Platforms: Nintendo 3DS (reviewed), Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Wii U, iOS
Image & Form games continues to impress with SteamWorld Heist, the follow-up to their critically acclaimed game SteamWorld Dig. This time around things will be quite different in the SteamWorld galaxy as Heist has traded in the platforming and mining for turn-based, tactical shootouts. It’s all about taking a group of ragtag steam-driven pirates on a space adventure and it’s pretty fantastic.
This band of pirates is lead by captain Piper Faraday and throughout the journey you’ll be able to recruit a number of other steambots. Each robot has their own motivation for joining up with Piper and you’ll be able to get a glimpse into each of their backstories if you take the time to talk with them aboard your ship. The robots all have a unique look and distinct personality. Unfortunately, I felt most of the characters came off as rather bland in conversations and talking with them became more of a chore than something I actually looked forward to. The narrative, while not bad, is the weakest aspect of the game, but it more than makes up for it in other ways.
In SteamWorld Heist, the main attraction is combat and it takes the form of turn-based tactical action but with a bit of a twist. Instead of your typical grid style layout that you see in most strategy RPGs, Heist is featured on a 2D side scrolling plane. Also unlike many other games of its ilk, you won’t be relying on a roll of the dice in combat because battles will actually come down to skill as you must manually aim your weapons (so headshots count!). Utilizing cover, planning your attack carefully, and aiming your guns effectively are all pivotal in succeeding in combat. All of this comes together to create some of the most satisfying combat I’ve had the pleasure of partaking in. Landing a perfectly placed shot that ricochets off of multiple surfaces and manages to scrap an enemy is absolutely blissful.
After each mission you’ll earn a star ranking depending on how many members of your crew survived, the loot you collected, and whether you met that mission’s objective. You will also get XP that will be divided among the bots you took on that mission. As you collect XP, characters will level up and unlock a plethora of different abilities. Each member of your crew has a specific set of abilities, so trying out each during missions and seeing what they can learn to do is half the fun. This can lead to a bit of grinding if you want to level up characters that you haven’t used in a few missions, but thanks to SteamWorld Heist’s fun combat and procedurally generated levels, it’s not so bad.
In combat, you’ll also be able to outfit your characters with a variety of weapons (each characters has specific weapon specialties) and items. There are upwards of 100 different weapons you can find and they range from pistols and SMGs to shotguns and rocket launchers. Each crew member can also bring up to two supplemental items into a mission as well. These include repair kits to restore HP, various types of grenades, special armor, and more. These weapons and items can be bought in shops throughout the galaxy or found as loot during your missions. There are also over 100 different hats you can find to outfit your crew with because what’s the point of being a pirate if you can’t look like a badass doing it?
SteamWorld Heist is also a game that can be enjoyed by just about anyone. With five different difficulty levels you’re sure to find one that is for you. If you’re new to the genre or just looking to kick back and have some fun, then a Casual playthrough might be right up your alley. If you’re looking for a deep, involved, and hardcore tactical experience, you can find it with an Elite playthrough.
SteamWorld Heist checks off a number of boxes I look for when considering the purchase of a game. It has great gameplay thanks to its fantastic tactical combat. It stays fresh with procedurally generated levels and tons of weapons and customization options. It offers more than enough bang for your buck clocking in at around 10 to 12 hours (while also offering a new game plus option) and allowing you to play as a variety of characters. The only thing it lacks is a truly great narrative to tie all these parts together into a more cohesive experience. That said, it’s still a game that is worthy of your time and attention, regardless of what platform you choose to play it on.