Hello and welcome to ‘The Twelve Games of Christmas’, a highlight reel of some of my (Dann Sullivan, Editor-in-Chief) favourite games of 2017. As regular readers will know, we’re extremely eclectic in our tastes here at B3; hopefully these little suggestions, essentially recommendations, will match that. Enjoy!
Heat Signature has been a regular discussion topic on B3’s team chat channel since the game launched back in late September of this year. It’s the latest in a long series of stealth action games, although definitely leans more toward the ‘toolbox’ style ones we’ve been seeing do well recently — titles like Hitman, Metal Gear Solid V, Dishonored and more — which give the player a massive amount of options, including many environmental-based ones.
The game features a diverse, space-tech themed toolbox of strange gadgets and weapons of which no single one can see you through a mission. A decent variety of them are required to stand a chance with the more difficult contracts which fill the Heat Signature’s procedurally generated galaxies.
There’s a wonderful path to the game’s deep-space, distant-future technology. Heat Signature embodies the ‘show not tell’ mantra of 60s and 70s science-fiction, with everybody I know who has played it simply taking the technology as offered: ‘Oh, this one teleports me here, but then back again in X seconds’; or ‘Oh, this gun somehow fires brutal, flesh-dissolving acid’. The selection of gadgets on hand is diverse, too: a selection of teleporters, each with their own handicaps; various traps which can neutralise guard technology or even teleport enemies out of the ship; a bevy of weapons including stun and projectile; and a selection of miscellaneous treats which alter or power down various technologies. Add to this the fact that you can teleport items from around the ship direct to your hand if they’re out in the open, there are explosive canisters lining many ships, you can throw almost anything you hold and ship windows can be shattered, venting rooms into space… ‘Options’ was clearly a word present throughout all stages of the game’s inception.
It might all sound like a lot, but it all comes down to choice and control. On every mission you start off in a state of stealth, grabbing a quick glimpse at the ship’s general layout as you whistle in to dock, with relative freedom to move about the ship. Your goal is normally in an area far from where you first dock, but after you’ve completed a few missions you may well have a shuttle which can breach closer, or keycard cloners and teleporters aplenty to get you to your destination in a few brief moments. As an alternative, you may simply run and gun your way through — there’s always a variety of missions available and there’s never any harm in continually picking the ones labelled as easy. You still progress the liberation of the galaxy (the game’s ultimate goal), but you’ll just be doing it at your own pace.
Of all of the dozens of clever things the game does, there is one which I regard above all else. At any point during the game you can pause, change what you’ve got equipped and queue up an action to unpause with. This means you can reach a doorway, launch a grenade into a room, teleport to the grenade’s destination, teleport a blade to your hand, stab an enemy just outside of the grenade-blast radius, throw your blade into another enemy, then teleport away before the thing detonates.
The feeling you get from stuff like that doesn’t wear down, either. I still get a kick out of activating a shield at the last moment, or kiting enemies around a corner to then teleport away as they’re taken out by a reprogrammed sentry gun. The game and its mechanics are not puzzle pieces — that would infer that there’s a single, optimum way. Instead they are nuts, bolts and leftover screws from flat-packed furniture — most of the time you’ll find a way to make it fit and work, but sometimes it’ll be just perfect and you can pretend that you knew it would be all along.
There are, simply, a ridiculous number of ways to clear a room — or get through without being spotted or detected. That ability to pause on cue and line up a shot would have been enough to sell me on Heat Signature — as somebody who spent many hours rapidly pausing to emulate split-second decisions while playing Baldur’s Gate and its ilk — and I’d probably be screaming about it still even if it was just a game where you had a single weapon with that active pause ability. It takes the game from the frantic, rhythmic pace of Hotline Miami, and gives the player the ability to plan out those next few moments in their own time — something which takes half-hour measures in Hitman (2016)’s groundhog-day–style levels and challenges.