Steamworld Heist may owe its name to 2013’s Steamworld Dig but don’t be fooled, they’re completely different beasts. Steamworld dig was at its heart a platformer, a bloody good one too. The art style and universe the games are set in is shared but this time around Swedish developer Image & Form have gone down the turn based shooting route.
You play as the crew of a spacecraft, drifting from ship to ship, shooting and looting as you go. It’s a good thing the shooting is fun, and the controls are tight as you’ll be doing a lot of it, often ricocheting bullets off walls to hit your target.
Choosing the right crew and guns is of the upmost importance. Occasionally you’ll be fighting solo, but for the most part you’ll be controlling two to four characters, depending on the mission. Crew can be sought out and recruited throughout the game. Sometimes they will join you for free but usually you will have to sweeten the deal with some water, the games currency, which can be found on missions.
Every character has their own skill level which will go up each mission as long as they survive to the end. When choosing your crew at the start of missions you can either rotate them so they all level up at a steady rate or find a combination you like and stick with it. Your crew don’t stay dead. If they are defeated they reappear in your ship at the end of the battle. The real penalty for losing is the currency you are fined when you are defeated.
Guns can be bought at shops found throughout the game. They all seem balanced very nicely, you’ll usually have to sacrifice something when looking for a new gun, whether it’s a sight, or chances of landing a critical hit.
The difficulty feels right too, a decent challenge, but not too hard, however there was a spike at the penultimate boss. If you get stuck, you can go back and play easier levels, building up XP to unlock new abilities and currency to buy better guns. Alternatively, you can turn the difficulty down, you can move it up or down as you see fit at the start of each battle. I’ve been playing on regular, there are four difficulty settings which alter the amount of XP you gain from battles and how much you are penalised from being defeated or quitting.
The sound design is on point. The songs by the aptly named Steam Powered Giraffe which play in the bars and at the end of boss fights is excellent. It’s surprising to hear songs with vocals in a game like this but somehow it fits.
Like it’s predecessor, Steamworld Heist’s art style looks great. There are still shades of the Old West there but this time there’s more of an emphasis on sci-fi. I did notice a bit of a stutter with the frame rate on levels with a lot of enemies on screen but overall it runs smoothly.
The characters are charming as ever and the game has a nice sense of humour. It’s not side-splitting the whole way through, but you should get a few laughs from it, i.e: the in-game codex mistaking an iron for an ancient robot that moved by firing steam.
As of writing the game is only on 3DS but coming to other platforms soon. The game fits well on the 3DS, I can’t imagine going without the second screen which is used for stats and a map.
My main criticism would be that sometimes it’s not altogether clear what you can shoot through and what you can’t. A few times I have found myself lining up a shot only to have the bullet hit an impenetrable wall and then be killed promptly afterwards, highly frustrating.
Overall though Steamworld Heist is a joy to play. The shooting is fun and the characters and art style are charming. It’s definitely a worthy entry in to the series.
By Tom Martin