SteamWorld Heist Review: Grand Theft Bot-o

SteamWorld Heist is the most recent game in the SteamWorld series from Image & Form games, a Swedish indie studio. I played (and thoroughly enjoyed) SteamWorld Dig, so I figured it was worth checking out Heist to see if Image & Form could do as good a job with Heist as they did with Dig. Heist feels more like a combination of XCOM, Worms, and Firefly. That's setting the bar high - does Heist clear it? Now that I've spent a couple dozen hours with Heist, I'm ready to pass judgement. Coming up next on Without the Sarcasm is my SteamWorld Heist review!

SteamWorld Heist is best described as a tactical, turn-based strategy game. In terms of combat mechanics, it reminds me a lot of games like XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Wasteland 2. Unlike those games, though, Heist takes place from a 2D perspective. If you were just checking out a screenshot, you might even think it was some sort of robot battle platformer, but it's completely not that at all.

The other really major difference is that combat is more skill based and less luck based. In a game like XCOM, you can be standing right next to an enemy and you might only have a 80% chance to hit. Whether or not your soldier lands their shot is just a roll of the dice. In SteamWorld Heist, you manually aim your bots' shots. There's a little bit of "sway" in the aiming, much like when firing a sniper rifle in a first person shooter. However, you're responsible for lining up the shot and when to pull the trigger. In some ways, combat in SteamWorld: Heist feels a bit like playing Worms.

While there are exceptions (rocket launchers, for example), most bullets can be ricocheted off of walls. Sharpshooter weapons even have a long-range laser sight that shows where your shot will hit and how it will bounce. This leads to some crazy awesome moments where you can tear up enemies who think they're well defended with epic trick shots off of walls and cover.

The plot in SteamWorld Heist is very Firefly-esque. A band of well-intentioned "cowbots" finds themselves at odds with both the government and the pirates that rule the space near what is left of Earth. As they butt heads with each faction, they uncover threads of more sinister goings-on in their neck of space. In the end, it's up to our heroes to save all steambot kind from certain destruction.

Each crewmember in SteamWorld Heist is a unique character with different skills and weapon preferences. Some specialize in melee or close quarters combat, others prefer sniper rifles or heavy weapons. Despite the fact that they're all grouped into broad classes, each 'bot gets unique bonuses at level up that make them distinctive.

Clearing missions awards loot, "gallons" (water is the game's currency), and XP for the 'bots that participated in the mission. Loot can take the form of new weapons, new accessory items, or shiny new hats. There's a wide array of each in the game, especially hats. Sure, the other two groups of loot actually improve your character's stats, but who can say no to owning Cloud's hair from Final Fantasy 7, or Professor Layton's hat?

The campaign in SteamWorld Heist takes a good chunk of time to complete. There's somewhere on the order of about 60 missions, and several different difficulty levels you can switch between at will. On top of that, most levels are procedurally generated every time you play. On top of that, there's a new game plus mode after the game is over.

The presentation of SteamWorld Heist is just as good as SteamWorld Dig. The same cartoony art style is in full effect, and the bots and their foes animate fluidly. The music is awesome, with tracks by Steam Powered Giraffe featured in the game's bars.

Around this point in the review, I'd get all up in arms about whatever flaws were just too hard to ignore. However, I can't find any major flaws in SteamWorld Heist. It's just a great game. It's easily the most fun turn-based tactical combat I've played in quite some time, and I play a lot of these games. The unique abilities of each character, plus the manual aiming and procedural generation of levels means that each new enemy encounter is fresh and interesting.

In addition to the base game, Image & Form was nice enough to provide me with a Steam key for the Outsider DLC. This $4.99 add-on includes a new crewmember (Fen), along with a bunch of new items (MOAR HATS!), plus new missions that weave into the main campaign. It's definitely worth a few bucks extra to add it to your SteamWorld Heist experience.