Like a practised pilferer, Steam World Heist has mastered the art of the theft. It knows what to steal and where to steal from, and how best to use those spoils to its advantage. It understands, too, when fresh thinking is needed, using inventive new ways to rework old ideas. The result is a side-scrolling strategy game with a clarity of design and a strong sense of purpose.
You begin by raiding a series of procedurally generated enemy ships, steadily amassing a motley band of space thieves. Yes, your group of corsairs and crooks want money – or rather water, the Steam World’s most valuable commodity – but they’re a likeable bunch, every bit as motivated by the adventure, the camaraderie, and the heroic desire to help out friends and strangers alike, whether driving back a fleet of vicious scrappers or taking on the Royalists.
At times, you’ll be reminded of two of 2015’s most distinctive strategy games. Its heists play like a turn-based version of The Swindle; there’s a similar tension once you’ve raised the alarm, as you weigh up the risk of hunting down the rest of the loot against hightailing it with your current swag before reinforcements arrive. And it’s like Nintendo’s Code Name: STEAM in that it prioritises careful consideration of your environment and your place within it from an unconventional viewpoint. As your turn ends, you’ll need to hunker behind barrels, using scenery to minimise potential sight lines, or taking advantage of an ally’s single turn of invulnerability to shield a weakened team member.
You’re never entirely safe when projectiles can rebound off walls and ceilings, but you can similarly turn the tables against opponents cowering behind shields or energy barriers. Attacking is akin to billiards, allowing you to line up elaborate trick shots, though you’ll only get an aiming line with certain guns. If your judgement with a regular pistol or assault rifle isn’t quite so true, you may prefer to bring launchers or grenades into battle, or spray buckshot from closer range. There’s no RNG, but you’ll need to mind the natural sway of each character’s aiming arm. Who knew robots breathed so heavily?
Missions are wonderfully compact and briskly paced, sweeping you through a substantial campaign with style to match. There’s rich detail in the character animations, while the sound designers capture everything from the metallic clink of shell casings and destroyed parts hitting gantries to the thick slurp of a leaking oil pipe. Your ramshackle ship and its occupants might clank and hiss, but Steam World Heist is no bucket of bolts; carefully crafted from the finest of parts, it’s an impeccably tuned and well-oiled machine.
The beauty of robots is that they don’t stay dead – but they won’t gain any experience from the mission they perished in. Still, the odd easy quest for lone raiders ensures they don’t fall too far behind their teammates