In a universe dominated by Steam-powered robots, Earth as we know it is no longer and has exploded into oblivion. All that’s left are a few floating chunks of rock and a really, really hot core. In amongst all of this chaos is a little rag-tag team of CowBots fighting for survival and overall peace, but there’s a damn long journey ahead of them.
SteamWorld Heist is the latest game from Image & Form set in the SteamWorld universe. This time however, players are presented with a gorgeous turned-based tactical shooter in which they must embark on dangerous exploration and extraction missions in order to acquire precious resources, Gallons of Water. However, this is more than just a board-and-plunder game, there’s more to SteamWorld Heist than meets the eye.
Players take control of the courageous CowBot Capt. Piper Faraday, a smuggler and part-time pirate as her crew, or what’s left of it, are tasked with getting rid of the first of many factions in the game, Scrappers. These no-good robots are causing trouble and gaining unwanted attention from The Royal Space Force, another one of the game’s factions, a breed of oil-powered robots more deadlier than the Scrappers.
So with the first task at hand, players are immediately thrown into the first of many Scrapper ships in which we’re to bestow in order to acquire swag and get to the bottom of their dirty dealings. The first mission, as you’d expect, acts as a tutorial showing you the game’s fairly simplistic control system. Much like you’d expect from a turn-based game, players are given limited movement, with fewer steps allowing your CowBots to deal some damage. The game is heavily cover-based too so if you’re ever left out in the open, you can guarantee that you’ll have a bad time.
Once you’ve got the basics, you’re then introduced to the first of Piper’s crew, Seabrass, he’s really your right-hand man, and I wouldn’t go into a mission without him. He’s one of the many different crew members you can recruit during your time in the game and offers a different style of play both in choice of weapon and stats.
Throughout the game you’ll be introduced to a number of characters each with their own set of unique stats and features, though the more you play with each character, the more skills are unlocked allowing for a more diverse team when attempting the more larger missions.
Though you can’t just recruit every character on the fly, sometimes they require a good number of stars or a certain fee in Gallons in order to become a part of your team, which adds to the game’s replayability.
In terms of depth, SteamWorld Heist has a lot to offer in both mission types, character customisation, weapon variations, and much more. With each mission, players can choose which of their crew they take into battle and what weapons, items, and of course, hats they take with them. This adds an incredible amount of depth to the game as you’re free to take on missions how you see fit, whether it’s seeking out as much loot as possible before tackling the level’s big boss, or going for gold before seeking loot on the way back to extraction.
SteamWorld Heist is also incredibly addictive with that “just one more level” urge you get when you realise you’ve been playing the game for three hours more than you expected. In fact, I’ve managed to drain an entirely freshly charged 3DS three times while continually playing the game, it’s just that addictive.
You’d think that once you’ve entered one ship, taken down enemies, secured loot, and evacuated, you’ve entered them all, but SteamWorld Heist is incredibly diverse, even when you totally mess up and are forced to replay the mission again, the ship is generated differently meaning you have to come up with completely new tactics on each play through.
It’s worth mentioning though that SteamWorld Heist isn’t an easy game, even on the game’s ‘Casual’ difficulty. That’s not to say that it’s impossible, it’s just challenging, but in a good way. Having started the entire game on the ‘Regular’ difficulty (there’s Casual, Regular, Experienced, Veteran, and Elite), I found myself stuck on one mission for hours, I think I’d attempted it around 7 times before switching to Casual before the mission began for the eighth time. Oh yeah, I should mention, you can switch difficulty on the fly before each mission allowing you to attempt a more challenging difficulty mode without needing to begin the game all over again… or easier, if you get a little stuck.
That was one of the more impressive things I found in SteamWorld Heist, the ability to switch difficulty on the fly. Sometimes I feel like a bit of a crappy gamer when having to choose the Novice or Easy modes in games I’m unfamiliar with so I can get to grips with it, so the ability to just switch between easy and not-so, was fantastic. It also once again adds to the game’s replayability allowing you to attempt past missions on a much harder difficulty.
Also, this isn’t without its rewards either, as players are offered way more experience, better loot, and more when playing on a harder difficulty.
Speaking of loot. This is another one of the game’s key focuses. Aside form collecting Gallons of Water, the games’ currency, players will often be rewarded with weapons each of which have their own rarity ratings – the rarer the gun, the better they usually are, and the higher their worth.
This loot system does come with a caveat though, as you can’t just harbour everything you loot as you begin with just a few item slots in your inventory to keep weapons, items, and more. Sure, you can purchase more storage slots, but even then, you’ll often find that you’ll have to sell-off one of your rare items in order to keep something you need.
SteamWorld Heist’s gameplay is just fantastic. It offers that feeling of “every move counts” as you navigate the enemy ships, because one wrong move can have the whole mission collapse around you, and if you do inevitably fail, it’ll cost you Gallons to get your crew reassembled. However, taking risks can really pay off in the long run, you just need to keep your wits about you. You see, its not always about tacking the enemy head-on, sometimes the levels present some form of environmental hazzard which you can use to your advantage whether its an explosive red barrel, or later on in the game, oil slick which covers the floor and ignites when shot at.
However, these environmental hazards can also work against you. For example, the aforementioned oil slick completely wrecked the end of a mission I’d spent about 30 minutes executing perfectly, as I idiotically decided to shoot at an enemy through a platform covered in the stuff wiping out my entire team… one step away from the evacuation zone. Man that hurt.
That’s one of the great things about SteamWorld Heist though, I never found failure frustrating, I found it oddly compelling, it made me want to try one more time to improve on what I’d learned, I wanted to complete the mission, no matter how many times I died just steps away from the final part. Failure is just a part of the game, and more often than not, slaps you in the face making you realise you should have kept an eye on each of your crew a little more closely.
SteamWorld Heist is an absolutely fantastic game which has me itching to play more, in fact, in order to fact-check I had to open up the game and found myself playing through a level for around 20 minutes. Man this game is addictive.