We meet up with Image & Form and explore the opening moments of Heist.
Gamescom just opened its doors and I am rushing my way to the business halls. My first appointment awaits in the Pavilion area, where every country showcases their freshest smaller games. Each booth was weirdly different in size as UK booth was massive, while our local Dutch one was a bit more humble. Humbling was also the booth for the Swedish developers, where I meet up with the guys from Image & Form. I have seen their upcoming game, SteamWorld Heist, two times at this stage and I was ready for my third round.
This time, we did something slightly different though. I got to see the opening moments of SteamWorld Heist without the demo quirks that were in place. It gave a new, refreshing look at the game, and many things have changed since the Gamescom 2014 demo. The first thing is that SteamWorld Heist will have various difficulty settings to choose from. If you are not confident in your strategy skills, you can lower it right from the get go. Brjann from Image & Form hinted that drops and enemies change, depending of this choice.
SteamWorld Heist is still the side-scrolling turn-based strategy game we got introduced to last year. You have to defeat all the enemies, collect the loot if you are able to, and get your team completely at the exit. That last part is where the biggest changes are made, as you no longer have to backtrack to your ship. Instead, you will have to approach a newly opened passageway and get there safely as possible. This makes matches faster, but there is less sense of dread. Even after completing a level, new opponents could still appear and this made it a harsh ride all the way through. While this still happens in the current version, there is more of a safety net.
That doesn't mean that the game is easy ride however. While you can skip some of the loot, destroying all the enemies in the level is a must. Every character, friend or foe, can only move a set amount of steps and can only do so much once they are settled. If your steps remain within a certain buffer area, you are able to fire at your opponents. The firing system is what remains the most satisfying about the game, but it is also the hardest part to learn. Not all the gunmen in your crew can hold the gun still and the firearms all act very different from one another. Some only shoot one strong bullet, while others shoot three weaker ones.
The aiming is key in all of this, and Image & Form has found a smart way to ensure players learn it. The female captain, Piper, has a gun with reticle right from the start. It allows you to get a better sense of the strategic gunplay and learn all the tricks in the book. A good example is that you have to bounce shots from walls, so you can reach enemies from afar. Once you are ready, you can swap for a different gun that is more effective. You won't get any support though, which makes it both more challenging and exciting.
Talking about equipment swapping, items are more important than ever. Next to the guns, you can use a variety of stuff to keep yourself in the game. There is Healing Oil to recover a robot's hit points, just to name a thing. The other factor here are the hats that the various characters wear. Hats give the people status in this universe so you will need to wear it with pride. Every hat and gun also has its own stats and abilities, so a lot of number crunching will be needed to make your crew even better.
Individual crew members will also level up and this will give them more possibilities to defend themselves. You will be able to unlock new abilities as you move along and these will become critical in the later parts of the journey. Piper can use a Power Shot right from the get go, which allows her to fire a powerful shot once in a while. Your partner in crime, named Seabrass, can use Payback and this will charge him up when he takes damage. When ready, the damage he can deal increases by 50% and this is perfect for a pretty harsh enemy. The characters have pretty straightforward skill trees, but it is certainly nice to see them evolve over time!
Outside of the battles, a lot of changes have been made. In the original demo, you could freely explore space and tackle any mission you were interested in. SteamWorld Heist has a map screen now, so you will hop to every mission almost instantly. While it is saddening in some ways, there is a case to be made for a brisk progression curve. Personally I don't mind the changes all that much as I was mostly invested in the strategy gameplay. The bars that you would hop into are still here. You can purchase items at these stations and even recruit new crew members. These will only join if you have reached a certain level, so you don't have to straight up pay for them anymore. That being said, you will still lose them if you fail to protect them in battle.
SteamWorld Heist is visually even more impressive than Dig. It is clear that Image & Form isn't cutting any corners and are really taking their time with this one. The art is just beautiful to look at and every place has really a distinct mood. The game's story is told through in-game dialogue and animated screens, which just pop on the Nintendo 3DS' screens. It helps that all the dialogue is extemely witty and cleverly written. The audio qeues and background music just make it all feel complete.
SteamWorld Heist remains one of the games I am the most excited for. With fun strategy gameplay and good writing, this game has all the elements to be a great game in the making. Over the course of a year, many elements got changed or introduced and it gives us a good idea of what to expect. While there is more a safety net in place, the game is still challenging through and through. We will see how the full game pans out later this year!