Cowboy robot turn-based strategy set in space – what’s not to like?
Image & Form followed on from their rather excellent SteamWorld Dig not with a sequel, but rather a new turn-based strategy game set within a more futuristic version of the same universe. SteamWorld Heist took the robot cowboys from Dig and plonked them into spaceships with excellent reception when the game launched on 3DS. Now it is available for the PS4 and Vita, sporting higher resolution and framerate, and cross-buy for both big screen and portable fun.
Set in the far, distant future from SteamWorld Dig, play in SteamWorld Heist is set in a universe where the Earth has been destroyed and robots cruise around in spaceships looking for that most valuable resource, water. Players take control of Captain Piper Faraday and her ever-growing crew of space pirates as they take on missions which lead them away from just plundering other spaceships for survival towards something a bit more meaningful.
The story does a great job of moving the game forward, but it is the individual characters and humour that really holds it all together. Each character is given personality and, as the player chooses between which crew mates to take on missions, it is easy to form relationships with favorites. Great dialogue gives the characters further depth, with many chuckle-worthy moments and great use of the overlying western theme making the game really upbeat and enjoyable to play.
Of course, this would mean nothing without great gameplay. Turn-based strategy may turn a lot of players away, but the reality is that the game plays more like an action game, and looks like a platformer. While SteamWorld Heist has a lot in common with games like X-Com, the simple and fast-paced gameplay make it feel very different.
Gameplay is 2D, but the view is side on rather than the usual top-down view preferred by this genre. Missions involve boarding other spaceships or installations, but the great thing is that these settings, which are essentially the battlefields of the game, are randomly generated meaning that players will have to think on their toes as each time they will be different. This certainly adds replayability to SteamWorld Heist.
The players characters and the enemies take turns to move and act. When it comes to moving, the line on the screen will dictate how far the chosen character can move, with the line changing colour after a set distance to show that no further actions will be available beyond that point. Obstacles can form cover for both the player and the enemies, and are best taken advantage of if the player wants to keep their robot boarding crew alive.
When it comes to the action, there are no behind the scenes dice rolls here. Players will have to use skill to ensure that they hit their enemies, having to manually aim their guns before firing. This adds a pleasing level of interaction to the game, with the aim wobbling slightly to make things a bit more difficult, and bullets being able to ricochet from the environment allowing skilled players to perform trick shots and land hits even on shielded enemies. It’s a nice mechanic.
Completing missions will see the player rewarded with reputation, which is used for recruiting new crew members, and experience for each robot taking part in the mission. This experience allows the robots to level up and gain new abilities and improve their stats. There is also plentiful loot to be found or bought, with the likes of hats, different types of equipment and many weapons that can be equipped to the different crew members to further improve them. Players will have quite the inventory that will need to be sorted through after each mission, with unwanted or unneeded items being sold for water, which acts as currency in the game.
With the length of the game stretching into double figures, some 13 or 14 hours, there is very little not to like about SteamWorld Heist. There is a New Game+ mode upon completion, and assorted difficulty levels can add more challenge as the player improves in their skill.
SteamWorld Heist is a great little game which offers something different from other games of the turn-based strategy genre. The quirky setting and humour complements the more hands-on turn-based strategy with great effect, and there is plenty of content for both the portable and couch players. The only real issue is the lack of cross-save, meaning that players cannot continue their adventure from PS4 to Vita. Still, despite this small hiccup, SteamWorld Heist is highly recommended.