Steamworld Heist Review

Have you ever played X-COM: Enemy Unknown and thought to yourself: “This is a great game, but it could have been better if it was a 2D turn-based tactical shooter where you command a team of steam-powered-robot-pirates in space.”? If your answer is yes, then I have some good news, you oddly taste-specific person!

Steamworld: Heist is basically a 2D turn-based tactical action adventure game set in an uncommon setting that combines Steampunk, Science Fiction, and a pinch of Western. It also has some RPG elements, turn-based combat, loot collecting, side-scrolling and randomly generated levels to a certain extent (more on that later).



The gameplay itself is surprisingly simple for a turn-based strategy game, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. You choose a party of 1-4 robots from your spaceship hub and take on various missions that usually have the same objectives (kill X amount of enemies, or grab Y amount of loot) and after each mission you need to reach the escape pods to win. Each character has 2 actions they could spend in each turn by fighting, moving, or using a special ability. Just like in X-COM: Enemy Unknown you have good ol’ tile based movement with two ranges; orange and blue. Orange takes 1 turn, and blue takes 2. Attacking instantly ends your turn, so you can move in an orange tile range and attack afterwards, but not attack and move later.



The ranged combat is also pretty irregular for a normal turn-based strategy game: Instead of selecting a target, pressing the fire button and crossing your fingers that you won’t miss the shot, you need to actually aim the gun by pressing up and down and make sure to visually line up the gun’s barrel with your target while your character moves slightly as if they’re breathing (even though they’re robots) making aiming a smidgen trickier. So instead of relying on chance, the combat’s more about skill, timing and precision. And unlike most turn-based strategy games, taking a turn doesn’t include an unnecessarily long animation. You line up the shot, push a button and watch the enemy’s bits fly off instantly. This makes the combat quick, responsive, and it leaves me satisfied with each kill.

Another interesting thing about the combat is that most bullets ricochet if you hit a wall or object within the weapon’s range. And since enemies are smart enough to hide behind cover, bouncing a bullet around their cover is usually the most effective way to hit them. Otherwise, you can try to get within melee range (1 tile away) and punch them. This deals much less damage than a ranged attack, but it’s a guaranteed hit and it’ll kill an enemy with low health right away. Be careful though, once you’re in melee range you can’t pull out your gun, so make that punch count! Or, take cover at the other side of the same cover the enemy uses and shoot them at point-blank range. Most covers are breakable objects like metal barrels or crates, so you can also shoot them a bunch of times until they break and leave you enemies exposed.



Each mission takes place in a different spaceship, and as far as I can tell; they’re mostly randomly generated except for the docking ports, the escape pod rooms, and the boss stage rooms (if there’s a boss fight). Closed rooms in the ship are concealed with fog of war, so you don’t know what’s on the other side until you open the door. It could be more enemies, loot, or just a passageway to another area. Either way the game rewards you for exploring every inch of the ship.

When a mission’s over, you open all of the collected loot bags and containers to reveal water bottles (which you can buy equipment with) or weapons and equipment you can use or sell later. Some weapons are rare and have unique stats like enemy piercing bullets, multiple attacks, higher critical chance, etc. You can sell items to get extra water to use in shops, but you’ll most likely end up selling stuff anyway because your inventory space will run out constantly. You can buy more inventory slots from bars, but they’re usually costly or useless by the time you can afford them because you’ve found enough rare weapons to not care about any other equipment at that point.



The death penalty may seem a little cruel: when a character dies in a level, all of their earned XP will reset to the amount it was in the start of the mission, plus a chunk of your water reserves to rebuild the bots, so lots of hard work would be lost in one mission. However, I think this is a fair mechanic because the game has 5 different difficulty settings, and if a player dies constantly on a well-balanced difficulty, that’s entirely their fault and they should just lower it by a bit. The lowest difficulty setting sets the death water penalty to %0, the higher one to %25, and the others above it set it to %50 and increase enemy spawn rates, damage, and health. The higher difficulties also reward you with a lot of valuable experience bonuses, but they’re very challenging.


Graphics and Sounds

Graphics-wise, Steamworld Heist immediately caught my eye with its charming 2D cartoony artstyle and alluring aesthetic. It just feels like this game knows exactly what it wants to look like, which is an uncommon steampunk-western-sci-fi hybrid. From the gritty-brown colored spaceships with brass piping systems and copper steam-bots, the western inspired revolvers, hat designs, space bars (that might-as-well just be saloons), and the unlawfulness of space, to the shiny silver and bright neon blueish colored sci-fi scenes, plasma and laser tech weaponry, and alien space stations much later in the game. It has somewhat limited animations, but it doesn’t really matter for this kind of game and the artstyle is just too good for me to care anyway.



There is also a lot of attention to detail that I’ve noticed throughout this game- the little things in the background that some people would (and probably did) gloss over, but they make a more immersive experience. For example: when you enter aiming mode, your character will shut one eye to aim better, or when you enter an escape pod at the end of a mission, it will be themed as the ship you evacuated from.

The soundtrack (by Steam Powered Giraffe) fits nicely into the game’s general theme with rock and folk music played in bars you visit with the representation of the band’s members singing them, and with adventurous electronic music played in missions (with a tense variation when entering combat). Though there’s not much verity with the tracks you hear in the missions because each map zone has its own theme with different enemies and music, they’re decent enough and not too repetitive.

The sound design isn’t something too special, but it’s satisfying. The weapon sound’s good, and so does killing an enemy. That’s all I can say about it, really.


Final thoughts

Steamworld Heist left me charmed and wanting more. It’s such a strange combination of genres, themes, and game mechanics that I can compare it to games like Worms, X-COM, and Borderlands with one breath! Heck, I even got some Firefly vibes from it.

The game does have a story, but I avoided talking about it since it’s mostly generic “let’s save the galaxy” type of thing. Which is fine by me- I wouldn’t be here in the first place if I was expecting a well-written novel. Just give me a gun, some robots to shoot at, and I’m set!

It looks great with its own unique style, it controls responsively, it has a good amount of hours and replayability, decent AI, varied enemy types, random loot, and it’s easily one of my favorite games this year because it’s just a whole bucket of fun; something that a lot of video games forget about these days because they’re too busy trying to be an art masterpiece or something.

It’s just a whole lot of fun to play, and I highly recommend it especially for someone who’s back from a hard day of work, looking for a strategic (yet simple enough) game to blow off some steam with.

Steamworld: Heist
  • Gamplay - 9/10
  • Graphics - 10/10
  • Sounds - 7/10
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Benny Gurov6 Posts

Pencil/Pen/Painter, Pixel Artist, Amateur Writer, Banjo player, and Game Reviewer (of course).


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