Developed by Swedish team ‘Image and Form’, Steamworld Heist is a semi-sequel to their previous effort ‘Steamworld Dig’. A semi-sequel because the opening cinematic quickly destroys the planet of the original game before sending the action into space for a turn-based squad orientated tactical RPG that’s brimming with imagination.
Released across a plethora of different platforms including PlayStation 4, Nintendo 3DS, Steam and mobile (though the Xbox One edition is currently on indefinite hold), Heist brings a very high quality of work to the table. The third in a series that started with ‘Steamworld Tower Defence’ for the DS and is planned to continue in ‘Steamworld Dig 2’, Heist shows the versatility of a good visual concept put to use. An expansion (The Outsider) was released shortly after the game first debued and is included in many of the games releases, adding a new playable unit and a handful of additional missions to the already beefy campaign.
Visually, Heist sets itself apart from more traditional Strategy/Tactical RPGs by playing from a side-view similar to that of a platform title. This works well for displaying the tight corridors and confines of star ships whilst allowing the ricochet based firing mechanics to shine in an easily understandable 2D context. Artwork is high definition and drawn in a cartoon style that is lovingly crafted, allowing for some slight layering of parallax (though not much when compared to visual feasts such as ‘Child of Light’) and big, easily identifiable characters who have a good sense of presence on-screen. The various ships do suffer from a certain amount of same-ness by type (Scrapper ships share the same visual identity for example) but vary greatly in layout. High praise goes to the world maps, that create multi-form paths that manage to be linear whilst feeling relatively free, and link together in a cohesive manner that feels like you’re pushing ever outward.
The games soundtrack features music created specifically for the game by Steampunk band ‘Steam Powered Giraffe’, with the band members making cameo appearances as robots spread throughout the various bars the game has to offer. Their work is excellent, being both inspiring and tense in equal measures and employing ballads that the player can enjoy in some locations when not actively fighting. The boss defeat tunes that play are a special highlight and very well done. Characters do speak, but a digitised effect is employed to generate a specific ‘voice’ for each that uses a series of robotic whirs and gear grinds that varies in its effective use. Sound effects are crisp, and well matched to the strength of the weapons, giving a good sense of feedback when firing a pistol or a bazooka.
In terms of story there’s a certain sense of the deja vu in Steamworld Heist. Anyone who has encountered Joss Whedon’s short-lived television series ‘Firefly’ and its subsequent film ‘Serenity’ will instantly recognise elements of the world setting. Society exists primarily in space, having left the world seen in Dig after its destruction. With water required for the steam-bots to function, the resource quickly becomes a fought-over commodity, with rabid ‘Scrapper’ ships raiding travellers for supplies and causing the fringes of space to become fraught with danger. A militant faction that operates using diesel for power has mapped most of space, and under an Empress is squeezing what they consider to be the lower classes with an ever tightening fist. You play as the crew of a small ship, resorting to raiding a scrapper ship to grab what water you can and make it back to a station when things take a bad turn. From here the story escalates quickly and adds in new and interesting elements to keep player interest high enough to want to know what will happen next at any given moment. Inter-character banter, both optional and pre-scripted, is light and witty.
Gameplay is surprisingly simple for a turn based tactical title, but belays hidden layers of complexity that the player will find his or herself handling without even realising it. Characters in the party move in turn before the enemy side take their actions, and this affords the player a chance to move, shoot or use any special actions each of their units may have. If characters forego taking their action they can move twice as a ‘dash’ that allows for quick scaling of terrain. Cover is provided in most levels as standard, but it is destructible with enough firepower and can be worked around by different weapon styles and ricochets. Shooting is the heart of this game and whilst bullets fire in straight lines they can bounce off of walls to strike enemies, making trick-shots the name of the game as this works around terrain and allows for armoured foes to be hit in weak spots. There is a tremendous sense of fun to this, and each class of weapon (of which there are several) acts differently, with grenade launchers flying in an arc and bouncing several times before impact whilst shotguns spread outward in multiple directions. The game knows to ease the player into this by giving the initial captain character a sight on her handgun that allows you to better understand and learn the rules, teaching through play. Whilst the game does feature a linear structure, it does open up optional challenge missions and older missions can be replayed at any difficulty to earn up to a three star rank. Characters level for surviving a mission without direct relevance to how much combat they have seen, so grabbing loot and getting out alive is a priority over clearing each zone of enemy units. Boss battles are a highlight, and by the second map you will be encountering environmental hazards and a wide variety of units. Equipment is won or purchased, with each character on your team having a speciality in terms of weapon and two items slots in addition to a ‘hat’ that can be equipped for added character. Collecting these is a fun diversion and can make for an obsessive time as some must be shot from the heads of enemies and snatched from the ground mid-battle. It’s an attractive package overall that is great for short bursts of play and does stand up to longer, more intensive sessions.
Overall, Steamworld Heist is a game that should not be passed up. It’s deep and involving whilst being easy to access for first time players of an often hard to penetrate sub-genre. We whole-heartedly advise everyone to go out and buy this game immediately!