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Review | Steamworld Heist

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Between Steamworld Heist and Steamworld Dig the question remains, what can’t these Steambots do?

Take some Firefly, throw in some XCOM, and heaping helping of steampunk whimsy and you have got yourself Steamworld Heist. All ya need is a bot with a hammer for a penis and you got Captain Malcolm Reynolds. Pop culture references aside, Heist is a homage to westerns, just substitute horses with spaceships.

While the game does have an amazing opening sequence that sets the scene for you, I will do my best to explain the story. After the Earth exploded, bots began to mine moisture for survival. You play a rag tag group of outlaw steambots on the fringes of space. Dealing with gangs, Royalists and all sorts of seedy characters. The setting is simple but eloquent. You play the captain of one these outlaw gangs and some bots begin to muscle in on your territory. Thus the Firefly-esque adventure begins with you taking up the mantle of the common people and making off with some decent loot as a benefit.

If you’re unfamiliar with the universe of Steamworld, I highly recommend playing Steamworld Dig as that is a fantastic title all on its own. Aside from being an awesome action/platformer it also gives insights into why Earth explodes.

Steamworld Heist on the other hand does a dramatic pivot from its predecessor. Where you controlled a single bot and primarily worried about mining, this time you steal, shoot, and control a whole squad. It was definitely one of the things that impressed me with the developer Image & Form. Instead of sticking with what they knew and had already learned they decided to take the series in a whole other direction and genre. It takes some moxie for that kind of thing and hats off to them for pulling it off.

At its most simple, Heist is a turn based strategy game that puts you behind the gun.

Aiming is by far Heists defining feature and what makes it fun. Trick shots, bouncing grenades, and shooting your enemies hat off is the bread and butter of this game. It’s satisfying every time when you bounce your sniper round off five walls and hit a bot in the back of the head.

The way the mission structure works equates to a train robbery. You crew boards the enemy vessel with a given set of objectives, steal, plunder, kill, deactivate, the usual stuff. You go through compartments, collecting loot and dealing with the ships inhabitants. Usually you have to make a speedy exit via escape pod at the end of missions. Difficulty antes up with giving the enemy better guns, turrets and improving aim. The XCOM mechanic kicks in with tactical placements of your crew and a cover  mechanic. While flanking enemies is possible, it tends to be difficult as all levels are procedurally generated. Additionally there are also classes and abilities that are reminiscent of XCOM.

While there are not many buttons to worry, about the game does feature full controller support and comes recommended. Reason being is that the aiming mechanic can be a bit tricky especially if you don’t have a scope. Otherwise there isn’t too much to fuss with, you move your troops, fire, and use special abilities. Every character you have/recruit has their own unique class and weapon set. As you complete missions they gain experience which unlocks new abilities. Guns range from light pistols, shotguns, to heavy weapons like rocket launchers.

This mixing of classes and abilities makes every mission unique as most characters have their own way of approaching things.

Thankfully, all missions are repeatable and there are several different kinds of difficulty depending on your skill level. These raise the stakes when it comes to loot/XP but also increases the punishment for failure. Unlike XCOM though, you don’t lose your Steambots permanently but just lose water, the games currency.

Between heists you have the galaxy map that you use to fly around. Steamworld Heists limits content you can access either through the story or by a reputation system that is given in stars. It comes off feeling a little bit like a mobile game as certain missions cannot be done until you achieve a certain star count. As you unlock more areas you gain access to bars/shops that let you recruit new Steambots and buy weapons/accessories. All of these mechanics flow into each other very smoothly but the game isn’t spotless.

The only issue I found lies in inventory management. This can become quite a headache. Despite having a huge ship, you only are allowed to carry a limited number of items. Your storage can be expanded upon later in the game but I always felt like I was running behind on space. While all bots can share accessories/guns, you end up having quite a few unique weapons/items or double up cause you might want two of the same class on a mission. Thankfully you can sell items at any point in space but I just would’ve enjoyed a bit more freedom in this area. This is magnified and very frustrating at the end of missions constantly deciding what I wanted to keep and sell. Preventing progression in the game.

While I enjoyed Heist’s gameplay quite a bit it does become a bit repetitive eventually. Even though the game breaks things up with different objectives and a boss fight occasionally, you eventually end up in a slog of just upgrading guns/accessories. I wouldn’t say the game failed to my hold my attention but it didn’t sweep me off my feet. Unlike Steamworld Dig that I played obsessively until I beat it. I think Heist is best enjoyed causally and slowly.

What drew my attention and love about this game series is its style.

This is something that matches its predecessors and improves upon significantly. I am constantly surprised how well Robots and Western themes just blend together. Every Steambot has an incredible amount of personality to them. From the charming Piper, whose more heart then metal to background characters like bartenders and merchants. When I docked with the Saloon and found a steambot band playing some really awesome tunes, I couldn’t stop smiling. It’s little moments like these that enhances Steamworld. Enemies, allies alike all have their own unique style of ships, weapons, and detail abounds.

Obviously there aren’t rendered clouds to gawk at or 60FPS Cup o’ noodle but that doesn’t stop Steamworld from feeling like a thriving and fun universe. Things are the same when it comes to combat and more action oriented scenes. Lasers sizzle, bullets zing, and bots crunch or scatter into pieces when they die.

I have no fault with the visuals or sound department of Steamworld Heist. The music is great and I never got tired of it. There were plenty of times the music actually surprised with me a jaunty tune. It isn’t all that surprising that you can purchase the soundtrack as well. The sound effects all had their proper amount of gravitas to them and made the actions more visceral.

There is plenty to give the game quite a bit of replay value. Like I mentioned earlier there are many difficulty settings that keep things fresh if you find it too easy. The game does feature Steam Achievements and cards. There is also some additional DLC that adds more weapons, missions, and a new crew member. Depending on your skill level the game could take anywhere from ten to twenty hours of gameplay.

From a game development standpoint, It takes balls to try something completely new.

Most of the time you improve upon a formula and do the best at it to make more money. This was something completely unexpected and I appreciated Steamworld Heist for what it is. It’s fun, smooth, and well made. I hope this isn’t the last we see of the Steamworld universe and I can’t wait to see what the developer cooks up next. As for Heist, if you enjoy strategy games with a bit of a casual nature I recommend this title easily. Coming in at the indie standard of $14.99/£10.99 this is a safe bet, and downright steal during a sale.

Well that wraps up my review of Steamworld Heist, going to leave ya with some cowboy wisdom. Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear or a fool from any direction.

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