Alright, who broke the SteamWorld? When we saw it last in SteamWorld Dig, it was your standard dirt-ball planet, and now its a bunch of floating chunks of shattered landmass floating above a glowing core. That’s quite the change from the world as it used to be, but seeing as the third game released chronologically in the SteamWorld series is actually the fifth (or maybe sixth) in the series, there’s bound to be an unexplained mystery or two. Admitted, the usual time-jump mysteries are more along the lines of “how did Character A get to Point B,” but apparently SteamWorld doesn’t do anything small. The planet is busted but SteamWorld lives on, with spaceships traveling between its remaining fragments. Those ships are far too tempting to leave alone, seeing as they’re loaded with cash and treasure, so in SteamWorld Heist you’ll be taking your trusty crew up against the biggest and best freighters, haulers, and other assorted ships to relieve them of their bounty.
Just to make it tricky, this is done as a side-scrolling turn based strategy game, which is a rare enough combination to be worth a second look from its genre mashup alone. You control the captain of a raider ship and his crew as they breach the target ship’s hull and take out its defenders, moving one at a time and carefully lining up shots. Each room is a mystery before you enter it, so you’ll need to get your crew in place beforehand, but once inside you can assess the layout and make a plan of attack. Enter the room, move to position, and get ready for attack!
Each character has a movement line divided by a green section, which gives time for a shot to be fired, and a red part, which doesn’t allow combat but can at least take you to cover. Once situated it’s time to take the shot, and in the demo’s robots had their own specialty guns. The captain could laser-sighted ricochet bullets, the big ‘bot had your standard-issue shotgun, and the last packed a decent hand cannon. You aim each shot manually, carefully timing the slight drift of the robot’s hand to line up the perfect attack, and bullet placement counts. The headshot is its usual trusty high-damage attack, but if you’re extra-careful you can even blow the hat clean off a robot’s head. These are collectible, because what self-respecting game doesn’t come with a hat fetish, but they also disappear after a few turns so timing is important.
While the ships in the final SteamWorld Heist are going to be procedurally generated, the one in the demo was pre-built to show off certain tactics. One room had a higher and lower entrance, allowing a nice set of angles of attack, while another contained an ally robot who joined the crew. Eventually you’ll be able to create a specialized team for each type of heist, but the current demo was to show off the basic gameplay so the high-end features will have to wait their turn. Crew hiring and management, target selection, and many other unspecified features are for later, but even without those features managing the assault was a lot of fun. Busting into rooms, grabbing cover, lining up shots and managing position was simple and quick, playing out more action-y despite the turn-based nature of the combat. Each robot has its own distinct look, and the rusty, worn-out aesthetic of SteamWorld is sharper than ever.
Heist is as different from Dig as Dig was from Tower Defense, but SteamWorld is still the same wonderfully strange a place to visit that it’s always been. Even if someone did break the planet.