Developer: Image & Form
Publisher: Image & Form
Platform: Switch [though the original SteamWorld Heist can be bought for 3DS, iOS, Linux, OS X, PS4, PSVita, Wii U and Linux]
Genre: 2D turn-based strategy
Disclaimer: the code for this game was obtained for free, from a source that had obtained it for free from the developer.
The sweat is beading on your forehead and you have to remind yourself to breathe. If you line up this shot correctly, you'll take out the final bot and meet your objective for the level. The problem is that you're going to have to hit them dead on or risk your final bot being reduced to a clanking, fizzing pile of scrap on the next turn. You line things up as best you can and press the button, closing your eyes an instant later.
Welcome to the world of SteamWorld Heist: Ultimate Edition: 2015's SteamWorld Heist and its DLC, The Outsider, in one package for the Switch. In case you missed it first time around, SteamWorld Heist is a 2D turn-based strategy game. You control a small team of robots with weapons, two other items (like armour, first-aid kits or extra one-off weapons) and hats who rob, thieve and plunder to earn their keep. The Earth exploded long ago, so your robots - Steambots, properly - are in space, looting and shooting their way to victory.
The controls and gameplay are very smooth. You can switch between the members of your crew at any stage and selecting one will show the places they could move to - orange indicates somewhere you can get to and do something like else, like shoot, duck, or heal, whereas blue means you can get there but that's it. Selecting to shoot brings up your Steambot's weapon of choice - line up your shot and fire away, fire away. As bullets can ricochet off surfaces a few times you can score a wild trick shot on your opponent: one of the most satisfying things about the game.
Further satisfaction comes from the well-crafted narrative and constant sense of progression. There's always a new 'bot to join your team, or a new rifle or piece of tech to steal/purchase legally, let alone just making your way through the story. It took me the best part of 19 hours to finish the game and I've certainly not got top marks on all the levels. Worse, I'm definitely nowhere near collecting all the hats.
A good portion of the game's humour is found in the hats, which include loads of pop culture references (Marty McFly Jr's shiny hat from Back To The Future 2 and Professor Layton's hat can be found, as well as a wig to make you look like Cloud Strife) but the dialogue also sparkles. The levels may be procedurally generated - meaning replaying levels to grind or gain loot is not as much of a pain as it could have been - but the words are very precisely crafted. That's not to say that the procedural generation ever lets the game down - there's magic in this code, we swear.
At this point in a review I like to talk about the flaws in a game. Well, "like" might be stretching it, to be honest, but It Must Be Done. The music is fairly repetitive and unexceptional, barring the vocal pieces that play in bars or after beating bosses. They, in turn, feel oddly out of place; all the other robots in the game speak in Sim-like whirrs and gear-grinds, and it's just strange to hear human voices. The difficulty curve is also a little uneven, with bosses in particular upping the challenge far beyond the rest of the game. Finally, although you will eventually have ten Steambots on your ship, you'll probably only use around four of them.
If The Flaw Paragraph sounded like it was full of nit-picks, that's because it was - there are no major flies in the engine oil here. SteamWorld Heist is a great game that all'o'y'all should consider, regardless of whether or not you're a fan of the genre. The SteamWorld franchise branched out again here from its lauded Metroidvania predecessor, SteamWorld Dig, and hit the mark once more. Is there nothing Image & Form, the development team, can't do? At this point, we're thinking not.
Final Verdict: Another fine game on the Switch is not necessarily a headline these days but we bet you can count the number of 2D strategy games on the eShop on one hand. The number of good ones? Well, we'd not like to speculate. What we do know is that there's a justifiably confident swagger about the tense, action-packed SteamWorld Heist, and so our verdict is clear.