Developer: Image & Form
Publisher: Image & Form
Platform: 3DS eShop
Release Date: December 10, 2015
ESRB: E 10+
Two summers ago, nobody knew who developer Image & Form was. And almost overnight, they became an indie sensation. SteamWorld Dig put the Dutch team in the spotlight big time, winning huge acclaim from critics and fans everywhere for its unique, cartoon-like spin on the Steampunk genre and addictive gameplay.
Subsequently, any other developer probably would've followed up such a hit game with an obvious sequel, but Image & Form boldly went in a different direction this time around. Enter SteamWorld Heist, a strategy action game based on boarding spaceships, shooting up rascally scoundrel Scrappers, and plundering all of the resources on board.
But hold on just a second -- how did we get from digging down into the Earth all the way to plundering spaceships? Well, that's a tale for another time, according to Image & Form. What you will find out is that some pretty severe things have happened to SteamWorld since we last left Rusty. A catastrophe of sorts destroyed the planet, forcing the Steambots into outer space to live amongst the stars. At the outset, we learn that there are three distinct factions of Steambots now: The Cowbots, who mine for ore and water; Scrappers, who are pirates and thieves that scavenge and pillage other ships; and Royalists, an oppressive regime that rules the sector and enforces strict taxes on the Steambots.
You play as Captain Piper Faraday, a headstrong female Steambot who runs a crew of smugglers that steal and plunder from Scrappers in order to help the Cowbots. When the game starts, you discover that Faraday had lost most of her former crew in a raid, and thus must rebuild it with new recruits over the course of the game. You'll encounter more Steambots throughout the course of the game and will be able to recruit them into your party by either paying their asking price (which is paid in water), having enough reputation points (which you get by completing missions), or a combination of the two. Each Steambot also has their own class and skills -- one might be able to use general handguns and pistols while another may act as a sniper, and yet another will be skilled at using heavy weaponry.
As mentioned earlier, the core gameplay revolves around raiding ships, taking out enemy Scrappers and Royalists aboard, and grabbing any loot you come across. You'll make use of a branching space map in order to guide Piper's ship to different locations. Once you've boarded a ship, each level generally has a certain goal you must reach before you can hightail it out of there, whether it be grabbing a certain amount of loot, destroying x amount of Scrappers, or something else. The loot you acquire at the end of each mission can then be used to fortify your crew with new weapons and other equipment.
In fact, the game has an amazing system of progression. Every Steambot that survives through the mission will gain experience, which in turn will lead them to level up and acquire new skills that will enhance their adeptness during battle. While you can't personalize each member of your crew's skills, it still is a lot of fun and exciting to unlock new ones, and you really get the sense that each crewmember is becoming better and more useful for every mission. There are a wide variety of weapons to acquire and buy as well, which help keep things diverse and interesting.
Each mission will have Faraday and one or more of her crew infiltrating another ship, and the layout is all in 2D, similar to how SteamWorld Dig looked. However, being a strategy game and not a platformer, each of your crewmembers will have their own turn to move a limited amount of spaces and perform an action, whether it's taking a shot at enemies or using an assist item like a health pack to restore HP. Every ship will generally have a different layout of rooms and such, but the way each room is laid out in function will be the same. You'll have multiple levels of platforms to work with, ladders, and barrels and other objects to use as cover. It's simple in concept, but there's a world of depth to it when you really dig into the meat of the game.
What really makes Heist's gameplay tick is its great use of gunplay. It doesn't just boil down to aiming your gun at an enemy and firing. Thank goodness too, because that would get old real fast. No, you'll be making use of angled shots to help hit certain foes. For example, your character and an enemy might both be using an object as cover, but -- given the right circumstances and position -- you can angle a shot so that it ricochets off the ceiling, then the wall behind the enemy before finally hitting them. Combined with the different ship layouts and enemy types, this mechanic gives the game a ton of flair and depth.
However, It isn't just the gameplay that makes SteamWorld Heist special. Everything about the game shows that Image & Form put in a ton of effort to make this a truly quality game. The visuals show off a level of detail and polish that is rare to see outside of AAA games, and all of the animations are smooth as butter. Seriously, this is easily one of the best looking 2D 3DS games ever made. One can only imagine what it'll look like in HD when brought to PC, Vita, and other consoles.
Even the music and soundtrack are extremely well done. The main theme that plays when you're raiding ships once again has a catchy old-western ambience to it (like in SteamWorld Dig), and I was blown away to find out that Image & Form produced entire songs with actual sung lyrics that play in the bars that you'll occasionally stop at. And if you listen in the back of Piper's ship, you can hear the sound of a large steam engine roaring to keep the ship running. Simply incredible.
All I can say is Image & Form has done it again. SteamWorld Heist is a near-masterpiece of an experience and proves that SteamWorld Dig was clearly not a fluke. Even though the game is a complete 180 from Dig in terms of gameplay, it's a gamble that paid off in the end because it's a ton of fun and has loads of depth for players of all types. I can't say it enough -- SteamWorld Heist is fantastic, and it's the one 3DS game I would recommend above all others this year.
+ Fantastic 2D visuals
+ Deep strategic gameplay
+ Multiple difficulties that are changeable at any time
+ Charming writing and cast of characters
- Customizable skillsets would be nice (I'm really reaching to nitpick here)
Overall Score: 9.5 (out of 10)
SteamWorld Heist is an incredibly thrilling strategy game, and Image & Form's best title to date. The amount of polish is unbelievable for a 3DS game and the depth of its gameplay will have you playing over and over again.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using a downloadable code provided by the publisher
Edited by Jason Clement