SteamWorld Heist PS4 Review
Publisher: Image and Form Developer: Image and Form Players: 1 Age Rating: 7+
Genre: Strategy, Action-Adventure
Other console/handheld formats: Nintendo 3DS, PS Vita, Xbox One, Wii U
SteamWorld Heist is the third instalment in the SteamWorld series, and if players are looking for more of the same as in the previous SteamWorld Dig, then they will be sorely disappointed. The focus here revolves around turn-based strategy and skill, and whilst the game has many familiar SteamWorld elements, it still manages to bring something fresh and new to the series.
Taking place after the planet of SteamWorld Dig has been destroyed, the story follows Captain Piper Faraday, a smuggler/pirate/space traveller whose mission it is to gather together a ragtag team of steambots, looting cargo from their enemies and trying to bring down a bigger foe. In all honesty, I didn’t care much for the story; it is one that didn’t really hold my attention and I didn’t really care much about what was actually happening. The characters are well designed, but have personalities that you expect from a bunch of ‘ragtag’ robots, and even though they try to come across as outlandish, they aren’t characters that are truly breaking the mould, and lack any depth. You have your soldier, your ex-circus traveller, your shyster, your farmer, but none are really memorable and are just there to broaden the universe. They are basic, but give you a bit of variety when it comes to the gameplay, with each having their own special abilities.
The gameplay is where it is at its most interesting. A side-scrolling game, you take turns to move a character around a level, blasting away enemies and completing a set goal. There are five difficulty settings, from Casual, Regular, Experienced, Veteran and Elite, and even set on Regular, I found the game to be quite hard. I replayed many levels to upgrade the steambots, though didn’t realise you could adjust the difficulty of a mission before you begin. On the lower difficulty settings, it isn’t really so much about strategy and skill, but more about chance and luck, but if you really want to put your skills to the test, then the true essence of the game shows when set on higher difficulty settings and makes for an altogether more rewarding experience. However, I mostly played on the lower settings as I prefer playing games for fun rather than for the challenge, though as mentioned, it still doesn’t give you much of an easy ride, with enemies respawning at times and still overwhelming you.
Before starting a mission, you have to access a map in which you can manoeuvre your ship to your next destination. Many spaceships are dotted about on-screen, with you following a path to whatever ship – or mission – you wish to begin. Depending on the mission criteria, you can choose a set number of steambots to play as, and your loadout, including weapons, health packs, and other types of ammo. As mentioned, you can also set the mission difficulty. There are a number of steambots that you can choose from, with only Captain Piper Faraday and her teammate, Seabrass, being the only two available at the start, with others being added later when you find and hire them. Each character has their own abilities that will give you advantages depending on the type of mission, and you can decide who you would like based on their statistics, from health, movements, how good they are at shooting and strength. Levelling up your character will increase these statistics and you can also upgrade them, by collecting Experience Points upon mission completion, increasing what abilities will be available to them.
After choosing your loadout, you will then start the mission, your character running onto the enemy spaceship and taking their starting position. From there, you move about by taking turns with the AI enemies, doing everything you can to complete whatever the goal may be, from looting swag, destroying generators or defeating a boss. A successful mission will give you the aforementioned XP, which is divided between the chosen characters, though any characters that are destroyed during the mission will lose their share of the XP. A successful mission will also give you Reputation in the form of stars, which are collected and used to access certain areas or allow you to buy certain weaponry or other items, and also allows for you to hire other steambots looking for payback. A mission failure, however, can result in a penalty, with you losing a chunk of your swag, and any robots destroyed during the mission will also need repairing, which swag is also used up on. Most of the mission objectives aren’t very varied, with you mostly needing to collect swag, though it does leave a gratifying sense of achievement if you manage to collect 100% of the swag located in the mission area.
As I played on the lower difficulty, the gameplay was very steady and easygoing, and I found it to be an enjoyable pace, rather than causing me any frustration by having to constantly go back and replaying an area multiple times in the hope that I would luck out and complete the mission. The levels are randomised, though I found it doesn’t really alter the gameplay, at least the way I played it. Shooting enemies is also extremely satisfying, especially if you strike a certain point, with the action slowing down to show the enemy shattering into a million pieces; it was certainly gratifying to aim at an enemy and blow them to smithereens in one hit. A bit of a sore point of the gameplay, however, is that you cannot skip, or even speedup, enemy movement when it is the AI’s turn, so there is a bit of waiting around as you wait for the enemy to complete their moves.
The graphics of the game are nicely done, with very reddish, yellow and brown hues to mimic the old west, of which the game, once again, takes inspiration. I like how the art-style is a combination of sci-fi and old west, as was the case with SteamWorld Dig, and it certainly makes for an overall unique universe. The animations are well done, with each robot having their own particular set of movements and the cutscenes are nicely presented in an old-timey fashion, again, mimicking the old west. I also enjoyed humming to the music, which also has a very western – with a slight militaristic – vibe, music that was also used in SteamWorld Dig. I also liked the sound effects in the game, from the clanking of the robots running, to the guns popping and tearing apart enemies, to the ‘thum, thum’ sound when you open your swag at the end of a mission. Whilst trawling around the map, you can also visit saloons and other places where you can chat to the locals and buy weaponry, hire other steambots to join your crew, and even buy hats. Lots of hats. As far as I can tell they don’t affect the character or give them any extra abilities, but are there as a bonus collectable item.
I very much enjoyed playing SteamWorld Heist, and whilst it doesn’t have the addictiveness of the previous SteamWorld Dig, it still kept me coming back to play more. There’s a fair amount of detail to be found in the games universe and it manages to feel vast without being open-world, and there are definite graphical improvements over SteamWorld Dig, with characters having more human-like proportions and more detail in the design, leaving behind the comic book-like style from the previous game. Even though it is set in the same universe, it definitely feels like a new experience, but also manages to feel familiar. SteamWorld Heist also has a lot of replayability, allowing you to go back and play previous missions to improve upon them, something that you couldn’t really do with SteamWorld Dig. All in all, a great addition to the SteamWorld series.