Sunday, March 25

Review: SteamWorld Heist [Nintendo Switch eShop]

There’s an amazing feeling that comes over you when you begin to embark on a journey with a game that immediately connects with you and feels right. When, as you progress, there seems to be no sign of the experience flagging and, indeed, even continuing to improve you begin to get giddy with the excitement of it all. Even with as much attention as SteamWorld Dig and its sequel have gotten I simply wasn’t prepared for how incredible its cousin, SteamWorld Heist, would be. Taking the property in a very different direction the game crafters at Image & Form Games have brought another modern classic to the Switch.

The first thing worth noting is that the challenge of releasing a tactical strategy game on the Switch after the release of Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is substantial. While Heist pre-dates that title, for me it’s new since I’d never had a chance to check it out up until now. Having cut my teeth for a long time in the PC space with the X-Com series I was first shocked by how well Kingdom Battle played and made itself accessible on console. With a different perspective, it’s own style of play, and a greater degree of focus on shooting action Heist stands on its own though, and absolutely holds up to comparisons to both of those series. It’s challenging, fun, and most importantly rewards you with much more personal control over outcomes since you’re tasked with actively aiming your shots. The results are spectacular!

The meat of the gameplay is taking control of your squad, which varies in size by mission from 1 to 4, and moving them carefully and deliberately through a spaceship in search of loot at trying to stay alive. Some missions allow you to take a more deliberate and even leisurely pace but many will force you to stay in motion to keep turrets and reinforcements from overwhelming you as the threat level continues to escalate. Each squad member will have an affinity for specific weapon types and tactics, and as they level up they’ll unlock additional skills and attributes that further define their optimum play style. You’ll want to pretty quickly decide on the squad you feel most effective with and make consistent use of them to advance them as far as you can because some of the later skills are absolutely vital to your success, though the game tends to do a very good job of balancing benefits with limitations like attack bonuses that only apply if you haven’t moved in the current turn.

Aside from your squad members’ own skills the other key to success in the game is your gear, whether in the case of your weaponry or your secondary items. While many of these can be bought the best gear is usually acquired in missions, and some of the more valuable items are dropped randomly. Rare weapons are often very similar to their counterparts but have an added attribute or two that can make them particularly formidable if you’ve got the right crew member to combine them with. Supplemental items can do anything from add buffs to your character, to heal them, to give them additional attacks and they can be the key to success in some missions where the layout or enemy types may have very specific concerns. Oh, and did I mention the great temptation of hats in the game? While they’re merely cosmetic enemies can have a wide variety of unique hats and if you want them you’ll need to shoot them off before you dispatch of their wearer. While it’s silly I found more than a few times I’d put my mission at risk in order to carefully shoot off and retrieve a hat because I thought it would look good on one of my crew members. It’s a small and silly touch but it’s also a detail I adore in such a well-balanced game.

With multiple skill levels available SteamWorld Heist is a game that anyone, from a tactical strategy newbie to a grizzled veteran, should be able to enjoy. Well-designed, looking fabulous on Switch, and thoroughly engaging it offers a rewarding combination of careful planning and then execution in aiming that I can’t get enough of. Pulling off a tricky ricochet shot from across the room is such a rush, just remember that when you inadvertently end up blowing up a crewmate a little later because you didn’t plan it out well. While battles can be aggravating at times the great news is that every time you try placements and layouts will tend to vary either a little or a lot so you may have just had a bad break. If you haven’t yet checked out SteamWorld Heist you owe it to yourself to give it a shot, it is unquestionably one of the best games on the Switch.

Score: 9.5

  • A satisfying mix of strategy and execution in aiming
  • Procedural level generation means that subsequent attempts of missions will play out differently
  • A wide variety of crew members with varying skills allow you to find your ideal mix
  • Varied skill settings allow for the experience to be toned down or cranked up as your abilities may demand

  • If you can’t get the hang of estimating your aim you could be in for frustrations
  • People who don’t like the pacing of turn-based strategy could find it to be slow