By: Brian Gunn
SteamWorld Heist is the latest title from Image & Form, the developers mainly known for their SteamWorld Dig title. As the name implies, this is related, but more in the sense it’s a spin off in the same world rather than a sequel. Original released on the 3DS, the game has made the jump to higher definition platforms recently, and it may just steal your time.
SteamWorld Heist is a turn-based 2D strategy game that has players controlling a few space pirates with a heart of gold types. Controls are relatively simple and standard for strategy games, though there are some elements of real-time aiming ala Valkyria Chronicles to manage.
These provide the crux of the skill checks for players, as guns sway and thus their bullet trajectory changes slightly, and with bad timing you can change an epic trick shot destroying a hard to reach enemy into a whiff that sends the bullet back toward that explosive barrel you took cover behind.
The signature art style is one of the biggest connections to the previous game, and it allows for a lot of character to seep through. Space westerns like Firefly are obvious inspirations, except everyone’s a cobbled together robot, at least of the good guys. The bad guys like a little more uniformity. It can feel a bit crude and overdesigned at times, but for the most part it’s a pleasant journey into a style of game not seen very often.
Audio wise, SteamWorld Heist is more of a mixed bag. It has the typical sort of western songs that sometimes set the mood, but they kind of get old as well. There’s no voice acting beyond some gibberish robot sound effects. Curiously, at least on the PlayStation Vita, it feels like the sound mixing might be off in general, with everything sounding a bit muted even at full volume.
Steamworld Heist begins with the space rogue Captain Piper Faraday recovering from a disastrous mission that lost most of her crew. From there the plot is a little barren, mainly just going around being a general do-gooder and solving problems. It does kick up a notch once the action turns toward fighting the Royal Army rather than the various other space-faring hillbillies, but it’s never too big of a focus.
Your squad starts small, but over time you’ll get to recruit a whole cast of oddballs like a former circus strongman and a pun-loving retiree. Each character belongs to a specific class, each with their own unique quirks like doing more damage if they don’t move in their turn or applying buffs by standing near allies, as well as access to specific weaponry types.
The game is actually a bit oddly paced in the way it doles out recruits, often doubling up on classes before a new class shows up. The seventh character was, for instance, the first Flanker I encountered, which was quickly followed up by another Flanker.
In fact, there are some annoying pacing issues in general. A lot of missions where you can only take a few characters means having to grind things out and rearrange inventory a lot in order to have a well balance squad for the tough missions, especially on the harder difficulties.
When it does hit its stride, however, Steamworld Heist is great fun. Characters begin to really shine around Level 4, and you’ll soon find yourself abusing cover, exploding enemies, flanking and pulling off incredible ricochet shots. One of the biggest contributors to this is that most missions do not require killing enemies.
Instead, you’re simply there to steal loot or find some intel and make a break for it, which allows for some great run-and-gun moments as well as being able to use the utility of a character’s unique charms more creatively. Other strategy games could learn from this, as they often get bogged down in the conflict so certain strategies and classes end up standing out too much.
Steamworld Heist is a slow burn, both mechanically and story wise. Stick with it past the first area though, and you’ll find a charming strategy game with a surprising amount of depth and challenge.