Game Reviews

SteamWorld Heist review - XCOM meets steampunk in this excellent 2D strategy game

Star onStar onStar onStar onStar half
SteamWorld Heist review - XCOM meets steampunk in this excellent 2D strategy game

On a rustbucket of a spaceship, your pirate boarding crew is down to its last fighter, on his last sliver of a health. Your leg was damaged, keeping you from moving, and an enemy sniper has a clear line of sight. The entire mission rests on your next shot

Your precisely placed bullet ricochets across the walls and floors, bouncing around and behind the sniper's cover and exploding his robotic head, sending gears and shrapnel tumbling in a slow-motion impact.

Regardless of what act you're in, what enemies you're facing, moments like those are consistently satisfying in Steamworld Heist: a perfectly placed long-range shot, an intelligent flanking maneuver, a grenade bouncing nicely into your foe's lap. Not merely because of how your mechanical enemies crumble and collapse when you destroy them, but because those moments are earned, through the challenging and deep turn-based strategy that is the core of Heist's gameplay.

A galactic frontier

Steamworld Heist combines space-faring pirates and steam-powered robotic marauders with classic western elements, from the saloons with their charming bar tenders and bands to the dangerous posses attacking these towns on the fringes of space. And that means confrontations are often concluded with guns and skillful sharpshooting.

But even the most skilled gun will face a quick death without tactics and smart positioning, and that's where Steamworld Heist shines: XCOM-style squad-based combat done in 2D rather than 3D.

At its core, Heist seems quite simple. You can move, shoot, or use a special ability. Cover, flanking, and height advantages are essential.

Choosing from a growing roster of pirates, soldiers, and mercenaries encountered throughout the galaxy, you must build your party and board enemy ships ready to fight. Each character is categorized by class, defining what guns they can equip and what abilities they unlock while leveling-up.

The burly Ivanski can wield explosive weapons and turn invulnerable to draw enemy fire for a turn. Wheel-footed Payroll can attack after sprinting and gains a damage bonus while shooting enemies in the back. Dora can stun enemies and charge her boost boots to move extra spaces in a turn. These bonuses and buffs perfectly complement the focus on positioning and cover, encouraging you to outmaneuver and outflank your enemies.

A worthy challenge

But soon Heist reveals that its simple-to-grasp tactics are far more complex than it seems, and you'll need to consider myriad variables to survive, especially on the harder difficulties. Do you go for a leg shot to root a melee enemy to the spot for a turn? Do you use your piercing shot now, or wait till you can reach a better angle? Can you afford to wait for that ability's cooldown, when there's the stage's turrets are deploying in three turns?

Every turn is a balancing act, as you weigh weapons, classes, and action points against the enemies you're facing and possible angles and if you'll get flanked at that spot or if you nail the perfect shot from there. From the rusty Scrappers of the early levels to the realm of Royalist Empire and beyond, Heist constantly expands upon and evolves that balance, introducing new enemies, new weapons, items, and hazards that test your strategies and squad builds.

Steamworld Heist excels at what initially seems like a potential weakness, removing a dimension from the typical 3D battlefields of XCOM and similar games. But its brand of 2D tactics only makes positioning, smart strategy, finding effective synergies between weapons and classes, that much more crucial and satisfying when you survive against overwhelming odds.

SteamWorld Heist review - XCOM meets steampunk in this excellent 2D strategy game

teamworld Heist's brand of 2D tactics is intensely satisfying when everything comes together and you survive against overwhelming odds
Christian Valentin
Christian Valentin
Christian always had a interest in indie games and loves to give the games that so easily go unnoticed the attention they deserve