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Hands On: SteamWorld Heist

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SteamWorld Dig was a surprise joy in 2013. Released first on the Nintendo 3DS, then latterly to Steam, it was a side-scrolling rogue-lite mining platformer, which turned out to be a superb combination of elements. If you haven’t played it, dear me, you ought. Developers Image & Form more recently announced their follow-up game, set in the same universe of water-seeking robots, SteamWorld Heist [official site]. This time it’s a side-scrolling turn-based space explorer, part XCOM, part Gunpoint. You can’t accuse them of resting on their laurels. I’ve had a play of one of Heist’s levels, and it’s looking like they’ve created a turn-based combat even a great big dolt like me can enjoy.

It’s worth noting from the start that I’ve only played an element of what Heist has to offer. The full game tells a tale set a couple of hundred years after Dig, where the robot’s home planet has exploded, and they’re scattered into space, forced to pillage the ships of mean enemies for supplies. During my hands on, I did not get to see the space exploration, the supply management, nor how enemy ships are targeted for attack. I did, however, get to plunder my way through one such ship, experiencing the game’s approach to turn-based battling.

Movement and attacking are action point-based, but in an immediately far more accessible way to TBS novices. Rather than a number in a circle by a face, they’re depicted as coloured lines along the floors of the platforms between the character and your mouse cursor. Yellow shows how far you can move and still be able to attack, blue shows the complete distance you can reach in that turn. Boom. Perfect.

Attacking itself offers a slightly more arcade approach. Say you’ve moved one of your robot team into position behind a barrel for defence, you then take aim at a chosen enemy, and their gun (or other weapon) is loosely pointed in their direction. Idle animation causes the weapon to gently drift, the amount according to the skills of that particular character. So you need to time your shot accurately, ensure that the enemy is going to get hit, and indeed which region of the enemy’s body. A weapon with a laser sight makes this an awful lot easier than one without, obviously, so upgrading weapons is also going to be an important factor. Those without offer a greater challenge for aiming, and can lead to escapades if you accidentally catch an exploding barrel or the like.

And hats. The magical ingredient of gaming, hats, are often dropped by baddie bots when killed, and give boosts to your metallic chums. In fact, there are lots of ways to improve your crew, which can all be lost if one of them dies in combat. There were plans, early on, for Heist to always be permadeath, full roguelite complete loss, but they reported testers found it too devastating. You could get too far into your missions, get too attached, and it seemed to be spoiling fun. Permadeath will still feature, for those who want it, but it’ll now be a difficulty setting.

But still, losing a robot is going to hurt. You’ll have to hire a new member for your crew, and they’ll not have the same upgrades, tweaks, etc. With differing sets of skills, it’ll hopefully be easy to become attached to them. While my demo showed me a small gang of bots firing different types of gun (laser-sighted pea shooter, an inaccurate shotgun, and so on), there will also be engineers who can make use of broken machines on enemy ships, and other class types to make things more interesting.

So I certainly didn’t have a deep look, but I very much enjoyed what I played. Which was, I admit, a relief. Never too big of a fan of turn-based combat (I’ve realised my problem with particular game types is a complete lack of a desire to plan ahead), this clicked instantly for me. The sensible visual presentation of your potential moves, and the arcadey fun of targeting foes, made for an entertaining time. It’ll be very interesting to hopefully see more soon, and figure out how it all comes together.

SteamWorld Heist is set for an August release on both 3DS and Steam.

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John Walker

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One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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