Reviews December 12, 2015

SteamWorld Heist

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Reviewed By: Kenneth Seward Jr.
System: 3DS (Also on PC, later on PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One, Wii U, iOS)
Genre: Tactical RPG
Rated: E10+
Players: 1
Cost: $19.99
Release Date: 12/10/2015
Publisher: Image & Form Games
Developer: Image & Form Games

The willingness to create something new is one of the attributes shared by many great developers. The innovation is needed to shake up our sometime too predictable industry, which as of late, has become besieged by annualized franchises. And while I must admit that I like quite a few of those franchises, some truly awesome games were the result of someone deciding to dabble in a foreign genre.

Image & Form, a collection of seasoned developers, seems to understand this concept of innovation as all of their games hail from different genres. This is most evident in their SteamWorld series; the first was a tower defense game, the second a platformer. So it came as no shock when SteamWorld Heist was revealed to be a turn-based RPG.

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Here gamers will don the iron boots of one Captain Piper Faraday, a smuggler who’s on the run from an oppressive regime after a catastrophic event left the Earth in pieces. The only refuge for the survivors was to build colonies in space and fall in line behind these imperial masters. Or you know, become an outlaw. In order to stay afloat, Faraday’s crew will board other vessels to “liberate” their water (the currency, used to produce steam) before hightailing it back to deep space. During one of these raids she caught wind of a powerful weapon that would prove devastating if it fell into the wrong hands.

Though it sounds interesting, the game’s overall plot is a bit on the thin side. That’s not to say that it isn’t portrayed well. It’s just that there isn’t much to grasp beyond a basic setup; we’re provided a conflict that needs solving but not a whole lot in way of character development. That said, the story did give you ample reasons to journey from one end of space to the other. Besides, the heart of the game lies in the engaging turn-based combat. Each mission usually consists of Faraday boarding some enemy ship or space station in order to duke it out with those inside. In order to survive these fights, players will need to maneuver their crew members around the 2D levels to line up shots on their foes. At the same time, they’ll want to keep behind cover less they like being blown to bits.

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Unlike other RPG’s of this ilk, all of the shots are skill based. Meaning you have to be able to line them up yourself (there’s no auto attacks). Not only that, but there are flat rates for each successful hit. Instead of seeing the potential damage done as a percentage, you’ll see exactly how much damage you’ll do during a turn. Special abilities and headshots temper these numbers. You’ll also have to take into account the weapons your crewmates are using; a shotgun will do more damage when an enemy is at arm’s reach for example. For the most part though, there’s no guessing. Other factors play a part in the fights as well. Certain floors can be shot through and bullets can ricochet off the walls, hitting those thought safe behind cover.

The battles are one part challenging and one part frustrating, at least until you get a hang of how things work. Learning a ship’s layout isn’t possible as each one is procedurally generated right before entering. Experience points are only gained by those who make it back to your ship in one piece (they get nothing for killing baddies) and loot is found in swag bags and chests, never dropped by enemies. The going can get tough rather quickly. Still, I enjoyed the puzzle-like nature of things. Having to figure out the best course of action during a tricky situation is just as fun landing a tough shot by bouncing a bullet off a ship’s hull. The mission variety also added to the fun! A lot of levels are the basic get in and get out with an item affair. Others will have you trying to survive waves of enemies before help arrives. Timers will count down each turn, erecting turrets and spawning enemies when hitting zero. There was never a dull moment.

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I think that’s what I liked best about SteamWorld Heist. The basic gameplay is entertaining enough to warrant the hours I put into completing the story. But the extra stuff – decent amount of enemy types, powerful loot, and random elements – layered on top really sold the experience. I especially liked the creative boss fights. My only real complaint was how certain enemies found late in the game broke the established rules. While they weren’t super difficult to contend with, giving them abilities that circumvented the basic mechanics felt unfair; why hide behind a wall when a bot could just fly over it? It’s a minor complaint given how well everything else worked together.

Image & Form is another one of those developers who isn’t afraid to take risks. By taking what they’ve learned from previous titles and applying that knowledge to a new genre, we get games like SteamWorld Heist. Sure, it won’t necessarily revolutionize turn-based RPGs. But it does standout as a unique experience worthy of our time!

Gameplay: 8
The plot development was skimped on but the combat and puzzle like nature of the levels make SteamWorld Heist a blast to play.  

Graphics: 10
The visuals are great; the developer did a great job utilizing the 3D, with layers of depth that help to sell the steampunk environments.

Sound: 8
The music is pretty good.

Replay Value: 8
SteamWorld Heist is fun enough to warrant a second playthrough. The New Game + mode that unlocks once you complete the story helps in this regard.

Final Score:

8.5