SPACE PIRATES AHOY - Steamworld Heist Review

I loved the second Steamworld title, Dig, from Swedish developer Image & Form: The aesthetic and soundtrack were great, alongside a fantastic playstyle that I found to be reminiscent of MotherLoad, one of the great flash games of yesteryear. Heist, however, deviates entirely from the gameplay of its forebear in favour of an action-heavy tactical shooter approach - I bit the $1 bullet during the recent Humble Bundle to find out more.

Steamworld Heist follows the antics of well-meaning space pirate Piper Faraday as she parades through the cosmos with a rag-tag crew, looting ships in her wake and generally being a bit of a pain in the ‘shiny metal ass’ of whatever authority figure happens to be present at the time. At the game’s offset this is the necromantic matriarch of a marauding gang of ‘Scrappers’, but Piper’s adventures will put her at arms with the corrupt Royal Space Force and eventually a much more dangerous threat altogether.

 Sniper weapons have enhanced targeting for trickshots!

Sniper weapons have enhanced targeting for trickshots!

While Steamworld Dig had protagonist Rusty exploring caves in search of minerals, this notion is scrapped entirely (no pun intended) for the sake of space swashbuckling. Your task for each of the game’s multitude of levels is to send one or more of your righteous crew to board an enemy vessel and sweep through, recovering as much loot as possible while also engaging in gunplay with the many enemies vying to reduce you to your constituent nuts and bolts.

Each character gets a run and gun phase, namely movement followed by an action such as firing off their weapon. There are of course exceptions to this, as some sniper-type guns demand their wielder remain stationary if they are to be used, or a character might wish to forego shooting to run just that bit further. Tactical positioning of your team and timely use of weapons makes up the vast bulk of the experience, maximising damage output while dodging in and out of cover.

There’s a few more elements of variety thrown in for good measure - each of your crew levels independently with their own level and class, which determine particular abilities they can activate in battle and the weapons they can wield therein. Your team and their individual gear loadouts can be adjusted between levels, allowing you to generate targeted solutions to the particular scenario and try multiple approaches if the first goes awry.

"While Steamworld Dig had protagonist Rusty exploring caves in search of minerals, this notion is scrapped entirely (no pun intended) for the
sake of space swashbuckling

Progression through the game was remarkably smooth, with new gear and abilities becoming available at just the right time to stay true to your selected difficulty curve. It’s worth noting that this can be adjusted on the fly to alter your entire play experience or increase the rewards from particular missions if you’re saving for a particular piece of gear or want to level your characters in familiar territory.

Once more the art style looks fantastic, staying very true to the original rustic-but-polished aesthetic we’ve previously seen. Don’t let the vintage charm fool you however, because as you progress through the game and more spectacular guns start spewing lasers and explosive projectiles, you’ll realise what an incredible job has been done. Crucially it isn’t overblown, there’s very limited superfluous use of particle-based effects and everything feels very tight and deliberate.

Again, musically Heist goes above and beyond the Western themes of Dig with a more fleshed out score featuring work from the world’s finest steampunk band, Steam Powered Giraffe. I have been a fan of the group for a few years now, and coming across their avatars scattered around the bars in-game while hearing their classic tracks generated many moments for revelry. Both entries are fantastic, but to feature a thematically-appropriate group is a great touch.

As stated, I rather shamefully picked this up as part of the $1 dollar of Humble Indie Bundle 18, which I say because I really feel that I should have given the developers more money for the product - it’s THAT good. To assuage my guilt I promptly purchased the DLC (£3.99) and the digital soundtrack (£6.99) through Steam, to more closely resemble the full asking price of £10.99, which it is well worth.