SteamWorld Heist – Review

You can expect to meet the same eccentric, quirky, cowboy-robotic characters and be immersed in the same colourful, steampunk atmosphere

I’m not really a fan of turn-based strategy games. The idea of undoing several minutes worth of calculated and methodical planning with a single error of judgement or lapse in concentration doesn’t appeal to my gaming sensibilities. That being said, my reticence towards turn-based gameplay quickly evaporated just a few minutes into SteamWorld Heist‘s campaign. The extremely talented guys and gals at Image & Form not only instantly allayed my fears, they got me to absolutely adore SteamWorld Heist’s gameplay.

steamworld_heist13_1 (2)SteamWorld Heist is the newest entry into the expanded SteamWorld universe; a follow up to the critically acclaimed SteamWorld Dig. SteamWorld Dig is a tremendous game that is mechanically rich and deep (both figuratively and literally) and SteamWorld Heist is no different. The Swedish developer could have rode the high wave of success of the original and simply developed SteamWorld Dig 2, but instead they’ve stepped out of their comfort zone to release an entirely different game (and it paid off!). An act that should be applauded, especially considering the tumultuous nature of game development.

As I mentioned before, SteamWorld Heist is set in the same universe as its predecessor so you can expect to meet the same eccentric, quirky, cowboy-robotic characters and be immersed in the same colourful, steampunk atmosphere. Instead of mining, tunneling and spelunking underground however, SteamWorld Heist goes in the opposite direction and takes you into space as you commandeer a naval ship; docking at space stations, defeating space bandits and collecting resources. There is a light story that gives some context to the situation Captain Piper and her crew of robotic plunderers find themselves in but overall it’s the gameplay and mechanics that take centre stage.

The gameplay is typical of any turn-based game with allies and enemies taking turns and is seen from a 2D sidescrolling perspective. Before each level (you’re able to tackle different ships at various intervals) you choose which of your crew you’d like to embark on the mission. Characters (new ones can be recruited along the way) are all distinct in their appearance and special abilities; for instance Sally gets an additional shot after killing an enemy and Seabrass becomes more powerful after taking damage; and striking the correct balance of skills is key to survival. Each character can also be customised with different weapons, perks and, most importantly, hats.

SteamWorld_Heist_3DS_Screenshot_02_MovementWhen you’ve docked with an enemy ship, you’re confronted with deathtrap-like mazes that come with their own assortment of lasers, turrets, enemies, time-triggered alarms and explosive barrels. The game continues to build up steam as you progress through the story with other elements being introduced such as more environmental hazards and beefed-up enemies. Each turn becomes a crucial decision of whether you should make your character move, fire, melee, use an ability or buff or just remain in-situ and guard.

I’d have to say that the gunplay is the most satisfying part of SteamWorld Heist. Each gun reacts differently and its ballistics have their own unique trajectory, speed, power and range. Hitting two enemies with the same projectile or getting a kill with a bullet that’s just ricocheted against two walls is the most pleasing part of the gameplay, accentuated by the slow-motion animation of a foe shattering to several pieces.

I must point out that level design is superb; the labyrinthine nature of each level provides them with verticality and alternative routes; a stark and welcome contrast to games that are wholly situated on a horizontal plane. This gives the player the freedom to approach each level as they see fit and it also makes gameplay more unpredictable and, in turn, more exhilarating. Enemies can take diverging paths and flank you from the left, right, above and below, and you can do the same to them. What’s more is that the levels are procedurally generated so there’s no way to learn the schematics of each, creating more challenge and variety.

2016-03-01To accommodate the openness of each level, a map is helpfully projected onto the 3DS’ second screen to help you navigate your surroundings and show you areas that you haven’t yet explored. Exploration, whilst optional, is encouraged as every ship contains its own loot to collect on top of its primary objectives. It becomes a risk-reward situation when deciding whether you should risk the lives of your crew instead of heading straight to the exit. Often the risk feels worth it when you find some sweet booty that will better your chances in the next level. Even those who don’t have a penchant for turn-based games will inadvertently find themselves assuming a completionist attitude and will strive to get a three-star rating on each level, collect 100% of the loot and recruit, level up and customise their characters. It’s indicative of just how wonderfully addictive and satisfying SteamWorld Heist is.

Just like SteamWorld Dig, SteamWorld Heist gives back as much as you’re willing to put into it and appeals to a diverse audience. Should you want to play casually then there is the option to do so but at the same time hardcore strategists will find much depth within its mechanics. You have the ability to crank up the difficulty (beginner, casual, veteran) and what’s appreciated is that you can alter the difficulty before each level should you want to increase or lower the challenge rather than having the setting envelope all missions. There’s also a New Game Plus mode for those who want to dip back into the already lengthy campaign.

3ds - CopyDespite its brilliance, SteamWorld Heist does contain a few noticeable design flaws. The most evident is the fact that you can only hold so much loot in your inventory. So whilst risking your life to find every bit of swag on enemy cargo ships is fun in theory, especially for the obsessive compulsive hoarders amongst us, in practice it’s almost utterly pointless as you’ll have to sell most of it anyway. For me it’s as annoying as becoming over-encumbered in an RPG and takes away some of the fun of collecting. Another aspect I wasn’t keen on was the fact that a character won’t get any XP if they die during the mission and you’ll quickly notice that they’re lagging behind their counterparts in terms of leveling up. Others who are used to strategy games will probably malign me for this statement but for someone who isn’t well accustomed to the genre I felt slightly aggrieved when I made one small mistake which cost the life of a crew member. That being said, these two design choices didn’t massively inhibit my enjoyment of the overall game.

Scandinavia has been a hotbed for game development for some years now but few continue to re-write the script and innovate as much as Image & Form. When SteamWorld Heist was announced as an entirely different genre to their previous game and also as a timed 3DS exclusive, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit worried for the developer. But after experiencing the exceptional gameplay, mechanics, Steam Powered Giraffe soundtrack and art direction of SteamWorld Heist, I won’t ever doubt them in the future.


Many thanks to Image & Form for providing Indie Marathon with a 3DS copy of SteamWorld Heist for review!

SteamWorld Heist
SteamWorld Heist
The Good
  • Satisfying Gunplay
  • Great Soundtrack & Art Direction
  • Rich Gameplay & Mechanics
  • SteamWorld Universe
The Bad
  • Limited Inventory Slots
  • Fallen Characters Don't Earn XP
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Lucy "Queen of the Indies" Yearwood was born into nobility. Never learning the value of a pound, she once paid £190 for a glass of milk. Sits upon a throne of broken dreams and ridiculous opinions but she sure does know her indie games.
    2 Comments on this post.
    11 May 2016 at 1:30 pm
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    • Ross Miller
      12 May 2016 at 2:49 pm
      Leave a Reply

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