Sunday 19 February 2017

SteamWorld Heist review: Robots with a ricochet

SteamWorld Heist (Nintendo 3DS); rating: 9/10; Age: 7+

Published 27/01/2016 | 11:08

SteamWorld Heist: An entertaining cast of bots
SteamWorld Heist: An entertaining cast of bots

IMAGINE Ronnie O’Sullivan as Bender from Futurama and you’re half-way to understanding the amusing antics of SteamWorld Heist. Like its 2013 progenitor SteamWorld Dig, Heist pictures a wild-west world where steam-powered robots forage for treasure and battle enemies.

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This time, though, the bots roam in space like a rowdy team of pirates, plundering drifting ships and engaging the bad guys in turn-based combat. It’s very XCOM in style – you move and shoot, then wait for the enemy’s manoeuvre – except that the randomised levels are built in 2D.

SteamWorld Heist: Ricochets can work both ways
SteamWorld Heist: Ricochets can work both ways

Each mission starts by boarding a ship and creeping through its many floors, scooping up loot and working the cover system to stay protected from incoming fire as the angry rival bots move on your position.

That’s where Ronnie comes in. Like a snooker trick shot, your bots can bounce their bullets off walls and obstacles to reach foes crouched behind barrels and shields. Mostly, you rely on educated guesswork to calculate the angles of your reflected aim. But there’s least one laser-targeted weapon that reduces the complex trigonometry to a simple matter of pulling the trigger.

When you’re down to a final sliver of health but pull off a miraculous ricochet to take down the last onrushing enemy, Heist feels exhilarating. The enemy AI is no slouch, flanking and employing dangerous ricochets of their own. But it can sometimes be sucked into pursuing your retreating bots instead of delivering a killer blow to one of your weakened team-mates.

Of course, there’s much more to the strategy than just lucky hits – the weapon upgrades, the differing abilities of team members, the boss fights. But that delicate balance of move and shoot forms the core of Heist’s engrossing experience. You could fairly argue the missions boil down to a repetitive task of sweep and clear. But the dynamically generated levels and AI strategy always keep you on your toes.

SteamWorld Heist: Boss fights change up the strategy
SteamWorld Heist: Boss fights change up the strategy

Shame there’s no multiplayer and sometimes the quirky humour gets lost in translation. Yet the fast-paced strategy more than compensates with some perfect moments of gaming on the go.

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