SteamWorld Dig is easily one of my favorite games of the last few years. A charming Metroidvania, replete with a beautiful art style and a marvellous cast of characters that didn’t outstay its welcome.
It’s sequel SteamWorld Heist, which has finally made its way to PS4 and Vita, is a very different, yet still ultimately fantastic experience. Set in the same brilliantly-realized universe as Dig, Heist puts players in the rusty boots of a gang of opportunistic spacers led by the enigmatic Captain Piper. Fighting against a ramshackle group of crazed bandits known as the scrappers, the crew of the Serenity (sorry, the Bebop–actually you’re never told the name of their vessel but you get the idea), go on an adventure to make the sector safe for both honest steambots and the more morally ambiguous the only way they know how: by ransacking every scrapper ship they come across and gunning down anyone who gets in the way.
Much like Dig, the presentation is absolutely charming, complete with gibberish dialogue and memorable characters, including the aforementioned captain, her grumpy first mate Sea Brass, and upstart geriatric sniper and part time chimney sweep Valentine. As well as a wonderful soundtrack provided by the phenomenal Steam Powered Giraffe.
Though the plot is in many ways as compelling as its predecessor compared to Dig’s focus on a single planet and a small core group of well-developed characters, by taking the action galaxy-wide in Heist, I didn’t really care about anyone aside from Piper and her crew. Despite being on a mission to make the system safe from the scrappers, I didn’t care about the wider cast at all. It’s just your merry band of misfits against the universe, and damn anyone that gets in the way. Then again, maybe that’s the point.
Gameplay-wise, Heist is a completely different kettle of steaming fish to Dig. The crafting-heavy Metroidvania has been replaced with what could best be described as a 2D Valkyria Chronicles. The bulk of the gameplay is turn-based, with each member of your away-team given a limited range of movement and the ability to perform one action per turn, including various class based skills or aim your gun and attacking. Like Valkyria, you aim manually. Successful critical hits (which are all but guaranteed if you can pull off a head shot) are just as much a matter of skill as they are luck. As befitting the space opera/spaghetti western setting, you can also deflect shots off of the roof and walls to hit difficult targets. Managing to send a bullet bouncing round the hull of a ship before finding its mark never fails to feel incredibly gratifying. You can also opt to sprint further than your allotted movement if you don’t attack. If you miss your shot, you can knock off an enemies hat and reclaim it later on to customize your crew, and there are nearly a hundred to find, from dapper top hats to an old fish.
The action is relatively fast paced and incredibly nuanced. Finding cover and being mindful of where your crew are positioned is vital. Making sure you can find cover and use the destructible items in the environment to your advantage is really the key to victory. Which weapons you equip will also dramatically effect the way you approach a situation, as each class of gun has different rates of fire, ranges, and ammo types; it’s best to mix up your gun types. Personally, I like giving Piper a decent revolver, and backing her up with Valentine and a solid sniper rifle. Sea Brass gets a nice hardy machine gun and Ivanski a grenade launcher for maximum damage.
The equipment system is well crafted, starting off fairly manageable, but steadily ramping up as the loot you find swiftly overwhelms your available inventory space. Though this can be expanded, there’s never quite enough room. This forces players to carefully consider which items they keep and which they sell off–which, thankfully, is as simple as pressing a button, keeping inventory management quick and easy.
Each crew member can equip two items, and the gear they have equipped significantly effects the way they handle during missions. Defensive items like boots increase your range of movement, armor increases your defense but reduces your movement, and healing packs (as well as offensive options such as grenades and side arms) give you plenty of options to adapt your team. You can fit them to your own preferred playstyle as well as successfully adapt your tactics for a particular level if needs be. The simplicity and surprising depth of the system makes it welcoming to newcomers while sophisticated enough that advanced players will find plenty to tinker with.
Maps are always interesting and well-constructed, thanks to Heist’s well-implemented procedural generation, and replaying the same mission for additional loot or clearing a missed objective never feels like a grind. There’s always a new route to find, as each map provides multiple routes on top of the locations rearranging themselves with each new attempt.
If you already have SteamWorld Heist on 3Ds, there’s not really much point in getting it again on the PS4 and Vita (unless you really like trophy hunting), save for being rendered at 1080p and running at 60fps on the PS4. There is no major changes or additions to the gameplay or feel of the game. In fact, I prefer having the extra info provided while playing the game with dual screens.
On the plus side, you do get both the PS4 and Vita game for one price as they feature cross buy, though, oddly, not cross save functionality. (I’m of the general opinion if you have one, you should really have the other.)
Regardless of what platform you choose to play it on, SteamWorld Heist is a great turn-based strategy game. Simple and speedy enough for people who normally shy away from the genre, yet it has enough depth and thoughtfulness to satisfy veterans. With a deep and nuanced combat system and a sliding difficulty scale to satisfy pretty much everyone, it’s another fine entry into the SteamWorld series, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what genre Image and Form and their wonderful Steambots tackle next.
SteamWorld Heist was reviewed on PS4 with a copy provided by the developer.
Developer: Image & Form | Publisher: Image& Form | Genre: Turn based Strategy | Platform: PC,PS4 PS Vita, Xbox One, WiiU, 3DS | PEGI/ESRB: 7+/E10 | Release Date: November 16, 2015 (3DS), May 31, 2016 (PS4, PS Vita) TBA (Xbox One, WiiU)