Water is a precious commodity in space, out there beyond the Core, where the Scrappers take your hard-earned gallons when the Royal Space Force doesn’t do it first. So when you need someone to reclaim your property, call some Cowbots and they’ll do a heist for you!
Genre(s): Tactical RPG
Developer: Image & Form Games
Publisher: Image & Form Games
Release Date: December 2015
Played: Main Story (Experienced)
Purchase At: Nintendo E-Shop
Before I even booted up the game it was already special for me. It’s the first time I’ve received a review code for a 3DS game. It’s big for me and it was a pleasant surprise that it was for this game, one I played casually during my days at EGX earlier this year, where I enjoyed the demo they had on show.
As the opening cutscene tells us, the world is gone, broken into tiny pieces and all the Steambots do their best to make a living, to survive in this inhospitable environment with their moisture farms and mining what little of Earth remains. But between the Royal Space Force and their steep taxes, to “fix the world,” and the scavengers and bandits, things are tough in space. But there are people out there to help, privateers like Captain Piper and her crew. She’ll help you out, get your stuff back…and keep all the swag she finds in the process.
Steamworld Heist has a wonderful western steampunk in space visual style in beautiful 2D sprites. There are rusted ships, clanking bots, nuts and screws flying about, but also fembots in fine dresses, bars, saloons and outlaws. Water is a commodity, one that all need to survive, to repair their steam-powered bodies, so it’s the currency on this brave frontier. We often see Steampunk with humans, but it’s amazing how the style fits with robots. The typical giant goggles are now their eyes, regal uniforms are now colouring on the bots’ plates and weapons and gadgets all look clunkier than they should.
It’s not just how Steamworld Heist presents the style but also the minute details in the environment, such as the people playing poker at the saloon, the bands and people dancing, the growing plant your ship’s pilot keeps and even the characters in your crew going about their lives. Ivanski the Strongbot’s literal handlebar moustache twitches and he’s constantly pumping a dumbbell in his hand, for example.
My only issue with the visuals is how samey the mission environments are. All Scrapper ships look the same as the Royal ones. Some of the lovely details you see outside of missions would’ve been great here, from posters to a nice radio playing in the corner, something to make them feel a bit more alive. I understand these are procedurally generated, but I would’ve welcomed some variety.
Along with the visual style is a fantastic soundtrack. Every time I hit a bar I just want to stay there and listen to the bands play. Those are actual songs with lyrics. While the visual style brings the western and steampunk styles together, the music reinforces it, with a combination of melodies using slow and melancholic guitar strums and heavy percussion and more techno-ish themes in certain scenarios. The heist music is particularly good, starting up slow and mysterious as you approach the airlock door and ramping up to a nice drum line when you fight against other bots.
Favourite song: “No more Queen.” It’s just amazing!
You can divide Steamworld Heist’s gameplay into two categories: outside of missions and in them. Outside of missions you’re free to run around as Piper, your lead character and captain of the crew. You’ll talk to strangers to get new quests, information or even recruit crewmembers if the price is right or your reputation precedes you. You can buy new items and sell old ones for a few gallons, and it’s good to be up to date with your equipment or some scrapper might turn you into, well, scrap! It’s in these moments that the game’s world building shines through as both crew and civilians have wonderful and unique personalities, helping you connect with the robots and feel their pain. From the Steam Train driver whose cargo got jacked to the sly merchant with an arena on the side, you’ll get to know all kinds of bots and some are sleazier than others. Secrets abound in this treacherous galaxy and you never know who to trust, but you’ll be there reading their conversations and hearing the delightful buzzing and beeping of their voices.
Inside missions, you can move with the D-pad but you can only move a certain number of steps each turn. If the position cursor is orange, you can move and still perform another action, be it shooting, using an item or a skill. If the cursor is blue though, you’re sprinting and that is the only thing you can do that turn, a system players of XCOM: Enemy Unknown will find familiar. Pressing R brings up the gun and you aim with the D-pad as well, but unless you have a scope, you’ll be eyeballing the angles. At any point you can also use the left stick to pan the camera around the map, to see where enemies are and adjust your aim, or just to know where the next bit of swag is.
It’s really fun but can also be merciless, with mission failure often hinging on a single but crucial tactical error. I love it, because while it is challenging, it’s never unfair. Yes, there lots of enemies but their damage is never as high as yours is and they can never one-hit kill your crewmembers.
But what makes Steamworld Heist extra fun and addictive is that bullets ricochet off the walls so it’s all about making crazy stunt-shots to bypass cover or hit the sniper or bomber at the back. You also use these shots to blow your enemies’ hats off, for your increasingly large collection. From captain’s hats and Crocodile Dundee ones to cat-caps and military helmets, there are tons of these to collect and it’s a pleasure to find new ones and dress your crew up.
Missions will often have you kill enemies and collect the normal or Epic Swag. Completing missions gives your surviving characters experience points to level up and get new kills, items and gallons from the swag bags and reputation depending on how well you performed. Most missions have three to four stars in rating and sometimes getting those requires precision sniping and some perfect strategies. I’m happy to say I completed most of my missions with full marks…except those where I didn’t. Reputation locks you out of certain places, or crewmembers or even new merchandise at stores, so performing well is paramount to moving along in the game.
My party for most of the game were Piper as my sniper, Seabrass as my assault gunner with a shotgun, SMG or full on rifle, an Ivanski with a rocket or grenade launcher. We are unstoppable, though sometimes the enemies get lucky and beat the hell out of us. This is a fun and challenging game and it’s one that I have trouble letting go.
While the missions are fun, they all boil down to break in, then collect swag, kill the enemies or boss and escape through the escape pod. That’s it, there’s no variation in the concept and while I still insist it’s fun as hell, some variety in mission design would’ve been appreciated. On the upside, Steamworld Heist procedurally generates every mission map so even going back to old ones will be a fresh experience, as the layout will be completely different.
The story is pretty fun, with a few acts that drive it all forward. During the first you’re trying to save everybody from the Scrappers, a band of pirates stealing and killing at their leisure and led by Mama, the Techromancer, taking bits and pieces of several bots and reanimating them into the criminals we fight along the way. But once she’s done the Royals come in and start making life very hard for everyone and there’s even rumours of them having some ancient weapon, an awakening power that might pose a danger to all.
You find out about the plot from talking to bartenders, informants, completing missions and from loose-lipped enemies. You even find out more from your pilot and in conversations with your crew. The second act in the game even makes you go through the royal palace and meet the mean queen herself in a badass fight to the death. Thunderdome time!
Steamworld Heist is a fantastic game, oozing with style but still with plenty of substance. Even after finishing it, I’m going to keep playing it, to get more cool hats and to finally rid the galaxy of all troublemakers.
5/5 – Hell Yes!