When Steamworld Heist was revealed last year, I flipped out. I’m a huge fan of Steamworld Dig, playing it regularly on 3DS and Wii U. The great setting, whimsical character design, and excellent gameplay combined to make it one of my favorite games of the last few years. It’s accessible to play, and even easier to pick up for a few minutes at a time.
With Heist, developers Image & Form look like they might have captured that essence in a very different kind of game: think X-Com, in 2D, with steampunk robots. I loved getting my hands on it at PAX East.
The very first thing I noticed about the game is its strong visual tie to the rest of the Steamworld universe. The steampunk robots are back, now larger and better proportioned to move around a giant 2D playing field. I was immediately reminded of the Dig underground: spotlights, high contrast and bolts are everywhere amid the rusty colors of the steel and brick world.
The game plays out in turn-based 2D, with a set amount of distance each character can move. In my demo I was sent on a mission to capture loot at the back of the cavern, protected by scrapper bots throughout. Bots and turrets need to be eliminated to open doorways and collect loot. I started with Piper, a female robot with a laser-sighted pea-shooter. Movement occurs along orange or blue lines; moving through orange allows me to attack or take an action, but extending into the blue only lets me defend & crouch. It was great to start with Piper as her sight allowed me to get used to the controls and aiming. Other characters I added later to my team didn’t have the ability, making aiming much trickier.
Traversing through the world I ducked behind barrels and crates, ricocheting her shots off of walls to hit targets. In one instance I managed to knock off a scrapper’s hat — they’re collectible in the game — sending the shot off the wall and bouncing into the scrapper’s back. Barrels provided protection from many attacks, so staying within their range when firing was important. It felt a little a Spaghetti Western shootout, another nod to the IP’s crazy steampunk cowboy universe.
The team is still determining how giant parties will affect the map size and movement, and even map placement on the screen, so character design will become even more crucial. The other characters I was able to try, like the fish-like Billy Gill, can be picked up along the way and come equipped with different weapons and abilities. Gill’s shotgun helped in one particular situation, when the barrel blocking Piper was destroyed and only one point of HP remained. In front of me was a turret in the ceiling and a scrapper behind another barrel. When it was my turn I used Piper to blast away the exposed turret and Gill to take out the scrapper with a powerful shot. The team has 15 playable characters designed thus far, but are planning for up to 20.
With each character’s unique play style, there’s certainly the possibility for a lot of replayability in SteamWorld Heist, something that Dig also excelled at. The demo mission was a lot of fun, and a great take on the tactical genre. There isn’t a long wait until we see more of the game, either; the game releases in August on 3DS & Steam, October on PS4 & Xbox One, and Wii U & tablets soon after.