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SteamWorld Heist (PlayStation 4) artwork

SteamWorld Heist (PlayStation 4) review

"Valkyria Chronicles in 2D with hats."

SteamWorld Heist is far removed from its predecessor, trading in SteamWorld Dig's gameplay (which felt like a cross between Dig Dug and Metroid) for something more akin to a 2D Valkyria Chronicles.

In the resulting turn-based tactical RPG, you play as a team of steam-powered robot space pirates (there's more to the story, but what else could you possibly need to know?). Each stage begins with a team of one to four robots docking on a space ship. From there, you'll have to make your way through the randomly-generated environment, destroying enemies and completing goals. Your objectives include anything from collecting loot to defeating a certain number of enemy robots. Many stages continuously spawn enemies and turrets, often at a gradually increasing rate, which provides plenty of reason to avoid lollygagging even in the absence of a strict time limit. Once you've completed your mission, you must reach an escape pod to leave the enemy ship and return to your own.

SteamWorld Heist (PlayStation 4) image

The combat system is simple, with lots of room for strategy and fancy gunplay. You can equip different guns, each with different advantages and disadvantages. The most enjoyable varieties allow you to ricochet bullets off walls and other surfaces to perform fancy trick shots. See an enemy hiding behind cover? Try shooting the ceiling at a 45 degree angle so that the projectile bounces off, hits the wall behind him, and rebounds to hit him in the back of the head. Certain guns are better suited to this mechanic than others, with some of the best ones using laser sights to help map your bullet's trajectory.

Other weapon types are just as useful, but in different ways. Shotguns are a powerful short-range option. Rocket and grenade launchers fire explosive rounds that can damage allies if the user isn't careful. Individual robots are limited in the types of weapons they can use, so it's good to keep a wide variety of them handy.

In addition to weapons, robots can equip up to two pieces of support equipment for further customization. These items may raise stats, grant passive traits, heal, or launch an attack. Your tank character might benefit from equipment that gradually regenerates health every turn, for instance. A sniper who can't shoot after moving might find a hand grenade useful as a secondary weapon. And a character with a rocket launcher might not always be able to fire a rocket, thanks to splash damage, but a good sidearm can give them something to do on those turns.

SteamWorld Heist (PlayStation 4) image

There are nine crew members (plus one DLC member), each with their own traits and abilities. Besides obvious differentiating factors like movement distance per turn and HP, characters possess unique active and passive abilities. Main character Captain Piper is the leader of the group. Her “Leadership” passive ability causes nearby allies to inflict extra damage. Sally's “Kill Shot” passive ability allows her to attack a second time in a turn, after finishing off an enemy. Combine this with her active “Mad Dog” skill to continue chaining Kill Shots until you fail to defeat an enemy or just run out of them. Payroll has a wheel instead of legs, meaning he can use his “Wheel 'n' Deal” skill for an extra burst of movement to get behind enemies and cap them with his passive “Flanker” skill, which deals extra damage to enemies when attacking them from behind. Characters gain additional skills as they level up, as well, opening up new possibilities in combat.

Controls are simple, with character movement confined to a grid. Party members can move within a set range before acting, and they can move still farther if they don't mind giving up that turn's action. Unlike many tactical RPGs, SteamWorld Heist doesn't allow characters to undo their movement before acting, which means you're locked into a move once you make it, unless you spend that turn's action on further movement. Opposing sides also take turns moving, with all of the player's characters moving before all of the enemies do.

SteamWorld Heist (PlayStation 4) image

SteamWorld Heist's gameplay systems are simple and enjoyable, though its presentation is a bit mixed. The art is nice, with interesting and intricately-designed characters and detailed backgrounds that don't get busy enough to cause problems. The dynamic lighting brings the foreground and background elements together. Unfortunately, the graphics are brought down a peg by the unattractive, skeletal animations. Sound effects in battle are satisfying, but character “voices” sound like obnoxious electronic barks. The music is inoffensive, barely noticeable and thus unmemorable.

Thankfully, SteamWorld Heist's strengths more than make up for any aesthetic weaknesses. The game's fun mechanics provide the player plenty of room to experiment and adapt, and the variety of characters and randomly generated stages help keep things fresh for repeat playthroughs. You won't likely lose hundreds of hours to it, but it's a nice tactical RPG to pick up and play whenever.


Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (July 06, 2016)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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Nightfire posted July 06, 2016:

Unf. I've seen videos of this game, and man... It looks so good. Around the time of its release it wasn't on PC yet, but seeing this review made me check to see if it's on Steam now and it totally is. I'm gonna buy it up the first chance I get. Thanks for the reminder!

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