- Platform: Nintendo Switch
- (Standard Edition) Also on: 3DS, WiiU, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Macintosh operating systems, iOS
- Developer: Image & Form International AB
- Number of Players: 1
The SteamWorld series is quickly becoming one of my favorite franchises. Image & Form have quickly developed a outstanding track record. To me, their name and their games have become synonymous with quality and I’m always eagerly awaiting their next game with my wallet open. I admittedly missed SteamWorld Heist the first time around, so I was hyped to see that they were bringing the game out on Switch. Hot off the heels of SteamWorld Dig 2, I wasn’t planning on skipping over any other entry in this series ever again. Thankfully, SteamWorld Heist provided me with a different take on the series I’ve grown so fond of, but didn’t lose any of the quality in the conversion.
Heist differs from it’s counterparts in a big way: the gameplay here is literally NOTHING like what you’ve come to expect coming from the previous SteamWorld games. Instead, the developers opted to try their hand at a new genre of play. What you have instead of a tightly paced Metriodvania style adventure, is a engaging action based tactical strategy game. Don’t let that turn you off if that’s not your cup of tea. It’s way less about menus, luck, and watching the action unfold and way more about skill with you being in direct control of the action; it just happens to unfold on a turn-by-turn basis. Heist has you recruiting a team of rag-tag Steambots, each with their own unique stats, powers, classes, and customization. You must choose your team, weapons, and items wisely as you progress through the game boarding enemy crafts, and combating rival factions, strategically taking them down, grabbing loot, and escaping the space ship back to your own, hopefully with your whole team intact.
In battle, players will move throughout the procedurally generated enemy ships, careful to take into account the environment and positioning – both of which have a big impact on how the shootouts can play out. As you move your way through the ship and discover your enemy, you can choose to go in guns blazing, or try to take a more strategic approach in order to get that 3-star ranking.
Each Steambot on your team gets a “turn”, which can consist of any number of actions and you’ll need to take everything into account in order to make the most of these actions. For instance, you might want to move your character far across the ship to make the most of the height advantage to try to hit that perfect headshot. But by doing that, you’ll likely have to sacrifice being able to shoot for that turn, as you spent your turn moving and positioning instead of firing. On the flip side you may choose to move less spaces, but perhaps you found a barrel in which you can position your bot behind. This can provide you cover during the enemies turn and since you didn’t move too far, you’re able to take a shot at the enemy before your turn ends.
Once you’ve taken your turn with each bot in your squad, the enemy squad all get a turn and has to take into consideration all the same things you do as you both vie for destruction of each other. Scattered throughout each mission are a number of loot boxes and treasures. These are meant to pull you away from your main path, but provide the incentive of money and new, more powerful weapons and items, so the temptations to grab all of these is always strong – strong enough to make me blow several missions because of my greed.
One issue I had with the loot was that I never felt like the amount of income I was earning was consistent. In the beginning, I had way too little money, but near the middle, I had way too much money, and it kept fluctuating throughout the game. In addition, I never really felt incentivized to purchase any of the weapons in any of the several shops I visited because I always felt the price was too high and I was netting better weapons from the loot I gathered in missions. I never felt that I was encouraged to spend my money on anything but expanding my inventory, which feels strange considering how strong SteamWorld Dig 2‘s economy was.
Each bot is allowed to take different weapons and items into each battle. Weapons can range from Revolvers, to SMGs, to Rocket Launchers, to sniper rifles, and there are over a 100 different weapons to try. Each weapon has pros and cons and each bot has a different class that only allows them to use certain weapons, so you’ll want to make sure you try to balance your team for the mission you’ll be facing. The items you’ll equip your bots with will depend on how you choose to tailor your team. Some items are simple passive enhancements like +2 health or +3 movement. Others allow a more active benefit like letting you get in another free shot before the end of your turn, but the shot has a much shorter range. You will likely tweak each bot you’ve recruited with a number of these and while it’s enjoyable to try them all out and see what worked best, the inventory management became rather tiresome. I was always having to sell something old to make room for the new, and switching out weapons and items did begin to drag.
You’ll continue to play a chess game of maneuvering and tactical decision making in order to have your squad come out on top. I’m not really big into super in-depth strategy games where I just click buttons on a menu, so thankfully the action here is all user controlled. Once you’re ready to fire, you’ll be given control of the aiming of your gun and you can indulge in just as many options for how you attack as for how you move and position your character. You’ll be able to manually aim for not only the enemy, but also explosive barrels, you’ll ricochet shots off of walls, use lazer scoped sniper rifles for critical hit head shots, melee someone into submission, or even shoot your opponent’s legs to cripple their movement on the next turn. The myriad of options and the variety in how you do everything really makes you feel like a master tactician. The combat system is designed to make you feel like what you do is easy, but it peppers in just the right amount of depth and weight to your actions. When you mess up, more often than not its actually on you for making a risky move.
Generally, the game controls very well. Each weapon takes some getting used to in order to truly master the aiming and nab those critical hits, but once you do you’ll feel all powerful. Heist allows you to use touch screen for aiming as well as movement, but I played using solely buttons and analog sticks to ensure accuracy. My biggest issue with the controls came when you had to aim too far in one direction. Sometimes if I passed the threshold of any given direction, my aim would quickly switch to the opposite side and cause me to miss my shot. It’s likely a user error more than a technical issue and if I slowed down a bit I might have prevented it, but it did happen on more than one occasion and it was annoying each time. Besides this grievance, by the end of my time with the game, some rounds flowed almost like a ballet as I blazed throughout the level issuing commands and clearing rooms with incredible speed and precision.
If you’ve played any of the previous SteamWorld games you’ll know exactly what type of aesthetic to expect here. The story takes on a charming 40’s era pulp Sci-fi vibe with its cutscenes and narration, and the in game world looks just as dirty and lived in as you’d expect from the series. The backgrounds range from dingy ship hulls, to neon lit cargo bays and everything here looks crisp and well defined, both docked and in handheld mode. The only issue I had with the artistic design of the world was some trouble being able to distinguish what I could and could not shoot through. It’s minor enough that it never became a problem, but it is frustrating to waste a turn shooting into a wall that bullets won’t pass through.
While I do love the overall look of this world, some of the character design is uneven. Certain members of your crew are WAY more interesting and appealing than others. I mean someone like Bogdan “The Great” Ivanski or Sally Bolt aren’t even in the same universe as Gabriel “Sea Brass” Stubb and Billy Gill when it comes to awesome character design. Even though some are much cooler than others, they do all feel like they fit within the cohesive universe set up here and you’re never forced to use anyone. However, I do wish that I was able to recruit all of them sooner so I could spend more time and get more backstory with some of the later characters.
Some of the effects Heist has to offer really help hammer in the feeling of being an incredible sharpshooter. Nothing feels better than banking a shot off a wall to have it zip directly into an enemies head as they explode into a hundred bits and you watch the ensuring shrapnel rain down in slow motion all around. However, nothing is more humiliating than watching one of your shots you were sure would connect, whir by an enemies head in slow motion just barely missing the mark. These effects are great little touches that really help tie the game play into the artistic design.
Anyone familiar with the series will feel very at home with the music here. It feels very reminiscent of other SteamWorld games and adds a dash of “space” feel in there as well. Steam Powered Giraffe did a great job with the soundtrack, which includes several humorous lyrical tracks. The sound effects do a great job and the blast and shots of each weapon sound appropriate, as do the bleeps and bloops of the bots themselves. One minor gripe I had about the sound design was that I felt like certain sound effects were mixed much higher than the music of the game, so I had to constantly adjust the volume of my TV.
SteamWorld Heist proves that Image & Form are not a single genre studio. By trying something different they’ve provided a great game in a genre I don’t traditionally gravitate towards. While I don’t like Heist as much as I enjoy the Dig series, it’s still an incredible game that does a lot right, with some room for improvement. I clocked in my play at around 20 hours and 3-starred every level. And while I felt like the game was a bit too long, those looking for pure game value will be extremely satisfied with the length and with the New Game+ unlocked upon beating the game.
The Ultimate Edition on Switch also include the previously released DLC which integrates seamlessly into the story and provided me with an “OH MY GOD” moment that ties in the whole series very nicely and answers some questions (as well as poses some new ones) making the series feel cohesive. The strategy required in beating the levels takes about as much as you’re willing to put into it and it’s deep enough without getting overly complicated and weighed down with too many systems. The wealth of options and routes to tackle each level really adds to the fun and makes pulling the trigger on this game a really easy decision. Don’t miss your shot to play another entry in this fantastic series.
- Great action/skill oriented take on the genre
- Oozes with the top notch quality you’ve come to expect from the series
- Amazing variety in how you tackle missions
- Nails the feeling of thrill when you pull off that perfect shot
- Economy seems a bit uneven and inventory management becomes a chore
- Aiming in certain extremes can get wonky
- Sometimes hard to distinguish what you can/can’t shoot through
- Main story mode went on for just a bit too long
Disclaimer: A digital copy of the game was provided by Image & Form for review purposes.