SteamWorld Heist (3DS) Review:

Time for a heist.

Note: I originally wrote this review for The Game Bolt.

Image & Form Games are quickly gaining popularity in the indie game scene, and with SteamWorld Heist, it is easy to see why. Upon starting the game, one aspect becomes crystal clear – it is of the highest quality.

First things first, the graphics and art are both outstanding. Playing the game looks like a moving version of the game’s art-work; it really scaled down well to the 3DS. The 3D-effect of the handheld isn’t utilised as much as I’d have liked however, as it only “pushes” the image back a bit in a couple of layers. Personally, I think the game’s visuals could’ve benefitted a little from a slightly “deeper” 3D-effect. Ultimately, the lackluster 3D doesn’t affect the quality of the game in any meaningful way – it is simply a matter of personal preference.

steamworld heist image 2
Damn, he ain’t gonna be in SteamWorld Heist 2!

The most impressive aspect of the graphics is how well the framerate holds up. I’m not gonna lie, I am unsure what the framerate is, but it is consistent, and so far, only once has it slightly dipped (a lot of enemies were on screen mind). SteamWorld Heist is certainly a smooth experience then, which is backed up by an impressive soundtrack largely created by Steam Powered Giraffe that really sets the mood. Their alternative rock sound with three vocalists singing about adventure across the stars with a hearty crew nicely sets the game up for the player, with the light-hearted, indie sound gelling really well with the style of the game and its story. SteamWorld Heist carries with it a slightly unusual tone, in that the protagonists are neither good or bad, working at first for their own needs.

You play as Captain Piper Faraday, a smuggler and occasional pirate. Throughout the game you recruit a whole team of steam-driven robots, boarding, shooting your way through enemy space-craft, all whilst looting some precious swag. Swag is key to your success and survival in SteamWorld Heist, as it contains very useful items, ranging from water (the source of money in the game) to weapons and healing items. Collecting this swag can be rather difficult, but it is definitely worth scouring each randomly generated map for every piece of it. Standing in the way of precious swag are of course, enemies, who want nothing more than to scrap you.

steamworld heist image 1
Find cover!

Enemy design is in-line with character design as a whole in SteamWorld Heist: Outstanding. What’s more impressive than the character design is the animation, and Image & Form didn’t miss a beat here. It’s nice to see each character in your rag-tag team move and act differently, and each one has their own individual quirks. Indeed, each of your team also comes with their own strengths and weaknesses, not least what kind of weapon they can use. The abilities of each squad-member make for some interesting tactical choices, varying on each stage as well, some characters are better-equipped than others to tackle different situations. Each stage is randomly generated, yes, but that only goes as far as slight changes in the environment and placements of enemies and swag – meaning once you fail at a stage, you’ll know what kind of enemies are there, allowing for a change in tactics accordingly. The slight changes of stage design that come with the randomly generated aspects are nice, but I don’t think it adds anything meaningful to the experience beyond slight alterations for repeat playthroughs.

In SteamWorld Heist, you will fail stages. It is a tricky game, not overly difficult, but it does take a little while to evaluate each stage and employ the correct tactics for success. Luckily, if you are finding it too difficult you can always change the difficulty before every single mission – but who wants to do that? The game’s risk/reward gameplay is engrossing, as in the latter half of the game, enemy numbers increase, and looting every piece of swag becomes a challenge. However, you will want to loot every piece of swag, as said above. Despite everything though, the best part of the gameplay is it’s cover based shooting, which works wonderfully well with the game’s turn-based strategy gameplay.

SteamWorld Heist sees you shooting enemies with a variety of different weapons, which for the most part, use ammunition that bounces off the walls. It’s a great feeling to bounce a bullet off a wall, and see it hit an enemy in slow-motion, another neat little addition to the aesthetics and presentation of the game. Only the sniper class of weapons give any real indication of their trajectory, by giving a laser-sight that bounces off walls. This is no problem with the game’s design, as it makes pulling off a trick-shot with other kinds of weaponry even more satisfying. The variety of weapons is great fun, and picking and choosing which one suits what character or stage is all part of the game’s use of strategy.

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Ooh, a concert.

However, there are a couple of issues during gameplay, that, if included would only make SteamWorld Heist more impressive than it already is. Firstly, you should definitely be able to zoom out during gameplay, as it would allow for more precision whilst shooting; too many times I wished I could zoom the camera out just a little bit to see more freely what was going on around my character. Secondly, you should be able to highlight enemies to see how far they can move, akin to Fire Emblem and Advance Wars. Despite these issues, SteamWorld Heist is a joy to play, and easily recommendable to fans of the strategy genre.

A good strategy game needs a good storyline to help keep you interested in the game, and SteamWorld Heist’s plot is interesting, but not fantastic. Unfortunately however, I feel that the game ends a tad suddenly, without much prior warning, and it has certainly left me wanting more. The plot is nothing to write home about, but it is in the game’s style of storytelling and presentation where SteamWorld Heist deserves plaudits. Key plot points are given to us in the style of old-fashioned news-reels, which look and sound brilliant. Smaller plot details and character developments are given in conversations, which do not have to take place when it comes to your crew. It’s similar(ish) in execution to Half-Life in which plot details are trickled throughout the game’s design and characters, all with a certain amount of comedy thrown in for good measure.

My biggest issue with SteamWorld Heist however is the game’s length. Part of the reason the ending felt too sudden is that the game seemed like it was going to go on for a bit longer – I certainly wanted it too anyway. It took me around 11-and-a-half hours to complete the game, which to be fair, is long enough for an eShop title. SteamWorld Heist is not the cheapest eShop release either, but there is enough content in the game and it is certainly of a high enough quality to justify its price point. Personally, I’d have liked it if the game offered closer to 20 hours of gameplay in one sitting, but that is only because I found the whole experience so engrossing and addictive.

Summary:

SteamWorld Heist is an outstanding achievement of videogame design on the 3DS, minor flaws notwithstanding. It is a game that oozes style, charisma and humour. You owe it to yourself to part with a small amount of money for this game, in my mind, it is one of the best releases this year, overall. The best praise I can give SteamWorld Heist is that I want to play through the whole game again, as soon as possible – and I never want to replay games.

92/100

SteamWorld Heist’s risk/reward gameplay is a joy to play from start to finish. While the game could’ve been longer and allowed the ability to zoom out during gameplay, it is a fantastic experience and in my mind one of the best in the impressive 3DS library.

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