After striking gold with SteamWorld Dig, Image & Form Games continue to build on their robo-punk universe with SteamWorld Heist, a 2D turn based strategy-shooter hybrid. The planet has exploded, so where before you were blundering the rocky depths for loot, you’re now stealing it from space pirates and government freighters, and gathering a robot crew.
The Earth is in pieces, and the Steambots now live either on fragments of floating debris, or in their own spaceships. The Scrappers are a gang pestering the residents of the Outskirts, and the Royalists are hiding a secret weapon. While no hero, Captain Faraday builds her crew to fight against the Scrappers to help her friends and neighbours, before finding herself caught upon discovering the Queen’s plans and has to stop the Royalists from unleashing a greater threat.
Though clearly inspired by procedurally generated games such as the recent XCOM titles and Rogue Legacy, Image & Form knew their limits, and worked around them accordingly. Every mission is predetermined, but the layout of the ship you board and the loot you collect is different every time. As you travel along a set path of missions, you will encounter adventurers for hire. Where in XCOM each soldier is customisable and their upgrades chosen by yourself, each of these adventurers are written characters, with more of a skill stick than a skill tree. Each member of your crew will fill a role in combat, ranging from snipers to tanks, and with each level up, they will grow accordingly. Early on you meet Sally Bolt who has the Kill Shot ability, allowing her to fire again if her first shot is a killing blow. She is your damage dealer in the early game. Another character type deals more damage if they don’t move before taking a shot, encouraging you to hold them back. Spotting how a character will grow and equipping them appropriately is the way to go as each is designed to be used in a certain way.
In many turn based games, whether or not an attack is successful is out of your hands, and settled by a dice roll. Having a 90% chance to hit, and then miss, is a part of the genre but is a hinderance in a game like SteamWorld Heist. Instead, when you go to attack, you must aim your weapon at your target in the 2D plane. Some characters like Captain Faraday, an ex-Royalist pilot who deserted her post, can use Sharpshooter class weapons which have an attached laser sight that show the path of the bullet, but with most characters you will have to judge with just your eye. Enemies will hide behind cover, but this does not make them unreachable. Bullets can ricochet off of multiple surfaces, and before long, you’ll be firing rounds into the ceiling above you to hit targets on the other side of the room. Successfully pulling off these kinds of shots without the laser sight makes this combat system one of the most rewarding I’ve encountered in a long time.
When an enemy’s lucky ricochet does take out one of your crew, there’s no need to fear or smash that Abort Mission, as this game does not have permadeath. As more of a character-driven title, the penalties for death are light, with any crew lost returning but without any earnt experience, and a hit to your score at the end of the mission. A kinder system than other similar games, making SteamWorld Heist a more approachable title for newcomers to the genre.
Sacks of loot gathered during a mission are opened upon completion. Water, the currency in this steam-powered robot future, is your general reward, but new weapons and equipable items such as armour and grenades can be found. With only a small inventory, choosing which items to keep and which to sell is important, though additional slots can be purchased and are given after side missions. The other reward in the game are cosmetic hats. Enemies collapse into pieces on death, or if you just missed that headshot, it might be shot off and sent flying across the room. These hats can be collected, and while serve no combat advantage, some do make your crew look pretty fly.
Designed initially for release on the Nintendo 3DS, with releases on all the latest consoles and iOS to come soon, the visuals do suffer. However, SteamWorld Heist’s unique art style that blends steampunk and the Wild West carries the game. Personality and story is reflected clearly in each character's design, with Sally’s large, clunky parts alluding to her history as a farm girl(bot). Witty writing and fun characters are as much a part of the SteamWorld games as the gameplay itself. Though all spoken dialogue consists of beeps, boops and buzzes, the writing truly shines.
A unique take on the turn based shooter, and a fun character-driven space adventure. As a 3DS title this game is flying below the radar for now, but upon its larger release, I can see this game picking up a lot of steam. After the jump from Dig to here, who knows where Image & Form will take us next.
SteamWorld Heist (Reviewed on New Nintendo 3DS)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
A unique take on the turn based shooter, and a fun character-driven space adventure.