostly because I was fascinated to see who the hell was going to be able to fence them. It's not the kind of thing you can just take to eBay, and it's not as if London's hardcore gangsters are likely to care much whose moldy bones are over the fireplace. Sadly, when the whistle was blown, too much evidence... too much Clue... had been left behind to make a clean getaway.

Needless to say, I totally blame Liz.

I don't know what happened to the rest of the team, but monastery life didn't turn out too bad, all things considered. Especially when I saw some of the nice stuff in the glass cases. Jean Valjean had the right idea, if you ask me. His only real mistake was losing his balls afterwards and becoming a whimp. Yes, one with an h. That's how it's spelled these days, young whippersnappers.

(sucks on pipe, reaches for Nicorette patches)