Steamworld Heist Review – Robot Pirate Swashbuckling

This review was written after playing a review copy of Steamworld Heist on PSN provided by Image and Form Games. OmniGamer’s writers happily give their honest opinions despite such acts of generosity, though appreciated.

Steamworld Heist knows a lot about showmanship. It presents itself as an eccentric experience bolstered by novel twists on gameplay that continues to build upon itself until the credits roll. It is a different beast than Image and Form Games’ last outing, Steamworld Dig, while at the same time maintaining the look and feel of its own little world. A steam-powered robot tactical action RPG that does an impressive job juggling both the more tactical play of a strategy game and allowing the player to perform actions that wouldn’t be out of place in a Sergio Leone film.

The set-up is simple enough. You play as Piper, a determined space pirate captain that is trying to reassemble a crew, raid a couple of unfortunate vessels for precious gallons of water to keep her crew and herself functioning, and pay off some debts she has accrued among several unsavory types in the galaxy. But then things slowly escalate with an enemy threat that the more civilized law in the galaxy can’t be bothered with, so it boils down to Piper and her crew to put a stop to things.

It’s immediately obvious from the game’s introduction that Steamworld Heist takes a lot of aesthetic cues from Joss Whedon’s Firefly series. The robot characters are a fantastic mix of rugged scoundrels and Wild West frontiersmen. The music selection is a great mix of Industrial with eclectic mixes of Bluegrass and Country. The heroes are chaotic outsiders capable of doing more than a large ideological army. All of this is done on top of every character being an automaton that manages to have an amiable, if one-note personality.

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Each level in Steamworld Heist starts off the same. You select a team, equip them with whatever weapons and gear that suits their skills the best, then they are deployed to an enemy ship with a single objective such as defeat a certain target or destroy a generator, all while looting the ship of everything that isn’t bolted down which can range from new weapons and gear to the in-game currency: water.

Much like the recent XCOM games, each character acts in turns with actions such as taking cover, running, shooting, using items or special abilities taking up the fixed amount of actions they can take.

Steamworld Heist knows a lot about showmanship. It presents itself as an eccentric experience bolstered by novel twists on gameplay that continues to build upon itself until the credits roll.

But, when it comes to determining how those shots connect is where comparisons to Firaxis’ franchise stop. Rather than having a numerical value attributed to how likely an attack will connect, you manually aim the character’s weapon yourself. The success determines on the angle of which you’re aiming, the weapon’s recoil and how much the barrage of lead will ricochet. At first glance it seems like a bad mix of turn-based strategy and sharpshooting but the characters’ classes and weapons aid this element of play in making Steamworld Heist interesting. For example, while a regular character will have to eyeball a shot and hope it lands, a Sharpshooter unit will have a scope which gives them a distinct line of trajectory, including where the attack will bounce. This is helpful because, in addition to doing critical damage with headshots, you can cripple enemy units with leg shots or set off exploding barrels, whatever for which the situation calls.

Of course, the enemy AI can get creative (or cheap) with these tricks as well but the difficulty maintains a leisurely balance. There are instances where emergency gun turrets will appear or reinforcements will arrive, but they either never move the same turn they appear or have had their appearance aptly warned. One of the easiest mistakes a turn-based action game can make is to not give the player enough time to react to new elements being added to an encounter, and Steamworld Heist sidesteps this bad habit gracefully. When one of your crew dies, you collect their spare parts and reassemble them on the ship, at the cost of water. The downed character doesn’t gain any experience from the mission and your overall reputation, the game’s universal grading system that unlocks new missions and crew members, takes a significant hit. However, missions can be completed several times to grind for water and more weapons or just to improve your reputation, which goes a long way to mastering the exciting combat.

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If there is a criticism to be found it is that while Steamworld Heist is fantastic at what it does, it can’t mask some areas lacking substance. Image and Form have done a great job throwing in challenge levels like limiting to one crew member or time constraints, and the diversity of special load outs are to be commended, but eventually every single level comes down to a familiar rhythm of go in, wipe out the crew, loot, escape, repeat. Also, as great as the game is at showing off a more metallic and silly form of space western, the plot and characters don’t rise up to anything more than an amalgamation of familiar parts arranged in a solid but conventional way.

If you can ignore those gripes and just want a tactical action game to enjoy in your spare time, Steamworld Heist is an exciting and rewarding experience. Download it for yourself, oil up those joints, put on a fancy hat and enjoy.


Fluent in several forms of martial arts like Tae Kwon Do and Devil May Cry, Tyler Chancey is a robot in human skin programmed to love games, hate ignorance, and enjoy the finer things like iced tea and a good book. You can follow him on Twitter @DarthRahu

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