Developer: Image & Form
Publisher: Image & Form
Release Date: December 10th 2015
Links: Official Website
Reviewed by Oliver Jameson (@MinusWorld)
Gothenburg-based Image & Form’s SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt was a game that caught a lot of people by surprise. The second title in the SteamWorld series, it was a game that invoked more emotion than you’d image from a title about mining steam-powered robots, so clearly illustrating the divide between risk and reward and innocently challenging players to make life and death decisions, often with both a big payout and your pride at stake. People who missed out on SteamWorld Dig missed out on a game with brilliant atmosphere, compelling gameplay and a subtle yet magnificent plot that kept you coming back again and again to watch it slowly unfold, truly putting this franchise about some rusty old robots trying to get by on the map.
Now in 2015 we’re greeted with a third instalment, SteamWorld Heist. However, rather than simply follow up the cult hit of Dig with a direct sequel, this new entry into the series turns things on their head, taking a familiar atmosphere and setting and re-inventing it as a turn-based game of tactics and shooting. Each mission sees you boarding ships belonging to a variety of villainous factions (each with a role to play in the game’s plot), taking turns to move your crew of up to five automaton space pirates through the hull, picking off enemies and grabbing as much loot as you possibly can, before making a daring escape. Conditions in battle can vary from destroying targets, retrieving specific items or on several occasions, fighting plot-related characters and bosses in lengthy and tense shootouts. Each mission comes with a variety of special requirements to meet, with success increasing your reputation within the galaxy, in turn allowing you to access new areas of the map, recruit new crew-mates and buy higher level weapons. This adds in a real incentive for replayability, as well as maximising the strength of your crew members to fulfil each target on the more challenging missions.
The way you go about dispatching your steam-powered foes in Heist is quite different to its predecessor; the pickaxes and drills of old have been replaced by firearms of a wide variety – revolvers, rifles, rocket launchers – everything you’d expect from a steam-powered, sci-fi wild west, and with these new toys come more than a few new tricks; the game’s ‘trick shot’ mechanic gives firing a stylish edge, allowing you to bounce bullets off of the walls and ceilings of the battlefield; the enclosed nature of the ships in the game means that this can lead to some rather creative shooting strategies, even in situations where it seems impossible for you to land a hit on your foes. I can safely say that getting a clean kill with a carefully guided bullet in SteamWorld Heist is one of the most satisfying gaming experiences of 2015!
The wide selection of crew members available each maintain a different class, dictating the weapons they have access to and the special abilities they’ll gain access to through levelling up. The number of weapons available in this game is simply baffling, well over 100, and with numerous methods of acquisition ranging from simple purchasing to rare drops from loot acquisition, it’ll take you some time to complete your collection. As well as firearms, secondary items with either attacking abilities or enhancing functionality, such as grenades and armour respectively, allow you a nice degree of customisation over how each character plays; you’ll likely find a handful of favourites, but each maintains their worth on the battlefield, giving you the freedom to mix and match your heisting team as you please. Of course, when performing an intricate space-heist, form is almost equally as important as function, so the inclusion of a huge variety of different headgear is much appreciated; both fun and stylish hats are on offer, with some making playful nods to other famous gaming headwear, and it’s an especially nice touch that some hats can be acquired by picking them up after sniping them off of an opponent’s head, the only thing potentially more satisfying than landing a trick shot!
Unfortunately, picking which characters to take on a heist with you is no easy feat; each member of the crew is incredibly well-written and oozing with personality, and its a real treat hearing them interact with one another and learning tidbits about their backgrounds as the plot goes on. This extends even to NPCs; the simple but unique animations of the game’s various shopkeepers is enough to give them a thick layer of personality, and bosses with unique visual designs and attack patterns make them particularly memorable. Much like its predecessor, Heist has a very well-written and compelling plot; the story only helps to further by the deep and immersive atmosphere that can be found at every level of the game; the ambient but dramatic soundtrack as you board an enemy ship is the perfect background audio for a carefully executed heist, and the featured tracks in the game’s various bars performed by real life band Steam Powered Giraffe add perfectly to the tone of the game; I found myself pausing on occasion just to listen to the music at these rest spots away from the action, which was very immersive indeed.
However, the atmosphere expands beyond just the plot and audio; the game is truly gorgeous with beautifully drawn and animated sprites, not to mention backgrounds with a very impressive level of detail, perfectly portraying the mechanical intricacies of the bellies of many a spaceship; the level’s aesthetics even vary depending on who your opponent is, working well to create a sense of progression as you square off against tougher factions throughout the story. Even the game’s murky, almost neon lighting contributes to the brilliantly portrayed combination of sci-fi and western themes, at times even leading to a feeling of isolation as you venture on the occasional one-man mission or explore abandoned vessels drifting in deep space.
SteamWorld Heist is the sort of title that you can lose hours in; its a beautiful, atmospheric and immersive game with a highly compelling and well-written plot, impeccable gameplay that attains a powerful balance of strategy and style, drawing you in and encouraging you to try different options and approaches as you tackle each mission, as well as being packed to the brim with content that will surely keep you occupied for a long time and offers plenty of replayability. It’s a fantastic evolution of a series that tries and succeeds at bringing us something completely new, whilst retaining all of the charm and detail that made its predecessor so enjoyable.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.