Hello SteamWorld Heist! Do you expect your ported 3DS charms to work on a curmudgeony old PC elitist like myself? Look at you with your 2D side-scrolling simplified turn-based combat. Do you really think your stripped back mechanics will have any appeal here? How can you expect to survive on a platform filled with titles far more complex and vastly deeper – titles that use a perspective we expect our strategy games to adhere to? A fine joke indeed! Steam-powered robot space pirates surely have no place here!
Now excuse me, I must perforate that scallywag with a well-aimed ricochet off the far wall. Oh I say, that fellow is wearing a rather splendid busby – perhaps I will take it from his rusty bullet riddled corpse. Oh bother, it seems I have started another mission, well this one will be my last! Not that I am enjoying myself, most certainly not! Oh, that is a shiny crate over there, I wonder what’s in it… who needs sleep anyway?
SteamWorld Heist is a 2D tactical shooter from Swedish studio Image & Form distant. A “distant sequel” to platformer SteamWorld Dig, it introduces us to robot space smuggler extraordinaire Captain Piper Faraday and her ever-expanding crew of steam-powered buccaneers, as they scour the universe in search of swag, and precious stores of water. Captain Faraday isn’t all about that booty though – along the way she may even save all robot kind from the villainous pirate Scrappers and the oppressive yoke of the Red Queen and her mercenaries.
While this sounds very epic and space operatic, it’s actually a lot more of a three-piece steampunk themed pub band. That’s great in its own way, but not quite the sweeping saga as you might expect. The game’s linear progression and its unlocked story snippets are perfectly functional, but the universe promises so much more than is actually delivered time and time again. This is a shame because the writing in Heist is delightful and often hilarious. It’s disappointing it wasn’t allowed more screen time or scope.
Thankfully, the nuts and bolts of the core game are tight, and all the moving parts are all perfectly oiled. SteamWorld Heist is a new twist on an old genre. Gone are the dice rolls and the under-the-hood RNG mechanics, and indeed, most of the ancillary game systems found in many other titles in the genre have also been dropped. Instead Image & Form has drilled down to deliver a combat focused experience where shooting skill and timing are the deciding factors dictating the success or failure of Piper’s crew on each of their missions. Each outing starts with you locating your target, boarding a procedurally generated ship, and moving each of your crew members around the interior putting holes in your enemies until they fall down.
As in XCOM and a number of turn-based combat games, each crew member here has two phases during their turn: a movement phase and the shooty phase. Movement is just a simple mouse click or analogue stick wiggle, and once you’ve found a good vantage point or piece of cover, you are free to unleash some projectile pain. The shooty part of Heist is where a lot of the fun is found. This is no hidden dice roll game, here you manually aim your gun at the enemy and fire at your own discretion.
Bullets will ricochet, allowing for amazingly satisfying pin-balling bullets that can eliminate enemies on different levels, even when they’re hidden behind cover. There is a slight movement wobble to compensate for, so timing is vital, and this adds a level of tension and immediacy I’ve not experienced in a turn-based game before. I was quickly hooked, and all of a sudden all of the minor shortcomings of the game didn’t matter.
Making that perfect multiple ricochet head shot never gets tired. Skillfully utilising your crew’s different weapons and unique skills to overcome overwhelming odds and enemy forces is infinitely satisfying. It might be simple, but its executed perfectly. The combat might be where all of the game’s depth is found, but it’s all it needs. You will no doubt find yourself compulsively starting mission after mission and losing sleep as a result.
Image & Form has stripped the turn-based strategy genre down to the barest essentials to create a turn-based game that feels surprisingly action-packed. SteamWorld Heist is a quality ؘ– albeit simplified – strategy game that should appeal to veterans and rookies alike. Oh, and there are hats. So many hats. Beautiful and strange, collecting them might become an obsession. Not and I’m addicted. I can stop whenever I want! Is that a titanium alloy trilby?!