SteamWorld Heist is a turn-based, side-scrolling strategy game. The plot follows Piper Faraday, a steambot captain and her rag-tag crew who’s way of life is threatened by the notorious, diesel-powered Royalists and their Queen who wish to oppress the ‘lesser’ steambots and cause pain to a mysterious, organic creature.
Although SteamWorld Heist is labelled as a side-scrolling strategy game, it would be more apt to say it was a side-scrolling, strategy shooter, where players need to focus on skill more than luck. The game comes from the minds that brought us SteamWorld Dig and follows much the same art style. Players need to work their way through randomly generated levels, collecting swag while taking on rivalling factions such as the Scrappers, Royalists and eventually a mysterious enemy from the depths of space.
SteamWorld Heist takes many of its visual aspects from SteamWorld Dig; the main difference being that one is set in the Wild West and the other in Space. It often reminds me of Firefly which I feel is deliberate. A clear homage to the series can be found in the credits screen, with the words “You can’t take the swag from me” – a clear reference to the shows opening credits as well as being the implied mantra that Piper and her Cowbots live by (swag plays a significant part in the game).
Each level in the game is worth a number of stars and each area requires a certain number of stars to move to the next area (you can see where I’m going with this). By completing the level without losing any of your Cowbots and by collecting the Epic Swag drop you gain 3 stars. You lose a star for each of your Cowbots that fall in battle as well as a lost star for not collecting the Epic Swag. A pretty simple, yet effective ranking system which works well in the context of the game.
As players progress through the game they’ll collect swag which rewards them with Gallons (of water) which is the in-game currency as well as various weapons and items which can be used to give you an edge during battle. I believe I read somewhere that there are over 100 different weapons; it certainly feels that way in the game. Some weapons you find may have certain conditions attached to them. One of the guns I was using with Piper could only be fired prior to moving, forcing me to think ahead a few turns; naturally, the benefit was that it was much stronger than many of the other weapons.
Pointing and shooting, however, is not the be all and end all of SteamWorld Heist. The game actively encourages players to perform trick shots. Bounce bullets off of walls, canisters or even other ‘bots to perform the most satisfying of kills. It’s only a shame that there is no screenshot feature built in, the number of epic shots that will never be seen by others is upsetting.
Players will also encounter like-minded Steambots who wish to join Piper and her cause for a free galaxy; some will join freely, others may come at a price. Although I must have collected at least 9 different ‘bots, I found myself sticking to the same four. This was mainly because I found a team and a set-up that I liked, so I stuck with it. Each one does have his or her own design and personality, though, and each will often provide their opinions on the situation at hand if you take the time to talk with them.
In addition to the weapons and characters, SteamWorld Heist offers players the chance to collect hats. A purely cosmetic item which can be worn by your Cowbots when they go to battle, they offer nothing in the way of stat boosts but having a hat made out of a cat is all the more fun! Hats can be purchased or stolen from the enemy. A well-placed shot will knock the garment from the enemies head leaving the players Cowbots free to collect it. A nice little touch, I thought.
As I mentioned earlier each mission is randomly generated, which adds a bit more of a tactical element to the gameplay. It works in both the player’s favour and against. If a level is particularly difficult to pass attempting it again could be a different setup – it does mean, however, that a player can’t learn the layout of the level in order to try the same thing again and again. It forces the player to think through each move carefully to ensure that all of their Cowbots come out alive.
As well as randomly generating levels, SteamWorld Heist offers a New Game+ mode, a feature which allows players to start over again but retains their recruited Cowbots as well as their hats; Piper is also somewhat surprised that they have a ship full of crew.
The artwork and character designs in the game are wonderful. Everything has a steampunk feel and fits the idea that the leading civilisation in the galaxy are steam-powered robots. Some of the ships players are able to dock with appear to be well looked after; Piper’s ship in comparison gives me the impression of a worn down junker that would smell of weld and oil. An odd comment, granted. but it’s a testament to the game’s artist. The game’s design is perfect and it draws you into its narrative.
The music is equally as good as the backdrops, with some truly catchy songs. The official soundtrack was recorded by a steampunk themed banded named Steam Powered Giraffe, and can be found playing their songs in many of the games communal ships.
Overall SteamWorld Heist is a fantastic game. It’s style and charming characters draw you into a cold, robotic galaxy and refuse to let go. It’s unique blend of turn-based strategy and side-scrollers of old is a refreshing change from the many other eshop games that are out there. If you think it’s not your type of game, take the plunge and give it a go anyway, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.