In 2013, developers Image & Form released the action adventure platformer, SteamWorld Dig. It’s a game filled with colorful characters, hand-drawn visuals and satisfying power-ups. Long story short: it was a successful, fun, and a great candidate to receive a sequel.
Image & Form saw this as an opportunity to brew up SteamWorld Heist, a game set in space hundreds of years after the original title. Not only is the setting different, but the game’s genre changes as well. Where SteamWorld dig was a “metroidvania” title with real-time combat and tricky platforming, Heist is a side-scrolling, turn-based strategy game with a small bit of worms-like shooting. Heist also focuses on a crew of “cowbots” (robot Cowboys for you unimaginative bunch) where Dig told its story about the life of a robot miner.
And that’s where the differences end – which is great because Image & Form was able to capture the addictive gameplay and indie charm they created with Dig all over again.
Heist has the player taking the role of Captain Piper as she and her steambot crew scour space in search for water (used as currency and fuel), crewmates and a mysterious, ancient alien species – the Voltbots – that appear in the original title. Each mission takes place on a different space craft and is randomly generated to give every player a different experience. Successful missions give the player money, booty, reputation and gained experience that unlocks new abilities in each crew member.
The amount of reputation gained depends upon how well your mission went and whether or not you collected the “epic treasure chest” each level spawns. Reputation can then be used to access powerful items, secret areas and recruitable crew members (I unlocked 9 members). Reputation also lets players progress further in the storyline which is an inventive way to make sure the player understands the new mechanics it throws at them without ever feeling like too much of a chore. On the contrary, I felt the need to collect more reputation before proceeding with the game just so I could get my hands on special loot and interesting teammates.
Crew mates and the ability to build your own team is actually where Heist succeeds the most as each character has their own set of skills that complement each other in superbly rewarding ways. My specific team in the game consisted of a captain and two vanguard classes. The captain class provides buffs when close to their teammates and long-range firepower when at a distance, which pairs up nicely with my two vanguards that excel at taking damage and dishing out even more at close to mid range. Now, being a creature of habit, I mainly stuck with these three recruits for the game’s entirety so they would be fully leveled for the later stages.
This allowed me to unlock glorious abilities that not only made the individual unit better, but helped create a stronger team all around. Keep in mind though that many of the game’s missions are done with two to three characters. Only a handfull a ships call for a full team of four, which often time results in one of the crew members being vastly weaker than the other members of the group. So you might find yourself redoing missions just to buff up characters you’ll use for four man jobs. It was also leveling up (each character has 10 levels) and the pursuit of better abilities that fueled my desire to keep playing.
However, even though character abilities did steal the show for me, gear came in at a close second. Guns and armor boosted stats while utilities such as grenades and health packs gave you more ways to strategize during a mission. Low on health after killing an enemy? Take a turn to heal up. Are enemies grouped up in front of you but you’re just carrying a pistol? Use a grenade to damage all of them at the same time. Similar to abilities, these items give the player a wider spectrum of options in order to play the game the way they want, which is key in any game regardless of genre. The best part is gear can both be bought and procured from enemy ships. The more confident you are in your skills, the more loot you can nab during a mission. Skilled play is then rewarded with treasure in the form of occasional “rare” items that aren’t always available to buy from shops. It’s a win-win situation that only results in more informed play mixed with interesting items to move forward with into the storyline.
The unfortunate side effect to this focus on smart gameplay makes the story takes a back seat to gameplay, though. First you’re just looking for water to survive – what else is a steambot to do – and the next thing you know you’re saving the world. It’s a fairly rushed transition from lowly cowbots to intergalactic heroes, but somehow Heist makes that leap for the sake of upping the game’s difficulty. Image & Form certainly delivered on the gameplay front, but they did so at the cost of an intriguing plot. It’s not the end of the world, but an irksome trait of the game nonetheless.
Heist also isn’t that long of an experience. My playtime was extended because I wanted to gain all the reputation I could, but the game can easily be finished within 10-12 hours (Just over 20 hours if you wanted to do absolutely everything). Despite wanting to go back to level up different characters on previous missions, it would have been nice if the game gave the player enough side missions to do so without having to replay content. Great gameplay is there, we just need more of it!
Replayability does at least come in the form of New Game + where the experience can be restarted with the full crew. This does allow a new crew to be formed, but again, the same mission objectives still exist. Luckily, generated ships do grant the player a different ship layout each time. A small inclusion, but one that at least does something to minorly mix up the experience for each playthrough.
If you enjoyed SteamWorld Dig you owe it to yourself to at least try this. All of the addictive gameplay is back with more colorful backdrops, fitting tunes and imaginative characters – a specific charm that Image & Form will no doubt become known for the more SteamWorld games they release. It’s not a perfect release but one that shows great promise for the company as they head into the future.
Another Great SteamWorld Showing
We delve into SteamWorld Dig successor SteamWorld Heist and see if it lives up to the achievements of its older sibling.