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The joy of lining up the perfect shot in SteamWorld Heist


Prior to playing SteamWorld Heist, I had no idea that a developer's dedication to a single material could make me grin from ear to ear. This is a turn-based strategy game centred around metal.

As a robot captain leading a team of tin pals clamping onto hulking freighters, you’re constantly shooting other space pirates in the hope of plundering their precious loot. All this combines to create one of the most Firefly-feeling video games out there, yes, but also audio ecstasy as you line up the perfect shot, release, and hear the "ring, ting, ping" of the bullets as they creatively ricochet their way to your victim. Bliss.

I don’t suspect that this was chief amongst developer Image & Form’s list of priorities, yet it feeds into a wider splendour only made possible thanks to SteamWorld Heist’s novel conceit: turn-based strategy that takes place across a 2D plane, thus making any bullet fired a feast for the eyes and ears. You move your characters one-by-one to complete objectives, and wreck shop using certain sight-equipped weapons that allow you to shoot off any body part with pin-point accuracy.

All of a sudden, something that physics tells us should be certain really is. The old school strategy method of say, an XCOM, where your shots would only have a percentage chance of making a hit, is done away with. Instead, SteamWorld Heist rewards your literal cyber piracy by promising that (providing there is no obstruction in your line of sight) any bullet will hit precisely when and where you mean it to. Strange that this seems like a lot to ask for, eh?

I know what you’re thinking, though: “Doesn’t this make the game far too easy?” Well no, not really. And it’s all thanks to the myriad other factors that are at play each time you dock with a new spacecraft. To offset the freedom of letting you make any shot you like, SteamWorld Heist challenges you to think about your team’s positioning in relation to threats, late-game enemies that can teleport, and there is good old-fashioned weapon sway.

You can even indulge your own sense of danger, if you so wish, by choosing to use guns without a laser sight equipped. Bullets will still bounce around the ship based on realistic angles and trajectories determined by the surrounding walls and obstacles, which makes pulling off a risky trick shot like this and having it land feel all the sweeter. Sometimes, doing this is the only way to sneakily damage unsuspecting enemies from behind.

SteamWorld Heist’s shooting feels strangely satisfying, if only for its ability to instill players with an added layer of control. Strategy is a genre that’s generally about emphasising a calm approach. It just so happens that here that calmness is rewarded with the joy of bouncing bullets and the satisfying sound of metal hitting metal.

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SteamWorld Heist

PS4, Xbox One, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo Wii U, PC, Mac, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch

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Aaron Potter