SteamWorld Heist


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Complete Review & Description

Around the time of SteamWorld Heist’s release, Image & Form CEO Brjann Sigurgeirsson shared an interesting open letter questioning the dichotomy of AAA and indie games. “I hope we never have to listen to phrases like ‘It’s a great game… for an indie studio,’ because it implies that indie studios will somehow always be second-rate. With such a preconception, we cannot charge adequately even when making top-notch games, and in turn it means that we can’t be brave enough, economically and creatively, to go all in,” he said. “Games aren’t indie or AAA – they’re just better or worse.”
He has a very valid point and SteamWorld Heist is an excellent example of it. Here’s a game that, at NZD $29.99, is pretty pricey “for an indie game” – but it’s also a better game than a lot of the AAA games that cost three times as much. It’s fun, exciting, challenging (if you want it to be), innovative, deep, and gorgeously presented; honestly, at 30 bucks, it’s a steal.

In SteamWorld Heist, the world upon which Image & Form’s previous game, SteamWorld Dig, took place has been shattered, scattering its robotic inhabitants to the stars. Steam-powered robots – or steambots – scavenge for water on the fringes of this new society, while the diesel-powered Royalists rule the Core and generally make the most of not having their existence tied to a scarce resource. For steambots, it’s a choice of life on the edge, or life under the Royalists’ thumb.
If that isn’t enough of an allusion to Firefly, let me introduce Piper Faraday and her crew, a ragtag band of ne’er-do-wells making a living in the Outskirts by doing whatever needs doing. Smuggling, mainly… until one fateful job sets them on a journey that will ultimately see them with the future of the universe in their steam-powered hands. Who’s reanimating dead steambots into “Scrappers”, and why? What secrets are the Royalists and their Queen hiding? Why did Dora leave her cushy laboratory job to become an explorer on Piper’s crew?

The plot itself is not overly riveting, but this is more than made up for by a wonderful cast and some great writing. For all its steampunk and sci-fi trappings, SteamWorld Heist is a fun, lighthearted romp that doesn’t even think about taking itself seriously. This is never more apparent than with the quirky characters who join Piper’s crew along the way, like Ivanski, a bodybuilding tank of a steambot, and a former circus performer, who finds himself inspired to rekindle his childhood love of ballet.
SteamWorld Heist doesn’t just introduce a new cast and storyline to that of its predecessor, but a whole new genre of game. Where Dig was a “platform mining adventure”, Heist is a turn-based strategy, with a dose of shooter, puzzle elements, and platform elements; imagine a cross between XCOM, Worms, and pool, and you’re on the right track.
SteamWorld Heist is a fun, lighthearted romp that doesn’t even think about taking itself seriously.
When a character’s turn comes up, you move them, take cover if you can and want to, and then perform an action. Most of the time, this will be shooting, and this is where so much of the excitement of the game takes place – because, with the exception of a few weapons, you can ricochet bullets off walls to your heart’s content. Can’t get line-of-sight on a foe hiding behind cover? No worries, bounce your bullets of the wall to hit them in the back of the head. Want to take advantage of Dora’s Flanker skill – which gives her bonus damage when shooting enemies in the back – but can’t get behind them? Bounce your bullets. Want to just look cool? Bounce. Your. Bullets.

More than just a neat little afterthought, this ricochet mechanic is at the core of SteamWorld Heist’s battles. It’s in the level design, which encourages (and demands, on higher difficulties) you to use it to the fullest. It’s in the enemy AI, with the smarter foes forcing you to consider cover from all sides. It’s in the weapon design, with different guns having little quirks like an arcing trajectory or a laser sight to help line up trick shots.
Most importantly, it ties into SteamWorld Heist’s most vital, if functionally useless, feature: hats. As you progress, you’ll collect hats that your steambots can wear, and which enemy scrappers, Royalists, and whoever else can shoot off your head. The hats themselves are purely cosmetic, and it’s a decidedly silly feature, yet here I was, prioritizing the safety of my cranial adornments above all else.
Of course, you can retaliate and shoot enemies’ hats off, but you can go one further, and claim them for your own! The silly exclamations from friend and foe alike when they lose their hat is just icing on the cake. The only thing missing – some sort of hardcore mode, where if you don’t manage to reclaim your hat, it’s gone forever.

All that’s missing, really, is a bit of variety between missions. Certain factors, like how many steambots you can bring, change from outing to outing, but ultimately, every level amounts to: collect the loot and / or kill the enemies, then get to the exit. I also wouldn’t have argued with more side quests; there’s a substantial main campaign, but bar a handful of optional quests and hat collecting, there’s little else to do. If anything, it’s testament to how good what’s there is, more than anything else – I just want more of it!
All up, SteamWorld Heist is a fascinating game; a strategy RPG through and through, but with a central hook that sets it apart and makes it worth a look even for people with little interest in the genre. It’s not a good game, “for an indie studio” – it’s just a great game, and one that anyone with a 3DS should look int



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