SteamWorld Heist – Review
PC, PS4, Vita, 3DS (Xbox One and Wii U coming soon)
I’ve been a massive advocate of Image & Form Games’ SteamWorld franchise, in particular, the release of 2013’s SteamWorld Dig (you can see me rave about it in this episode of Player 2’s Video Games Club). When SteamWorld Heist was first revealed my excitement was electric but was then dampened somewhat when I discovered that it leaned heavily on strategy elements – a genre I’ve never been particularly fond of, nor proficient in. Now that the final product is with us, my concerns have been completely laid to rest, because SteamWorld Heist is yet another wonderful entry into the SteamWorld franchise.
SteamWorld games have never had a particularly powerful, or head-turning narrative, but they always provide a sturdy framework that the gameplay can build around. A few hundred years have passed since the events of SteamWorld Dig, and while the stories aren’t connected, Steambot technology has developed significantly in the centuries that have passed. Steambots have become more intelligent in all those years, which leads to intergalactic travel, but also more problems. Captain Piper’s ship has just been raided by Scrappers, and consequently, with your crew scattered and supplies low, as Piper you journey out to once again find your feet in the chaos of space. This simple premise quickly evolves, and you might be surprised by how invested you come to feel in the story; the team does a superb job of upping the ante as the stakes become ever greater.
It is however the moment to moment gameplay that has made past SteamWorld games so appealing, and that account Heist delivers in a multitude of ways. Heist successfully merges side-scrolling platforming, with turn based strategy in high stakes shootouts. Loot collection is paramount, and the emphasis in combat is placed more upon skill than luck. You’ve got dozens upon dozens of guns to choose from and two other inventory slots, which can be filled with items that improve melee combat, health, ammo potency, or even provide an alternate fire option. The importance of constructing the perfectly balanced party is critical with some wielding weapons that have long range scopes, enabling the player to rebound bullets off walls into foes while others sacrifice precision for sheer strength with a barrage of bullets headed for their target. There’s some incredible depth to the encounters that ensures that across the game’s several dozen randomly generated levels, that you’re always interested through each encounter.
There’s a deep level of customization present in SteamWorld Heist, most specifically in terms of the arms you bear when leaving on missions but also cosmetically. There are upwards of 100 different pieces of headgear that you can customise your party with; these can be bought or shot off the heads of foes and then added to your collection – they make no difference to the outcome of the game, but they’re fun to collect regardless. There’s no such customizability present in your character’s perks. As your team levels up they’re granted a new skill or an advancement of a previous one – you don’t get a say in what that upgrade is, it just happens, and it may or may not have implications on how you tackle future encounters. The control being taken from your hands in this area is a little disappointing as even a basic skill tree would do more to involve the player more in the upgrade process.
The SteamWorld games are among the best of the best when it comes to exuding charm. They have a witty sense of humour, have a tonne of respect for its peers, as well as those that informed it. You will see self-deprecating humour, hats in the shape of Cloud Strife’s famous hair and other excellent one liners that will at the very least ensure a smirk is plastered across your face in most non-combat scenarios. As with other games in the series, SteamWorld Heist also has a wonderful aesthetic. The Western influence, crossed with Steampunk elements while set on a ship that floats through space gives a distinct Firefly feel that is much appreciated.
One of the things I love about the team at Image & Form Games is that they’re not afraid to try something new. Each of the three SteamWorld games lean on different base mechanics, and on each occasion they’ve nailed it. This is an extraordinarily talented studio, but in this particular case, I hope they choose not to move on to the next core mechanic, in favour of returning to the world of SteamWorld Heist, developing a sequel and taking what is a fantastic start and fleshing it out even further. As it currently stands SteamWorld Heist is a very enjoyable game that has a distinct personality with a challenging, engaging core hook that will consume you for anything upwards of 15hours, with a tonne of room to grow.