December 11, 2015

SteamWorld Heist - Review

Steamworld Heist comes to us from the same people that delivered the exceptional SteamWorld Dig two years back and while they are the same team, it is not the same game. Does a change in game genres provide players with enough reason to delve back into this universe?

What makes the switch between the two games easy to digest is that this is actually the third game in the SteamWorld Universe and the third genre they are using. What makes this really interesting is not the game genre, nor the characters but the fact that it is a turn based game that requires skill over luck. The story starts off with the explanation that Steam World is gone, blown up, with giant chunks of it now floating around space and just before it occurred, the inhabitants, the Steambots managed to escape and are now living in space, except space is not all science fiction fantasy, it is more wild west, with miners and cowbots and bandits about.

You play as Piper Faraday, the captain of a ship of former pirates, who attempt to help out the bots of the frontier in their own special way, by killing all who get in their way. Piper learns early on that the Scrappers, the bandit type, are robbing and hurting the miners of the frontier who are just trying to earn a living, but what motivates her to stop them is not because they are doing the wrong thing, but if they keep it up then the Royalists will come in, the large military force who are known for taking what they want and not caring about those that get in their way. So off Piper and her crew go to stop the Scrappers before the Royalists come in. 

While that does not sound all that interesting, it is made up for by the mechanics, no pun intended, of the gameplay, you will take control over each member for your crew, each turn. There are two colours listed on the ground as options available to you, Orange is the space you can move around and then still take an action after moving, whereas the blue space is where you can move but then no longer attack. Knowing when to attack or take cover becomes more critical as the game moves ahead, but for each of the actions you can take, the enemies can do the same thing, meaning you may be able to get a shot off to one enemy, but another might be ready to take you down unless you get into cover.

Throughout all of the ships, space trains, all of which will generate a random layout and other pre-determined locations you can enter, there is a range of cover options, barrels, walls, collapsible barriers and such, each cover option has pros and cons and you will need to work out the best options you can on the fly. For example, the barrels are likely to be the most common barrier in the early parts of the game, but they are also the least durable, which means that they will only take a few hits to destroy, there is also the issue of which way the barrel is standing, if its laying down, you will only get a smaller amount of cover than if you were behind an upright barrel. The rest of the cover options also have this same configuration, so you need to ensure that if you are taking Piper or another tall bot to cover, that even when crouched it’s enough to protect them. Of course, the enemies can also take cover, which is there the games most interesting and useful mechanic comes from, ricocheting your shots off of things.

In other turn based rpg’s attacks are entirely dependent on luck over skill, sure you can level up an attack or improve your chance of a critical, but it is still all about rolling the dice. Here, attacks can be directly controlled, which will impact your results at the end of a mission, Piper starts out with a pistol that has a laser scope on it, which gives you an idea of how the shot will travel, using the dpad, you can aim up and down and as you do, you will notice that the laser will bounce of walls, roofs, boxes and more, which will cause the laser to bounce around. This is not just for show, sometimes enemies will be behind cover and while you might be able to shoot the hat off them with a direct shot, you will need to actually ricochet your shot so you can hit them head on. 

This does become an issues as the ships and rooms within get larger, because if you don’t have a laser sight attached, you will sometimes not be able to see either where you are aiming, or where your shot is going to land. When your target is just off screen, you can move the circle pad around to see where they are exactly, but in doing so, you will lose your place on the map and trying to line the two up with a shot, even when bouncing off the walls can be a challenge. There are also other guns that you can use, machine guns, grenade launchers and more, each have different handling and shot physics, which you will need to learn and account for. What can also change up the results of your skirmishes amongst the bots of deep space are hats, while most are cosmetic, allowing you to look like a coybot or such, some do have bonus attributes attached, that can result in advantages for you in battle.

The bots themselves also have perks that you can use to turn the tide back in your favor, with Piper having the ability to inspire those who stand next to her, others have the ability to deal more damage after taking damage and such and learning how to use them to their fullest is also going to require some thought. The final area you need to keep an eye on is your inventory, when you start it will be small and as you complete missions and collect loot from the ships, it will fill up, now you can sell items to keep space going, but you will need to purchase expansion slots as the weapons and gear you have equipped to each member of your crew, is still stored in the inventory, which means you will only ever have a few empty slots free at any time. You can occasionally find inventory expansion items in a loot drop, but mostly you will need to buy them, this time you will need to use water, as the currency, which you obtain again through the loot drops as well as selling unwanted equipment.

Of course selling the equipment is easy said than done, as most of the weapons look incredible, but they almost all have funny little bits of text that describe them, their stats or their history. In fact, the entire game looks a treat, it still looks the same as SteamWorld Dig, but it is a cleaner look, with characters containing more detail than ever and even the ships and space looking for alive than Dig. In Dig, backgrounds were static, with depth implied, but never really used, here however the backgrounds are part of the story, ships have parts that you can see moving, lights blinking and such. 

These elements help the world feel more alive than ever before, which is impressive seeing as the inhabitants are machines. The characters speak in this gibberish machine language which is nice, with some having a heavily processed sound that fits their design, the problem with this is that from time to time, you will enter a bar and hear actual human speech, played out through songs, while the songs are really cool and fit the world very well, the clash of speech types makes no sense. The music throughout the rest of the game is very well played out, it never attempts to push to the front of whatever is happening and can actually help build the tension when the countdowns are happening.

SteamWorld Heist is a fantastic game, it looks like turn based, but also plays like an action game. The characters are wonderfully realized, the world even more so, with random layouts, no two playthroughs will ever be the same. If you can overlook the strange mix of English songs and gibberish speaking and can deal with the making shots off screen, then you will find a game that deserves to be played.

Thanks to Image & Form Games for supplying the game for review

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