SteamWorld Heist (PlayStation 4) Review

By Nikola Suprak 27.06.2016

Review for SteamWorld Heist on PlayStation 4

Swedish developer Image & Form had a fairly simple task in front of them when designing the sequel to SteamWorld Dig. The original was a wildly creative and thoroughly entertaining experience, so all they really needed to do was slap on a new coat of paint and throw in a couple new ideas and everyone would be throwing money their way. Instead, what they decided to do for the sequel was to not only change all the fundamental mechanics that were so beloved in the original, but to completely alter what genre the game is in as well. SteamWorld Heist may not have much in common with the previous SteamWorld title, but it does share one crucial aspect that should make fans of the original elated: it is an absolute joy to play.

The hero of this steampunk robo-Western is Piper Faraday, captain of a ragtag group of smugglers and all-around smuggling pro. Things are difficult for Piper and friends, and at the very start of the game, almost her entire crew is captured and scrapped for parts. Things somehow look bleaker from there. There are a variety of dangers out here, varying from deranged robot pirates to an intrusive imperial army to an even more mysterious threat waiting out there in the depths of space. Basically, everything and their mother is looking for a way to scrap poor Piper Faraday, and there is no easy way out. All these threats are making things difficult for even good, hardworking robo-folk, and it somehow falls to Piper to save them all.

The story and aesthetic here is a lot of fun, and just the combination of ideas is really unique. There aren't many games with a western setting or inspiration in general, so the "western/steampunk/space" story stands out as something that can't be found in any other game. The premise sounds fairly serious, with looming threats of various types waiting around each corner. The game itself, however, never really takes itself that seriously. In spite of what could be an intense storyline, the writing and plot is fairly lighthearted and silly and a good amount of fun to follow through from beginning to end. None of the moments here are really laugh-out-loud funny, and the handful of lines of dialogue most characters have aren't really enough to form any real attachment to any of the motley crew. Still, while the story might not blow anyone away, there is just enough charm here to form a lasting impression, even if none of the specifics are that impressive on their own. It is an experience built more around setting and tone, and that is something that it absolutely nails.

Screenshot for SteamWorld Heist on PlayStation 4

For those familiar with the very popular X-Com series, SteamWorld Heist will feel very familiar, as it essentially controls like a 2D version of that. Levels are randomly generated, and each one is comprised of a ship made up of various rooms of different sizes stuck together and filled with enemies. A certain number of the robo-crew are allowed to accompany Piper on each mission, and on each turn, they can be moved around and then take any subsequent action they want. Actions vary from the standard attacks, to special skills or upgrades allowing for things like large areas of attack of healing a damaged ally. Or, if there is a specific spot of strategic advantage, it is possible to forgo the second action and allow the character to sprint, granting them even greater movement but ending their turn immediately after.

It is a simple system, but it's executed brilliantly, with a lot of well-thought-out twists. There are plenty of additional crew members to pick up along the way, each with their own class and skill sets. One character might be able to become an invincible shield and use grenade launchers, while another will specialise in ranged weapons with a visible line of sight and bonus damage given if the attack hits from behind. The variety of skills and weapons available gives a lot of different ways to attack the missions, and there is just enough randomness here to keep each mission fun without feeling unpredictable. Levels are randomly generated each time they are selected, so layout and enemy placement will vary a bit each time a level is started. Additionally, each level has plenty of swag lying about waiting to be collected, and rare and powerful weapons can be found with just a bit of luck.

Screenshot for SteamWorld Heist on PlayStation 4

The difficulty here is almost perfect, and it allows the game to be accessible to just about every variety of gamer. The easiest difficulty is perfect for novices to the genre, and even those that aren't adapt at games involving strategy can see the end with just a little perseverance. Conversely, the highest couple of difficulties are absolutely brutal, and really allow the combat system to shine. One single missed move or errant placement can cost an entire mission, and it makes strategy absolutely crucial. Hiding behind cover, firing off a quick attack, and then positioning the rest of the crew perfectly becomes almost necessary to get through to the end, and suddenly the value of every skill and proper utilisation of cover becomes apparent. The extra challenge added in by the fact that aiming needs to be performed manually is a nice touch, and figuring out the best angles to bounce a bullet off a wall and hit a foe in the back is several different kinds of satisfying. Overall, it is just an excellent system, and the gameplay is fun and addictive. It is the kind of game that is sort of simple to learn but hides a surprising amount of depth, and the cartoony, fun veneer hides a wicked challenge at its core.

Screenshot for SteamWorld Heist on PlayStation 4

While this all works very well, there are some occasional hiccups in the entertainment. The biggest issue is that repetition begins to set in sometime during the second story arc. The game is still fun and the gameplay still addictive, but there is a pretty serious lack of variety in the mission types. There are a couple of wildly clever boss fights along the way, but a lot of the missions leading up to these play out very similarly. Even as the enemies begin to ramp up and the types and variety of skills begin to build, it still largely feels like the same sorts of fights that the game opened up with, and almost all of the missions are some variety of "kill guys, get to the exit" in suspiciously similar ships. The idea behind making the levels procedurally generated is a good one, because in theory, it should mean these levels all feel different and unique even after multiple runs. In actuality though, you see one randomly generated ship, you sort of see them all, because regardless of what order the rooms are crammed together in, they all look vaguely the same.

The interface also feels like it could use a bit of further refinement. Checking equipment and characters is more difficult and vague than it needs to be, which isn't ideal in a game like this, where proper management of both is crucial. Each unit that is picked up has special skills and upgrades that are automatically unlocked each time a level is gained. Unfortunately, there is no way to see which one gets what when, and without even a hint of what the upcoming skills are, it is easy to ignore one of the more powerful units in the game unintentionally. It is also a bit disappointing that there is no customisation when it comes to upgrades. Each character is locked into a linear progression of skills, and another layer of depth could have been added if it was possible to say how each one grew and improved. There is enough personalisation in weapons and items (and cosmetic hats) that this is more of a minor gripe, but the linear growth makes development feel a bit more basic than it needs to be.

Screenshot for SteamWorld Heist on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Considering how wildly different SteamWorld Heist is from its predecessor, this was clearly a bit of a risk for Image & Form. Fortunately for us, it is one that really pays off. Turn-based strategy featuring steampunk cowboy robots might sound like a mishmash of ideas that came from someone's drunken Mad Libs game, but everything works to near perfection here, and almost every design choice has a reason to be present. The strategic element of the gameplay is both wickedly challenging and undeniably fun, and this is one of those rare games that should appeal to both hardcore genre fanatics and more casual gamers at the same time. A bit of repetition and some interface issues might keep it out of the realm of the all-time greats, but there is so much heart in this cold metal shell that all is quickly forgiven.

Developer

Image & Form

Publisher

Image & Form

Genre

Strategy

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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