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SteamWorld Heist Review (3DS) - A brave and ambitious indirect sequel to an outstanding game

SteamWorld Heist is a turn-based action strategy shooter developed and published by Image & Form. The game released exclusively on the Nintendo 3DS December 10th, 2015 with further releases scheduled for other platforms during 2016. It is an indirect sequel to the outstanding SteamWorld Dig. 

It is a far different game in every regard to the original but keeps true to the SteamWorld universe. It is a great game that keeps you hooked from the start to the end with lovable and hilarious characters, exciting and intense combat and a fantastic, well-written plot. 

The plot to SteamWorld Heist takes place many years after the events of SteamWorld Dig. The planet that the Steambots once occupied no longer exists, and those remaining now live in the depths of space. With the destruction of Earth, various factions attempting to gain power within the galaxy begin to form.

Stuck in the middle of the struggling factions is a rag-tag crew of smugglers led by Captain Piper Faraday. Piper and her crew attempt a heist on a Scrapper ship that ends with only herself and her crewmate Seabrass surviving.

The Scrappers, a faction of Steambots, created from leftover scraps of metal have recently gained a considerable amount of strength and power. The crew heads out to one of the local bars to gain information and supplies, raiding a scrapper vessel along the way, for gallons.

Gallons (or water) is the currency of the Steambots due to it being a natural source of their power. Without it they cannot function, making it the most valuable resource within the galaxy. Upon approaching the bar, Piper receives a request to retrieve a shipment that is stolen by Scrappers.

From here the crew starts to learn just how much trouble the Scrappers are causing and set out to put a stop to them, recruiting new team members along the way. The team begins to question how the Scrappers gained so much power so quickly and who is responsible for it. 

The plot to SteamWorld Heist is an interesting one that is well-written and well-paced. What starts off as a simple goal of stopping a faction that is becoming a screw in everyone's side quickly turns into something far more dangerous and complicated.

It generates intrigue from the very beginning and keeps it throughout the entire game. As the player progresses, more questions arise. It keeps the player hooked from start to finish and has some nice surprises along the way.

The members of the rag-tag crew that Piper forms throughout the game each have their own unique and compelling personalities. Each character has a backstory which is revealed bit by bit as the game progresses, similar yet more basic to that of Mass Effect. They are all outrageous and silly in their ways, but it makes them fun characters.

Piper is the serious and charismatic leader of the group and always has an optimistic approach to things. Ivanski is a massive bodybuilding Steambot, who always wanted to become a ballerina dancer. Valentine is a retired chimney sweep who is bored with living in a retirement home. He seeks adventure within the depths of space.

He is also the awful comedian of the crew. His attempts at comedy always fall flat leading to eye rolling moments that you can't help but giggle at. The characters are all well-written and bring the world and story to life with their personalities. They are some of the most loveable characters in a video game.

Throughout the game, the player travels through three different chapters. Each chapter comes with its setting, atmosphere, items, and enemies. The player moves around the galaxy through a level select screen.

Upon completing a level, a new level is unlocked, and the player may replay a level at any time. Replaying a level allows the player to gain additional experience along with any swag (treasure) they may have missed on their first run. They may also attempt to get additional reputation points to unlock items in shops that they missed prior.

The level select screen is simple to use and offers all the details required for each level. It utilizes the dual screen of the Nintendo 3DS well. Along the way, players will also come across merchants they can visit and purchase items.

Items include weapons, additional storage space, equipable items for missions and hats for characters to wear. While not in the level select screen the player may wander the spaceship and interact with the other crewmates learning their backstories.

If the player docks at a shop or bar, they can leave their ship and explore the establishment and interact with the characters there.

The ability to leave the ship to explore various places adds to the feeling of a living, breathing universe. The bars the player goes to have even a band playing in the background based on the steampunk band Steam Powered Giraffe.

When selecting a level, the player gets to choose what crew members go on the mission and equip them for the mission. Each time a level is loaded it is procedurally generated making the levels slightly different each time you play.

During the mission, the player must defeat enemies and collect swag scattered throughout the level. Missions are turn-based with the player takeing a turn with all of their team before the enemy takes a turn. When shooting enemies, the player must aim the weapon at an enemy in a similar fashion to that of the Worms series.

Certain weapons have laser sights to make aiming and ricochet shots easier. Particular levels contain timers. When they countdown to zero, it increases the threat level. The higher the threat level, the more enemy reinforcements arrive every few turns.

There is also a countdown for turrets, which causes them to activate after a certain amount of turns. This can cause even more trouble for the player, but there are objects throughout the levels that can be used for cover.

Cover comes in two different forms, half cover, and full cover. Half cover gives a higher chance of an enemy hitting you while with full cover they can only hit you if they flank or trick shot you. The entire design of the levels and combat is well thought out.

The game shows inspiration from different games, including Worms and the modern XCOM games. Despite the heavy inspiration, the game does more than enough to not become a rip off of the games it draws inspiration from.

The manual aiming allows for a more engaging and fun combat system that a lot of turn-based games are lacking. It truly adds to the fun and the intensity of the gameplay. Overall there is nothing to complain about SteamWorld Heist's gameplay; it's practically flawless.

The character development system of SteamWorld Heist is very simple, perhaps even too simple. When a character levels up, they gain a new ability. Abilities include additional health, increased movement, and skills for each character class.

Class-specific skills include invulnerability for one turn for Ivanski. Inspiration, which enhances the damage of all nearby crew, for Piper. Kill Shot, which allows Sally an extra shot after killing an enemy. That is but three examples of the many the game has.

Each character can level up to a maximum of 10 levels. This might not sound like a lot, but it does take some time to get there. The issue I have with it is that it feels like the developers could have done more with it. 

A level up system similar to that of the modern XCOM games would be more ideal. It would bring a new degree of strategy and tactics to the game which I believe would further increase the fun not to mention add to replayability.

What is the point in embarking on a masterful heist if you are not looking the part? That is why the player can obtain a variety of hats. The hats come in all shapes, sizes, and are sophisticated or downright silly. The player can obtain various hats by either buying them from shops or shooting them off enemies heads and collecting them.

Different hats have a different rarities, making some of them quite hard to find. Due to procedural generation of levels, most of the hats that enemies wear are generated with the level. Some hats are unique to specific enemies like bosses.

The hats aren't a necessity in the game but are a nice bonus. It's quite a pleasant experience looking at an extensive collection of various hats. You would be surprised how long you can spend attempting to decide on what hat to give each of your teammates.

SteamWorld Heist is a wonderful experience that has something for everyone. It has fun and engaging gameplay, an excellent story, compelling and humorous characters, and it keeps you hooked from start to finish.

It is a game that caters to all skill levels of turn-based strategy games with a total of five different difficulty levels. The difficulties range from casual to downright hardcore for veterans of the genre. There are but two flaws which stop this game from getting a ten out of ten.

The first is the simplistic character development. The second would be that I find New Game Plus to be nothing worth investing time into unless you are looking to challenge yourself in a higher difficulty.

Overall, despite its two flaws it truly is an excellent game that is well worth the price that it asks. At $19.99 it may seem a bit pricey but the fun factor plus the amount of play time it offers makes it more than worth it.

SteamWorld Heist is available to buy on the Nintendo eShop for $19.99 through your 3DS device.

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