Game Reviews

SteamWorld Heist - A swashbuckling piratey cowboy strategy adventure

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| SteamWorld Heist
SteamWorld Heist - A swashbuckling piratey cowboy strategy adventure
| SteamWorld Heist

SteamWorld Heist has an intriguing plot, an impressive amount of world building, and the best strategy in any game I've played this year. Honestly, it's an absolute joy that I'd recommend to all strategy fans.

You play as Piper, captain of a small band of cowbots - that's cowboy robots - who get steal swag from passing ships and try and keep one step ahead of the oppressive Royalist army.

After a heist goes bad Piper has to source a new crew and take a stab at the Royalist bastards.

Heat makes steam

Each stage sees you and your crew invade an enemy ship, taking each room one by one, stealing the all-important swag and heading for the escape pod before things turn bad.

The rooms are set on multiple levels, with cowbots shooting guns left, right and centre. This creates an interesting setting for the game's most satisfying and rewarding mechanic – ricochet.

Ricochet is essentially just bullets bouncing off walls, barrels, and more, but what it offers is a wider range of satisfying shots for your cowbots to make.

More than once I was convinced that my turn would be wasted as I couldn't place my cowbots anywhere that had a decent shot - then I would semi-blindly fire towards an opponent, only for the bullet to bounce off a barrel they were hiding behind, twonk off the ceiling, and hit them square between the eyes.

Never before, in any strategy game, has a mechanic felt so risky and so immediately rewarding.

It's odd that shooting down cowbots feels so good, considering there isn't actually any reward for offing them. Instead, experience is gained and skills are obtained by collecting the swag that's strewn about the stages.

Indeed, just like a real heist, the success of your venture is measured by the sacks of goodies you bring home, not by your killcount.

Boss rob

The only exceptions are the boss stages, where your sole goal is to tackle a single, larger-than-life steamboat. Here the tactics involve taking cover and dealing as much damage as possible from a distance, bouncing bullets through doors from behind whatever you can use as cover.

This tactic of hunkering down feels like a big change from the usual pace of the game, forcing you to use all of those skills and items you've been collecting from your adventures.

There are several types of stages - some are necessary in order to complete the constellation-like network of levels, whereas others offer an extra challenge that you can tackle if you're feeling confident enough.

Some stages will see a single crew member on a mission to grab as much swag as they can and escape, and your heart will be in your mouth every time an enemy cowbot takes aim at your pirate.

On top of all this there's a range of customisation and items that boost your crew's stats and options in battle - a sidearm can give you an extra shot during your turn, vests can increase defence, and hats… Well, hats look nice.

There's a plethora of them to collect and adorn yourself with, Team Fortress 2-style.

Hats off

I expected to like SteamWorld Heist, just as I enjoyed SteamWorld Dig, but what I found was a steampunk strategy game, similar to Nintendo's own Codename STEAM, but miles better in almost every aspect.

The key act of lining up and taking a shot is both a risk and reward in and of itself, moving into a room before knowing what waits for you can send your pulse into overdrive, and challenging the Royalists is an excellent backdrop for a half-swashbuckling pirate half-rough-and-rowdy cowboy adventure.

And somehow, it all feels coherent. I love SteamWorld Heist, and if you're a fan of handheld strategy I couldn't recommend it more.

SteamWorld Heist - A swashbuckling piratey cowboy strategy adventure

SteamWorld Heist is an unexpected and super-satisfying strategy smash - if you've enjoyed games like Codename STEAM or Fire Emblem, then consider this little gem an essential purchase