Image & Form’s Steamworld series has gained a strong following in the indie scene. Steamworld Dig, the predecessor to Heist, made a resounding entrance onto the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS back in 2013. Two years have passed since and then, and the team has been working hard to craft an experience that is completely different from its predecessor, yet still proves to be enjoyable. Did they succeed? In a word — yes.
Steamworld Dig had players exploring the depths of an expansive procedural-generated world; no two adventures were the same. That mechanic has been re-used here in Heist, although the gameplay couldn’t be more different.
Heist is a turn-based strategy title, mixed with a few RPG elements and a weird mix of a puzzle/survival shooter. Basically, it’s a hybrid mixture of different genres. While that seems complicated, its execution is quite straightforward.
You take control of Piper, a Cowbot (cowboy-robot) who’s fighting to free her war-torn home from an increasingly evil threat. But she can’t do it alone: so she sets off to recruit new members to join her crew in order to aid her in the fight. As you can probably tell, Heist will have you building a clan with members that possess different abilities. Some are snipers, while others deal with explosives. As you keep doing missions, you’ll learn how to use the different classes in tandem with each other in order to succeed.
Heist feels like a game of chess; positioning yourself correctly is imperative if you hope to survive. As you are controlling different characters simultaneously, the game forces you to pay close attention to each of their whereabouts. If a character is destroyed before the level ends, you can still go ahead and finish, however you are penalized by a lost of Reputation and Experience Points.
Reputation is represented by gold stars. The more gold stars you collect, the further you progress in the game. Of course, experience points indicate how mature a character is. The characters you successfully guide to the end of the level will gain more points, thus unlocking new abilities which will definitely prove to come in handy.
One of Heist’s biggest features is the wide array of equipment. There are different weapons which all have different abilities. There are weapon types like long-range guns, semi-automatic rifles, and even grenade launchers. The different character classes wield different types weapons, so it’s important to learn them all. In addition to this, there are also various power-ups and special items which will further assist you in battle. Since you are ‘cowbots’, these items are acquired by plundering enemy outposts (which ties in with the game’s name), as well as buying them from the various shops.
As mentioned before, making good use of all these different factors together will lead to success. Heist doesn’t hold your hand when it comes down to learning right from wrong. It’s a trial-and-error experience through-and-through. In other words — expect to die a lot. Even on its normal difficulty, the game’s various missions can prove to be a challenge even for seasoned turn-based strategy fans. Because Heist is more of a hybrid, it does have a bit of a learning curve. While not a steep one, it does take some getting used to. I found myself repeating a lot of missions, either because I barely got any gold stars, or just flat out failed.
While it’s true that Heist‘s difficulty can be a bit frustrating, that doesn’t stop the game from being fun. Because most missions are randomly-generated, very rarely will you find yourself experiencing the exact same thing over-and-over again. This gives the game an element of surprise, which is a good thing. While this stops you from working out a direct strategy, it makes you think and reason more, which will inevitably help you to be a better player. This reminded me a lot of how Pikmin 3 also made players learn on their own the dangers of making a mistake. Just like in real life, mistakes can prove to have disastrous consequences, and it’s games like these which replicate that all too well.
Difficulty aside, once you start to get the hang of the game’s many aspects, that’s when you’ll start to really enjoy yourself. How long that takes is dependent on you, but just know that the game isn’t going to have pity on you. Things start off pretty simple, but that right there is your crash course. Beyond that, it’s up to you to try your best to improve your skills and out-think the game. With the title promising over 20-hours in order to complete the campaign, you’ll have a pretty long time to improve.
Getting down to its use of the system, SteamWorld Heist runs very well on the 3DS. The touchscreen functions are pretty basic, with the map of the level being the only real important thing. Everything else can be controlled by the systems buttons. This isn’t really a negative, but just a point that’s worth mentioning.
What’s also worth mentioning is the game’s use of the 3D effect, which I must say is done relatively well. It doesn’t add any real effect to the gameplay; it’s really just there for presentation. The layers in each level are clearly brought out when in 3D mode, which proves to be a pretty immersive experience. On the New 3DS, the game runs at 60 frames with the 3D enabled, while the older models level off at 30. While the 3D effect doesn’t add any gameplay benefit, it still looks good, not to mention that the ‘ghosting’ effect that the older models suffer from is very minimal with this title.
In the end, SteamWorld Heist does an amazing job at combining different elements from various genres. If you’re a fan of the past entries in the series, then chances are you were curious about this one already, but even if you have no experience with the franchise, because this is a completely different experience, there’s no excuse not to try it out. Any RPG and/or strategy fan should definitely consider giving Heist a try.
Because it’s so different from the past games, the fact that it comes under the Steamworld umbrella is a bit jarring, but the whole Western cowboy theme fits in nicely with the game. The already great storyline is complimented very well by the dark-and-gritty atmosphere, and the beautiful visuals. Just like Dig, Heist can prove to be very addicting, primarily because it’s so frustrating. But that is the beauty of it all; it forces you to learn right from wrong on your own, and it makes you better for it. Image & Form has done a great job with their hybrid title. Nothing really seems out of place, and it’s something that I would love to see them continue in the near future.