Monday, September 2, 2019

REVIEW: SteamWorld Heist

I don't know a single thing about this game except that it magically installed itself on my Steam one day. I didn't buy it and I don't have any record of getting a free download code from someone. Nonetheless, I just moved across the country and Uhaul lost my game consoles, so I finally dove into this steampunk space opera.

In SteamWorld Heist, you command space pirates in a series of epic tactical shootouts. Strategy fans will feel right at home and get hooked on the game’s unique action twist. By aiming your weapons yourself you’ll shoot bullet-bouncing trick shots with unrivaled precision. No need to rely on chance to take down your foes!

SteamWorld Heist is a turn-based shooter - a subgenre I never even knew existed. I've heard it described as XCOM as a platformer, but I always assumed XCOM as a 3rd Person Shooter. A turn-based shooter is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: Final Fantasy Tactics with a focus on ranged weapons.

Taking a page or two from Firefly, SteamWorld Heist takes you into the stars after the Earth has been all used up, then puts you in command of a starship full of space cowboy pirates. Your crew of steambots smuggles supplies away from rival gangs, leads a rebellion against an oppressive regime, and finally heads out on a mission to save all of steam life.

The game is divided into three major sections, each with about fifteen to twenty missions where members of your crew board an enemy ship, loot it for supplies, throw a couple monkey wrenches their way, and get out before things go south. Objectives are diverse and having to evacuate once you achieve your goal adds an extra level of challenge that I appreciate.

The bulk of the game takes place in its tactical, turn-based battle system which I absolutely adore. Each steambot is able to equip a main weapon depending on their class, and two utilities that increase their stats or give them extra abilities such as throwing grenades or jumping super high. Strategy is key as you position your enemies to complete the mission both quickly and efficiently. The game employs a "three star" system like you see in mobile games, motivating you to replay missions you just barely beat to perfect them later on.

But loot and treasure aren't your only rewards for performing well on missions. Part of what makes the game so well designed is the satisfaction given when you achieve something great, i.e. when you blow up a bad guy. Being a game about robots, every character model is made up of standalone parts rigged on an invisible skeleton. This not only simulates lifelike movement but also creates an exciting explosion when you blast an enemy's HP to zero and their parts go flying everywhere. The missions are objective-based and there are no experience points for defeating extra enemies, but that doesn't make it any less fun to blast them away.

All of the different guns and character classes also added an element of replayability to the game. I never used the weapons with arcing projectiles, or one character built specifically for melee attacks. The level of variety in a relatively small game is impressive.

Enjoy your journey through the 'verse in one of many collectible hats.

My biggest gripe with the game was the cast of characters. There are nine total possible crew members and I personally didn't click with that many of them. It's a lot of weirdos. Country bumpkins and carnies. Despite being robots, a lot of them are also old people with grey hair. You can talk to them between missions, but after a while, I stopped bothering because I didn't care about any of them. My favorite character is the captain. She's not a typical mute video game character, but no one ever asks her any questions resulting in the protagonist being the least developed.

One of the parts where this game unexpectedly shines is the atmosphere. Steampunk in space is kind of a weird idea, like doing a cyberpunk in the middle ages. Adding a taste of Firefly perfectly creates a unique aesthetic where the steampunk is less Victorian with a side of dieselpunk.

Hands down the best part of the game's feel is the music. The background themes do a great job at setting the tone, but there are also a handful of songs in the various space bars your crew stops at for information as well as a unique boss victory songs. Music in the game is performed by Steam Powered Giraffe, a folky rock band that already dressed up like steambots. It's like the game was made just for them to do the music.

Wherever it may have come from, SteamWorld Heist is some of the most fun I've had with a game in a long time. The battle system will have you endlessly replaying missions and the worldbuilding and atmosphere make it a setting you'll never want to leave. The main story takes about 20 hours with a New Game Plus that lets you start over with all characters unlocked. For about $15 on most platforms, that's a pretty good deal.

SteamWorld Heist is available here bundled with it's predecessor SteamWorld Dig on the PS4. You can also find it on Steam, the Nintendo Switch, and even iOS. And click here to listen to the soundtrack featuring Steam Powered Giraffe's music on Amazon Music.