When Image and Form’s SteamWorld Dig released back in 2013, it didn’t just release, it kicked open the doors and burst right in. Nobody expected Dig’s popularity to skyrocket as much as it did, but it was well-earned. SteamWorld Dig was a fantastic game (as evidenced by our review) that brought gamers into a new, fantastic world. Soon, everyone clamored for a sequel to Rusty’s adventure; however, Image and Form had other plans. Enter: SteamWorld Heist.
Publisher: Image and Form
Developer: Image and Form
Genre: Turn-Based R(obotic)PG
Release Date: December 10, 2015
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
Although not a direct sequel to SteamWorld Dig, SteamWorld Heist is more of an evolutionary “next step.” Heist takes place in the same universe as Dig, and shares the same amazing steampunk aesthetic. Many, many years after the events of SteamWorld Dig, the Earth has tragically exploded, forcing the steambots to a life out in the deep, dark reaches of space. Water has now become a precious commodity, and the steambots currently use it as currency. As such, ships are often attacked by Scrappers for their water supply. This is where we are introduced to our heroes, including Captain Piper Faraday, a former Royalist Space Force captain who has become a pirate and is now actively pursuing Scrappers for their ill-gotten gains.
While slow at first, the story in SteamWorld Heist picks up and becomes quite the epic tale. I was actually surprised when I thought I had reached the end of the game, only to find out that it was just the finale of the first chapter. And there was much more to the game than meets the eye (yeah, that’s a robot reference). Each member of your ship’s crew has their own backstory that unfolds as you play through each level. Eventually you’ll come to learn the events that led each cowbot to join your squad.
Graphically, the game looks just like SteamWorld Dig (which makes sense), but has its own separate sense of charm and wittiness. Characters move fluidly, explosions are gorgeous, and death animations are a joy to witness (so long as it isn’t your bot). It really is cool how much life is drawn into each character. Even the minor bots such as bartenders and weapons dealers look like they could star in their own SteamWorld stories.
Gameplay in SteamWorld Heist is drastically different than its predecessor. Whereas SteamWorld Dig was more of a Metroidvania-style exploration game, SteamWorld Heist employs a turn-based, side-scrolling, team-strategy trial-and-error style of play. That may seem like a lot to take in, but the end result works perfectly.
You start each level by choosing which cowbots will be joining your landing team as you seek out to eliminate enemies and gather water and items. Once you dock, you move your characters into positions on the 2D map. Then, after your turn ends, the enemies get a chance to move into their positions and attack.
When you start your turn, you only get to move a certain number of steps before you lose your ability to end your turn with a shot from your weapon. You can move further in the level, but at the expense of getting in a shot on the bad bots. Cover plays an important role here, as crouching behind a barrel or shield greatly increases your defense. Physics are also important, as some weapons have the ability to ricochet off walls and ceilings to cause additional damage. I really have to take a side note here to point out here how much I love the physics in SteamWorld Heist. There is such an amazing feeling of satisfaction one gets when bouncing a bullet off three walls then getting a headshot on an enemy that’s hiding behind a barrel. Hearing the “twing” sound effect as the bullet ricochets, and then seeing the bullet suddenly change to slow-motion as it hits the target is just so cool. OK, back to the game.
Each level has its own objectives, which usually boil down to eliminating the enemy and stealing supplies. At times, there are additional things to do, such as destroying generators, which earn you more stars when you complete the level. There are also hazards such as alarm systems, explosive barrels, and flammable oil spills that you need to be aware of when traversing each level. Upon completing a mission, your crewmates earn experience points, and as they level up, they learn new abilities to help you in later missions.
The sound and music is also extremely well done. Combining the styles of a western and a steampunk isn’t an easy thing to do, but Image & Form pull it off flawlessly – and then some. Each bar you enter has a band playing – with full vocals! I actually found myself just chilling out in the bar listening to the band play, which is not something I normally do in games. Just sitting there, taking in the whole environment, really immerses you in this world.
There are a few gripes I had with the game, though. It’s challenging – really challenging. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s unfair, but even on the easiest setting, SteamWorld Heist is a tough nut to crack. You will fail missions. The sooner you accept this, the better. But all that does is force you to rethink your strategy and try again. The downside to this, though, is that unless you are on the easiest setting, you lose water as a penalty. Additionally, if any of your crewmates are killed in battle, yet you still complete the mission, that downed bot doesn’t earn any experience. This is a pretty big hindrance, especially when you play in some of the later levels. While it does get frustrating after playing a mission for twenty minutes only to lose, I really can’t knock the game for what amounts to my own personal experience. SteamWorld Heist isn’t broken; but if you don’t learn from your mistakes, it may break you.
I love the SteamWorld franchise, and I really hope it continues to grow. SteamWorld Heist is a great game, and the genre shift proves that the setting can be expanded in a dozen different ways. Don’t let the cartoony visuals fool you – SteamWorld Heist is a challenge. And while at times it may seem like too much of a challenge, just keep going full steam ahead – it’s worth it.
Review Disclosure: A review copy of SteamWorld Heist was provided by Image and Form for the purposes of this review.