Steam powered shenanigans.
Given the success of Image & Form’s previous instalment, SteamWorld Dig, it would have been easy for the developer to just pump out a quick sequel; throw in a few new features and upgrades and slap a ‘2’ at the end. So it’s impressive that they decided to take a risk and do something completely different with the franchise. The result is delightfully surprising and proves that SteamWorld Dig wasn’t just a flash in the pan.
The story revolves around Captain Piper and her ragtag crew of pirate robots. They make their living from smuggling water and goods, while trying to avoid the scavengers and the Royal Space Force. Things get a little heavy though, when scavengers start to increase their attacks and the local businesses start to feel the pressure. Something strange is afoot, and it’s up to Piper and company to get the the root of the problem.
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Although this is a SteamWorld game, this is about as different from Dig as you could possibly get. But that is not a bad thing. SteamWorld Dig was amazing, but it’s questionable as to whether it has enough legs to support two games. Instead, Image & Form have taken this amazing universe and thrown in some XCOM. Yep, I said XCOM. It may seem like a strange mix, but it fits perfectly.
This isn’t a full on XCOM clone however, as that would never really work on a handheld. Heist takes the turn based strategy action and places it in a 2-D world. Permadeath is also absent, instead favouring a penalty system if a bot is downed during a mission. This doesn’t make the game less forgiving however, especially as the things progress. In fact, I found the game to be extremely challenging after the first few hours. But it is so easy to dive back in to a level and retry, it never bothered me. I did find that I had to go back and replay some older levels so that I could upgrade some of my bots though. But seeing as all of the levels are randomly generated, every playthrough was slightly different.
The aim of each level is to steal as much loot as possible and then make it back out in one piece. But standing in the way are armed scavengers and mechanised weapons. The action is turn based. Each turn allows the player to move the bots into position and fire their weapon. There is also the option to use both actions to move even further, at the expense of firing. There are hundreds of weapons that will become available to our rogues, either through loot drops or from vendors. But some of the crew can only use certain weapons, and there is the option to change the loadouts of each bot before the mission starts. There is also a huge selection of armour, grenades and hats to choose from as well. Make it out of the level alive and the bots are rewarded with experience points and water, which is used as currency. As the bots level up, they unlock a new upgrade. These range from new abilities to stat boosts. And every level counts, as the game gets steadily more difficult with each new mission.
Being aware of the surroundings, as well as the position of your crewmates is also vitally important. Explosive barrels litter each level, so a misplaced shot can be fatal. Friendly fire is also turned on. If a shot ricochets of a wall there’s no telling where it may go, and players may end up delivering the final blow to a colleague instead. There was more than one occasion where I was sure that I had lined up a shot perfectly, only for the bullet to skim past a scavenger’s head, bounce of 4 walls and land in an explosive barrel; which then proceeded to explode and kill one of my teammates. It was as funny as it was annoying. Don’t be fooled, there is a lot more complexity involved than the game would initially suggest. Each mission completed moves the story on a little, and opens up new ships to pillage. The world is full of colourful and comical NPCs that bring even more life to this universe. Ironic for a game about steam powered robots.
SteamWorld Heist is another gem. The universe and its inhabitants are joyful to play with and kept me coming back for more. Image & Form took a bold step by not opting for the easy route, instead choosing to expand on an already interesting theme. Heist is as good as any full priced 3DS game out there; and in most cases, even better. With hours and hours of gameplay, it’s a steal at just $16.99.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.