Review: SteamWorld Heist
SteamWorld Heist is a side-scrolling turn-based action strategy game available for download from the PlayStation Store for the PS4 and PS Vita. The SteamWorld series began in 2010 with a real-time strategy tower defense game titled SteamWorld: Tower Defense, while SteamWorld Heist is the sequel to SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt. Dig is set within the completely different genre of an adventure platform game and released on a variety of platforms in 2013 prior to the PS4 and Vita versions in 2014. The quality of the series is quite high, receiving many nominations for a variety of categories in multiple Game of the Year Awards.
The story of SteamWorld Heist is set hundreds of years after the events of SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt in a world in which steambots have become incredibly intelligent, progressing their knowledge as far as reaching space. The story revolves around a new character known as Captain Piper Faraday leading a crew of steam-powered robotic space pirates exploring the outer reaches of space on their many adventures to loot supplies to keep her crew alive and well, although in the process becomes entangled in battles against other robotic factions. The story is similar in concept to the television series Firefly, albeit with steampunk robots replacing Captain Malcolm Reynolds and his tightly knit crew that are essentially his family throughout their journeys.
There is a strong variety of missions including boarding a ship to collect supplies commonly referred to as swag bags as they contain small yet rewarding treats and an epic swag grand prize which is rare as it usually contains something more powerful in addition to increasing your reputation; re-claiming stolen bar supplies; destroying terrifying Scrappers that are stealing and even kidnapping from the locals; evacuating yourself and your crewmates from the ship you have collected supplies from or destroyed Scrappers on by finding an escape pod; and more besides. Side missions are pretty much the same as missions but are not necessary to complete in order to move the story on. For example, there is a side challenge mission in which all Scrappers must be eliminated with the prospect of also looting some supplies followed by evacuating the ship in escape pods. New Game + allows players to keep their recruited crew members and even the collection of hats after having completed the first playthrough, although every crewmate returns to level 0 when it comes around to beginning the second playthrough.
The character design is rather interesting as all of the characters are robots that each possess their own unique look and personality in regards to how they approach you and the kind of tone of conversation they will have with you from humorous through to serious and angry. In addition to each character having their own backstory; they also have their own set of attributes between health, stamina, accuracy and melee combat. The differences in capabilities between the crewmates even when having levelled up identically creates a dynamic team. Reputation is necessary for recruitment to draft more robots into your crew such as Sally Bolt requiring four reputation stars before being convinced that joining Piper’s crew would be a wise move. Some robots such as Valentine Butterbolt are more convinced by a specific quantity of water or other resources. Do not be concerned by the prospect of spending your precious hard earned resources on assembling a crew only for them to be destroyed by ruthless Scrappers; any crewmates who are destroyed will have their parts sent back to your ship for a full repair resulting in your crewmates being as good as new for your next mission.
The environment design is incredibly varied as the environments such as the interiors of ships you and your crewmates are boarding are actually procedurally generated with the surrounding environments always possessing an appropriate amount of detail to them including rivets, fans, ladders, pipes, machinery, doors and much more besides all looking as they would be anticipated in a steampunk space travel era.
Weapons have their own unique attributes which can be viewed from the inventory. For example, a Scoped Short Round, which is a Tier 1 Sharpshooter weapon with a long laser sight, is capable of inflicting 3 points worth of damage and improving the chances of a critical shot by 2 points, while the rare Scoped Repeater is a Tier 2 Sharpshooter that also has a long laser sight and the same chance of a critical shot, but inflicts 1 point more damage and provides two attack turns instead of the normal single attack. The Carrion Uzi has a different type of advantage as it sprays four bullets which produces the same amount of damage as the Scoped Repeater albeit at short range, alongside a Harpoon Gun which is a Tier 2 Sharpshooter that has no ricochets and only a short laser sight with 1 point more damage inflicted in comparison to the Scoped Repeater as well as many more weapons found along your crew’s journey.
There are further weapons beyond guns such as scrap grenades which allow players to shoot a grenade with an arced trajectory with up to 6 points worth of damage inflicted, although it can only be used once per mission. Brass knuckles are perfect for improving your proficiency in melee combat which is quite useful for when an enemy is rushing at you and engaging in close quarters combat. There are also a range of items and utilities which can be contained within your inventory by purchasing them with in-game currency or earning them with swag bags such as a small repair box which restores 2 points worth of health to a character, although it can only be used once per mission. Weapon purchases and upgrades are funded by the amount of water your crew has in their possession which is effectively the in-game currency and described as an essential resource for all steambots.
Levelling up is important as experience is gained per crewmate at the end of each level for completing objectives, collecting swags and a difficulty bonus which increases for harder difficulty levels with the benefit of gaining as much experience as possible resulting in gaining new abilities. Upgrades take place when a crew member has levelled up with upgrades producing new abilities. For example, the Payback ability results in Vanguards becoming enraged after taking damage which makes them deal bonus damage to enemies during their next attack, while Inspire makes Piper inspire nearby allies resulting in allies dealing one bonus damage to enemies with Piper also becoming inspired for as long as at least one of her allies remains inspired.
SteamWorld Heist supports cross-buy between the PS4 and Vita, although it unfortunately does not support cross-save, so you will not be able to continue from your previous progression on the Vita version when playing the PS4 version and vice versa. As SteamWorld Heist also supports remote play, you can technically continue on playing the PS4 version anywhere you want to with the same save file during remote play. Cross-buy presents a superb amount of value as it means that you will be purchasing the PS4 and Vita versions of the game with just a single purchase.
There is downloadable content available for SteamWorld Heist in the form of The Outsider which sees Captain Piper find a new ally situated near to Chop Sue who has a mysterious past with The Outsider also including new missions, weapons, gear and hats for a cheap cross-buy price of £3.99.
The controls are well mapped to the DualShock 4 controller. The customisable control scheme guarantees a control scheme that will suit the preferences of every player such as being able to re-map the touch pad in place of R2 to shoot enemies or replacing X with the touch pad to activate. Tapping the touch pad produces a map, although the light bar and vibration on the DualShock 4 controller are not supported which is surprising as the light bar could have produced a multitude of colours to inform the player of how much health that specific character has or alternatively to produce a colour based upon which character you are currently controlling. The changes between the PS4 and Vita control scheme includes shooting enemies being re-mapped from R2 to R, while cycling through to the next available character has been mapped to L instead of L2 and the map moving to select from the touch pad instead of utilising the touch screen which is rather odd as the touch screen and rear touch pad cannot even be used to re-map part of the customisable control scheme on Vita.
Graphically, SteamWorld Heist really does look absolutely amazing on PS4 and Vita with fluent animations of character models set amongst stunning procedurally generated environments which are complimented by a wealth of detail such as superb lighting, shadows, while the weaponry produces some fantastic light shows and ricocheting physics. The presentation of the game is solid with a great user interface across various menus. The background of the menu screens consists of a planet rotating in the distance amongst thousands of stars, while three characters including the lead character Piper stand atop the stylish title logo. The audio spans across sound effects including your crew and enemies running and climbing ladders, doors opening, alarms alerting Scrappers of your crew’s presence on their ships, and more. The music comprises of an exceptional soundtrack by a California-based band called Steam Powered Giraffe which are styled as steampunk robots during their live performances. The band members also appear as their on-stage persona at bars located throughout the game as they amazingly perform songs from the soundtrack. Rather than any voice-overs, you will only hear some brief robotic sounds. The PS4 version does not feature any DualShock 4 speaker implementation which is a surprise given that it could have produced sound effects, music or the robotic sounds.
The trophy list includes 42 trophies with 26 bronze trophies, 13 silver trophies, 2 gold trophies and 1 platinum trophy with a further 5 downloadable content trophies including 4 bronze trophies and 1 silver trophy. Easier trophies include the Tutorial Grind bronze trophy for completing the tutorial, while there are trophies for levelling up such as the It’s Over 9… and the Madly Maxed bronze trophies for reaching level 10 with one character and with all characters in your crew respectively; using certain abilities such as the Backscratcher bronze trophy for using the Flanker ability to kill 50 enemies; and a number of hat related trophies such as the Headgear-Hunter bronze trophy for shooting off then picking up a rare hat. Harder trophies include the You’re the Best Around gold trophy for completing the game on elite difficulty; the Fields of Gold gold trophy for completing the game with an all gold SteamWorld ranking on any difficulty; and the Higher Than the Sun silver trophy for completing the game with an all gold SteamWorld ranking on elite difficulty. It is estimated that depending upon skill and a good trophy guide to provide some helpful tips that it would take between 15 to 20 hours to platinum the trophy list.
There are five difficulty levels including casual, regular, experienced, veteran and elite with the major differences between each difficulty level being a gradual increase in the penalty for failing a mission from 0% on casual difficulty through to 25% on regular and 50% on experienced, veteran and elite. A five star rating system represents an increase in the amount of enemies from one star on casual, two stars on regular, three stars on experienced and veteran and four stars on elite. There are no multiplayer features which is a surprise given that the lead character Piper has crewmates on her team and multiple enemies to face up against from opposing crews. I would have liked to have seen some form of co-operative multiplayer for two to four players with one player taking control of Piper and other players controlling the crewmates in what could have been drop-in/drop-out on the same screen until a player or multiple players had ventured off onto a different area of the environment in which case becoming split-screen to retain freedom of movement and online co-operative multiplayer version of the single player story. Split-screen and online multiplayer could have been expanded further beyond co-operative multiplayer as competitive multiplayer could have re-told the single player story from a different perspective for two to four players with a player controlling Piper and a second player controlling her crewmates attempting to defeat the many enemies in their way which would be controlled by human opponents trying to prevent any crew from stealing back any of their loot.
There are no online leaderboards which is surprising as they could have included leaderboards for the amount of enemies each player has killed in total, the amount of enemies killed from each specific ability and weapon, the total number of hats collected including their rarity as well as the quickest completion time for each level individually and throughout the entire game. The replayability stems from a number of areas such as mission variety and side missions, assembling your own crew, levelling up to earn new abilities for those crewmates participating in missions, New Game + to carry your team from one playthrough into the next, five difficulty levels and collectables including swag bags and hats which will collectively have players coming back for a substantial amount of gameplay on PS4 and Vita.
Overall, SteamWorld Heist is one of the most accessible strategy games you will ever wish to discover and play with an incredible depth of gameplay and features. SteamWorld Heist is highly recommended as it is worthy of your time in not only a home console environment on PS4, but also the perfect compliment of portable gaming on Vita.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
- Great graphics and lighting effects.
- Variety of weaponry.
- Crewmate camaraderie a la Firefly.
What I Dislike:
- No cross-save functionality.