I had the chance to play Steamworld Dig back when it was given for free on the ps+ program back in november 2014. It was a fun little game even though it dragged a little on the later stages of the game which felt a bit too repetitive. I still considered it a pretty good game though.
This time around I had to use my hard earned money to try Steamworld Heist and it turned out to be a familiar yet very different experience.
These steamworld games seem to be set in a futuristic reality in which all sentient beings are actually robots. Mostly steam-fueled robots, hence the name of the series. Despite it’s sci-fi setting, they touch themes that are very retro and it’s not because of the steampunk aesthetic. You see, Steamworld Dig was pretty much a western with its gold diggers (sort of) and its bandits and for Steamworld Heist the game feels more like a pirate rump. Space pirates though.
Apart from this slight thematic change, the most obvious difference between the two games has to be the fact that, gameplay-wise, they don’t even share the same genre. Steamworld Heist is a turn-based strategy game in the very same vein as X-com. It is certainly not as hardcore as the aforementioned game, as in there’s no permanent deaths for your characters and the game’s progression is much more guided so you won’t reach a point in which you just can lose the whole game.
Even if the screenshots already gave it away, it has to be noted as well that the whole game is in 2D. You move your characters in this procedurally generated 2D environments and then aim manually making your character rise or lower his weapon to point it at your enemies. Weapons with an attached scope will display some sort of laser that will let you see where your bullets will fly but weapons who don’t have any scope (and that’s most of them) don’t have that aiming aid so pointing it towards your enemies becomes quite more tricky. It translates into gameplay the fact that some weapons should be less precise than others and I also find that it gave the combat a certain added challenge that made it more fun.
Progression in this game goes as follows. There will be an world map you can travel through going from level to level (which are usually space ships). On the bars and shops you can recruit more robots to join your crew and different items and weapons to equip. You can also buy hats but apart from looking funny and granting you trophies I don’t know what are they for.
The other ships then will be the combat stages. Pick all the loot and make sure nobody dies and you’ll be rewarded with the most stars which at certain points of the story will open some roadblocks on the map.
The loot I’ve just mentioned will be composed of water bottles (which is the game’s currency) and different weapons and items so, if you’re pretty throrough scavenging the ships, you’ll probably will never have to buy a weapon from a shop.
Talking about the story… I already mentioned how this game felt like a space pirate flick and that is also in part because of the story of the game. You are Piper the captain of your pirate ship and as such you’ll be dealing with what pirates usually have to face. Bandits, the royal empire… and other things that I don’t want to spoil.
The game is divided in three distinctive chapters with a different recognisable enemy in each of them. So, in that sense, the game feels kind of episodic as the three different forces will spawn its own stories instead of being sewn together in a more cohesive way.
The game’s graphics while not impressive in a technical level (being a 2D game and everything) are really good. The sprites for the characters and the environments are very detailed and I just really like the artstyle. I guess I also have to say that this vita version runs pretty smooth but, being this a turn-based game, it’s not like it mattered that much to be honest.
As for the sound department since the characters in this game are all robots, the voices that come out of the speakers are just jibberish. Gladly, the dialogs aren’t long enough for the voices to ever become annoying.
The soundtrack of the game is mostly very industrial influenced in the fighting stages which is fitting for a steampunk kind of game filled with robots. And then, oddly enough there’s the songs which will play after you defeat a boss stage by Steam Powered Giraffe which are pretty folky but also weird in the best way possible.
Things I liked
- Battles: This 2D rendition of a typical cover-focused turn-based strategy game is great. The decision to make the aiming manual adds an extra layer of complexity that makes it unique and very fun. Special mention deserve the boss stages which are challenging and very well designed.
- Funny: The whole tone of the game isn’t very serious at all. The dialog among your crew members in between stages and with the different NPCs you’ll be encountering in your adventures are full of jokes that will make your face draw a smile quite often.
- Artstyle: Sometimes when artists go for a non-realistic approach they take the advantage to make things less detailed but that it’s not the case with this game. The designs of each steambot alone is worth admiring.
- Procedurally generated: This so called randomly generated levels are usually a double edged sword but I’m glad to say that in this case this game enjoys all of the advantages of prodecurally generated games without any of the flaws that sometimes affect these games.
Things I didn’t
- Kinda Shallow: The mechanics of this game aren’t as deep as the experience you’ll get in a game like X-Com for sure. For example, when you level up, there’s no skill tree to choose from but a “skill line” that automatically unfolds. There aren’t weapon modifications either nor that many different types.
Who’d like this?
This game that wasn’t made for the most hardcore players of turn-based strategy games. If you want to get into the genre though this might be the perfect choice for you. Steamworld Heist is a game that it’s best enjoyed in short busts in a more relaxed way and, if you take the game like that, you will have a pretty good time.