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SteamWorld Heist review

SteamWorld Heist
Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £15
inc VAT

A beautifully made turn-based strategy shooter, SteamWorld Heist steals in as this year's best 3DS game


Available formats: 3DS (Xbox One, PS4, Wii U, PC, PS Vita, iOS in 2016)

There’s barely three weeks to go before we hit the end of 2015, but SteamWorld Heist has just snuck in as my best 3DS game of the year. It’s coming to almost every other platform at some point next year in 2016, including PC, PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, the PS Vita and iOS devices, but the 3DS is where you’ll find Image & Form’s superb new turn-based strategy shooter first, and it’s a must-buy this Christmas. 

Set long after the events of SteamWorld Dig, the world’s last sentient robots have now fled to the depths of space where they’ve taken to pilfering what’s left of Earth’s resources from chunks of planetary space rock. Not every bot’s getting their fair share, though, so it’s up to Captain Piper and her crew of space pirates to redress the balance.

SteamWorld Heist screenshot03^ When enemies are hidden behind cover, you’ll need to be more creative with your shots to take them down

You’ll gradually swell your ranks of rogues from the sporadic bars and dives strewn across the galaxy (often to the tune of real-life band Steam Powered Giraffe’s brilliant space ballads), but when each one brings such a unique flavour to each heist, picking which crew members to take with you can often be surprisingly difficult.

The size of your team can vary from just a lone agent to a four-strong assault team, giving you plenty of opportunity to try new strategies should you take a bit of a beating. My go-to team regularly consisted of a doddery old sniper, a dumbbell-pumping strong man armed with a rocket launcher, and a unicycle-bound trickster who specialised in wheeling past enemy forces and striking them from behind, but I could have easily chosen a trigger-happy farm bot who earns an extra shot after each kill, a fish-faced brawler or an ex-army sharpshooter instead. Either way, you’ll need to keep your options open, as enemies come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from lone soldiers to armoured tanks, shielded electrobots and monstrous machines with massive arm cannons. 

SteamWorld Heist screenshot02^ If you move to an orange location, you still have the opportunity to use your gun before your turn ends. Step into the blue zone, and you’ll have used all your action points for that turn

However, while weapon power and manoeuvring your team around each randomly generated space hangar is key to survival, the true joy of SteamWorld Heist is lining up pop-shots from across the room to take out your enemies from afar, whether it’s bouncing them off multiple walls to bypass their cover, or hitting exploding barrels to take out nearby turret guns. You have to line up your shots manually, so SteamWorld Heist is as much a game of skill as it is over-arching strategy, as each and every weapon is about as useless as a barrel of scrap metal if you can’t aim straight.

Several weapons have different properties, too, bringing their own unique flavour to each encounter. For instance, some rocket launchers will bounce their payload along the floor while others go in for a straight kill, handguns can have scatter or burst modes, and a handful of laser-sight guns can only be fired when you’re stationary, meaning you’ll miss out on attacking if you’re forced to move from cover. 

It all makes for a pleasingly cerebral kind of strategy game, even if it’s reasonably forgiving on lower difficulty levels, as enemies will regularly overshoot if you’re safe behind cover. However, you will be punished for mistakes if you let your guard down, particularly if you opt for one of the higher skill levels. This not only affects your overall progress and reputation, but any obliterated bot will miss out on that mission’s entire batch of EXP points, preventing them from levelling up and learning new skills. 

SteamWorld Heist screenshot01^ You’ll need to keep your wits about you when facing SteamWorld Heist’s bosses, as they not only have more powerful weapons, but they can also call in reinforcements and activate turrets 

That’s where Image & Form’s excellent level generator comes in, as each one is positively brimming with possibilities for creative gunplay. As you pan around each hull with the Circle Pad, aiming from across the room is a truly tense exercise in fine motor control, and you’ll often be wishing you had a ruler or protractor to hand to make sure your turn doesn’t go to waste.

Admittedly, it’s not half as concerned with stats or numbers as other turn-based strategy games – there are no Worm-like power meters or Fire Emblem-esque terrain defences here – but its shooting system is so neat and entertaining that it more than makes up for its seeming lack of complexity. When a well-timed shot strikes your opponent square in the jaw from across the room, it makes those moments of agonising scrutiny all the more satisfying. 

SteamWorld Heist screenshot^ Sharpshooters can use weapons with laser-sights, opening up the possibility for more elaborate trick shots

The only place where SteamWorld Heist comes undone is its rather poorly conceived inventory system. For instance, you can’t check the swag you already have when you’re buying new items, so it can often feel like you’re shopping blind, particularly irksome when your meagre funds often only stretch to one or two pieces of equipment. Likewise, you have to buy extra storage for your newfound booty, which comes at quite a high cost. If you don’t have enough space for everything you’ve stolen, you’re forced to sell it off, so you might not even be able to use what you’ve just spent the last twenty minutes trying to track down. 

This seems rather mean-spirited in my eyes, especially when the inventories of rival turn-based strategy games like Fire Emblem Awakening provide you with near endless pockets to carry round your ever-expanding arsenal. However, it’s a small price to pay when the rest of the game’s so endlessly rewarding, and at just £15, it’s an absolute steal, too. It wins a Best Buy award.

Available formats3DS
Buying Information
Price including VAT
SupplierNintendo eShop

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