SteamWorld Heist

Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, WiiU, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Image & Form Games
Release Date: June 7, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PC Review - 'SteamWorld Heist'

by Brian Dumlao on Aug. 24, 2016 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

SteamWorld Heist is a game about space adventures and survival. Recruit a team of ragtag robots to explore and scavenge the remains of a destroyed world. Board enemy ships and command your crew in a unique variety of turn-based combat.

In the SteamWorld games, you're dealing with a post-human society where steam-powered, sentient robots explore the galaxy, but an Old West theme is prevalent throughout. The games are also curiosities because each entry is vastly different. The first title was a tower defense game that established the world, while SteamWorld Dig was an excavation game that further developed the world's lore. Both games also happened to be tons of fun to play thanks to some simple but tight mechanics. The latest entry in the series, SteamWorld Heist, remains lots of fun to play while further building upon the world with a totally different genre.

The story takes place several hundreds of years after SteamWorld Dig; the Earth has exploded, and the robots are still mining the galaxy. The robots have splintered off into different factions, like an oppressive government head, large swaths of lawless bandits called Scrappers, and simple colonists who just want to live off the asteroids and farm for minerals. Enter Piper Faraday, a pirate captain who is trying to get by on the outskirts of the colony. After being captured by one of the bandit groups, she escapes with all of her crew disassembled, save for one crewmember and her ship's pilot. Just wanting to save her way of life, she assembles a new crew and takes on odd jobs so she can get revenge against those who have wronged her.

Much like the titles that came before it, Heist takes on a completely different genre rather than building on any that had been explored before. In this case, you're looking at the side-scrolling, turn-based strategy genre. The genre's traits are still here, such as restricted movement per character per turn, and any attacks end the character's turn altogether. The missions have party limits, and the missions vary from simply looting a ship to eliminating everyone on board or any other combination of those scenarios and more. Successfully completing missions gets you loot as well as XP, which unlocks more abilities for each character, and loot gets you just about anything from extra equipment and equipment slots to new guns and crew members.

Compared to other strategy titles on the consoles, let alone PC, what you're presented with in Heist is a very simplified form of the genre. Your movement and attack restrictions are presented in a graphical format instead of a numerical one, so you can see at a glance how far you can move before you lose the ability to attack. Numbers aren't outrageously large, so while inflicting damage in the single digits may not seem impressive, it makes things easier to calculate. You don't have too many stats to deal with beyond health and attack power, so deep tweaking of a character isn't necessary. Also, the game is quite forgiving, so completing a mission with a dead character only means that their XP gain is reduced significantly — they're automatically resurrected once they reach your ship — and losing a mission means paying a repair fee to start over.

That simplicity doesn't mean that the game loses out on the tactical nuances that genre fans expect. The different character traits dictate who goes where. For example, you can have Seabrass take on the brunt of the attacks because his revenge ability gives his next attack increased damage. Meanwhile, you can stick Piper close to anyone else to give them an attack boost. The abilities of each crew member increase with each level, so there's certainly encouragement to take on every mission possible just to see what else you can do. Other elements, such as destructible cover and weapon restrictions per bot, also come into play, so you have to put some thought into how each mission goes down.

The really big feature is in the shooting system. Unlike most strategy games, you have full control of where you aim your shots, and with no virtual dice-rolling mechanics in play, the only way to miss is if your bullet or grenade never touches the enemy. It makes for a more satisfying outcome since you aren't subject to the whims of a randomizer. The exciting aspect of this feature is the ability to perform bank shots as if this were a game of billiards. The feature is more useful if your gun is equipped with a scope, since it provides a guiding line, but just about every bullet you shoot can ricochet off anything else (except for enemies and barrels).

The addition of the bank shot makes the game feel much more strategic. It's feasible to hit enemies who are hiding behind cover without tearing through the cover first. Reaching an explosive barrel to knock out a larger group of foes is entirely possible, as is going after the stronger foe who may be hiding behind someone weaker. Since it doesn't decrease the damage done by the attack in any way, you can even do it just to look cool. The only thing to overcome is that the aim will sway unless you have a robot who can be perfectly still.

With the main campaign clocking in at a healthy 12 hours, it would be forgiven if Heist offered nothing else. Luckily, the title keeps the experience going. A New Game+ mode is available that lets you restart the game but with all of your crew members available from the get-go. They'll all reset to level one, so you aren't coming in with a huge advantage, but it's nice to have the full bot lineup available from the beginning. Also, there are lots of different hats you can collect, either from loot bags or by shooting them off of enemy robots. There's no advantage to any one piece of headwear, but giving each of your crew members silly hats to wear is fun in its own way.

Despite originating on lower-resolution portable systems, the graphics look fantastic thanks mostly to the art style. The robot designs are distinct, and animations are impressive, even with each limb looking like it animates separately from the character. This effect is especially more pronounced once a robot is destroyed, since you'll see every part collapse in slow motion. The color scheme looks gorgeous for every background, and it fakes lighting rather well to generate shadows that give each place some depth. The increase in resolution and frame rate over the 3DS original is a nice bonus, but even if it didn't come with those improvements, Heist would've still been a good-looking title.

The sound is also great and boasts quite a few improvements over its predecessors. While the gibberish of the robots is still present when they speak, more intelligible voice-overs have been added to the new cut scenes that further flesh out the story. The music is also great during battles, and just the right tones are set when things start off nicely and when they get dire. What will really catch the attention of players is the music played at every shop, bar, and any general area where fighting isn't occurring. The lively and soulful tunes by the likes of Steam Powered Giraffe really bring out that Old West vibe, and it does it so well that you'll stay put longer than expected just to hear the whole thing play out.

SteamWorld Heist continues the series' tradition of being simple yet compelling. The game may be easy to grasp, but it delivers a nice difficulty boost that feels fair. The aiming system proves to be a great way to add some strategy to the title while also solving the limits of the 2-D perspective. The whole thing is fun to play, and with a good presentation accompanying a great game length, SteamWorld Heist is a worthy addition to any game library.

Score: 9.0/10

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