SteamWorld Heist is not a subtle game. From the start, its intentions are clear: it’s a steampunk-styled game filled with pirates, swag, shooting and a heavy dose of sci-fi tossed in for good measure. Where its predecessor focused heavily on platform-based gameplay, Heist takes a left turn and introduces an intense, turn-based, tactical RPG. The result is a cleverly written space opera in a surprisingly realized world, with deep and engrossing gameplay mechanics to back it up.
The game puts you in the shoes of Piper Faraday, a witty spaceship captain who leads a crew of rag-tag pirates and mercenaries on their quest to snag all the swag they can. The story starts out modestly but gradually ramps up until the literal universe is at stake and it’s up to Piper and company to save it. Though the plot is not entirely engaging by itself, the wealth of unique characters you encounter along the way provide a much-needed injection of life into the story. There is no voice acting in Heist, but the characters feel distinct thanks to a smartly written script. Each character has an idiosyncratic quality to their dialogue, accompanied by charming Animal Crossing-style robot sound effects to give them more of a voice.
The graphics of Heist aren’t overly beautiful or striking compared to other modern 2-D games such as Rayman Legends or the more recent Inside, but there is still a strong attention to detail in the environments and character models here. The PlayStation 4 version also boasts crisper graphics compared to the original 3DS release, as well as an incredibly stable framerate, both of which only improve the overall experience.
The story may not be particularly gripping, but it still has a wonderful sense of adventure and a looming uneasiness as the crew must navigate through the space surrounding the remnants of their destroyed home planet. At the very least, the plot provides a framework for the characters to grow and change, making them more likable as well as believable. Most of your time with Heist, however, will be spent mastering the straightforward, yet deep gameplay it has to offer.
Heist’s gameplay has you doing pretty much exactly what you would expect. Most missions have slight differences in their objectives, but for the most part, the general idea is the same: you infiltrate an enemy ship, take out the bad guys, collect the swag and get out as soon as possible. As you progress in the campaign you will be able to recruit new robots, each with their own special abilities that can be used in combat. Before each mission, you not only get to choose which characters will head into battle, you also have the option of customizing the weapons and items they’ll take with them. This was especially handy as I was able to adjust my items and abilities depending on what the mission called for. For instance, if the objectives were merely to collect swag and evacuate, I would equip boots that allowed my character to move farther each turn. Or if a mission was particularly combat heavy, I would equip my strongest weapons and extra health to help ensure victory.
The combat in Heist takes the side-scrolling feel of its predecessor and implements a system of turn-based, strategic firefights between your crew and an enemy team. The ships on which fights take place are typically procedurally generated, making each one feel distinctive. This also requires you to switch up your tactics regularly in order to increase your chances of success. Heist begins to feel even more unique once you understand how to fully utilize the weapon system. There are a plethora of different weapons, including multiple classes, each with various effects or specific perks. An important aspect of the combat in Heist is being able to aim your weapon properly, so choosing one that best suits your play style is crucial. If you prefer long range, a scoped pistol with a laser sight that shows exactly where your bullet will end up would likely be your best choice. Conversely, if you like getting in close and dealing as much damage a possible, a shotgun with a wide spread would be ideal. The gameplay tended to become a bit repetitive toward the end of the campaign, but thankfully, the healthy variety of enemy types and a slew of unlockable items kept things feeling fresh.
If I had one complaint about Heist, it would have to be in regards to its death penalty. The difficulty of the game itself feels balanced (and can even be changed before each mission), but if one character happens to die in a level, they will not receive any experience whatsoever. It became especially troublesome when a character would die at the very end of mission and their share of the experience would be taken from them, even though they contributed through most of it. This meant that if my favorite character died but I was still able to complete the objectives, they would fall behind my other teammates in terms of leveling up, making them less useful in combat.
SteamWorld Heist quickly seized my attention with its interesting world and charming characters, but its addicting combat and rewarding RPG mechanics are what really made the game hard to put down. Even when the adventure came to a close, it still felt like there was more fun to be had – whether that was collecting weapons and items I missed or annihilating more evil robots in new and creative ways. And the improved graphics and performance for the PlayStation 4 version are merely the icing on the cake.
I am a writer and journalist based in San Francisco. When I'm not getting lost in expansive open-world RPGs, immersive first-person shooters or any other type of game that grabs my interest, I usually spend my time taking photos and playing music. Two of my all-time favorite games are Persona 4 Golden and Metal Gear Solid 3.