Shared universes certainly seem to have become a bit of a thing in recent years, and it's easy to see why they're attractive to game developers. Not only do you get the chance to genre jump between games, but you can also immediately pique the interest of anyone who enjoyed your previous efforts. Such is the case with Image & Form's SteamWorld series, which has hopped from tower defence (SteamWorld Tower Defence), to dig-em-up (SteamWorld Dig), and finally to a tactical turn based shooter, with SteamWorld Heist.
In SteamWorld Heist, Piper Faraday and her robot crew travel the stars plying their trade as smugglers, and occasional pirates. This rag-tag bunch like nothing more than a good bit of boarding action, rolling up on other ships, stealing their stuff, and blasting its occupants into lots and lots of little pieces. It's all okay though, as they're on a mission to save robotkind, and everyone they disassemble in the process weren't very nice anyway.
In terms of gameplay it's as you'd expect for a tactical shooter: every turn, you get to move and shoot with each crewmate, and once you're done, your opponent gets the same opportunity. There are other nuances, such as forgoing the chance to shoot in order to move a greater distance, using cover to shield your team from enemy fire, and accounting for friendly fire with certain weapons, but the biggest twist by far is that aiming your shots is all done manually from the game's fixed 2D perspective.
There's no percentage chance to hit with your shot; it's all down to using your 'Mark 1 Eyeball' to line them up. This is a nice inclusion, especially since getting your shots on target is not always as easy as it sounds. Not only does your aim sway when trying to zero in on your target, but your shots will also ricochet off metallic surfaces. The upside of this is that you can pull off some truly wicked trick shots - such as bouncing a bullet off three bulkheads to hit a hidden enemy right in their robotic noggin.
This way of aiming ends up being really enjoyable, adding an additional layer of player involvement to the satisfying turn based action. There are times when it does frustrate, mind you, but this is mainly down to the tightly focussed camera, which means that occasionally you'll be scrolling backwards and forwards as you try and line up shots at targets outside of your field of view. While this feels like a deliberate choice in terms of the games design - possibly due to its origins on the Nintendo 3DS, where it had an even more restrictive view – on the PlayStation 4 it seems like an unnecessary, albeit minor, annoyance.
Even though the story is made up of individual, linear missions, each ship and enemy installation is actually randomly generated every time that you enter. While the types of enemies you encounter and the overall structure of the mission remains the same, the layout of the ship can vary wildly, and this certainly keeps you on your toes since you can't learn enemy positions should you need to have another attempt at a mission.
The exception to this is in the boss encounters that crop up from time to time. These static scenarios can prove quite challenging as the odds are often stacked quite heavily against you. As a result, you'll need a strong crew - and an even stronger strategy - to get Piper and her comrades through relatively unscathed.
Depending on how well you do in a mission you'll pick up a number of reputation stars for your trouble, and as you accumulate these you'll be able to recruit new crew members to take on your sorties. Completing missions also nets experience for those robots taking part in the action - as long as they make it out in one piece – and as they level up they'll be gifted with new abilities, on top of increased health and movement range.
In addition to this, there's also a decent amount of loot to pick up throughout each level, and sorting through your spoils of war to check out your new toys is appropriately enjoyable. Changing the make-up on your team can also be a lot of fun, and finding the combinations of crew, equipment, and weapons that fit your chosen strategy is pretty great - especially when your band of robots are all sporting shotguns and running right up to enemies to blast them in the grill.
As with the previous games in the series there's a distinct space western feel to the whole package. When thrown together with the light-hearted dialogue, and cartoon like 2D graphics, this makes for an enticing aesthetic cocktail that serves as an effective backdrop as your Cowbot crew tour the stars.
Another nice surprise is just how long SteamWorld Heist turns out to be. Clocking in at well over twelve hours in terms of its story, it also manages to avoid wearing out its welcome by consistently providing you with new and interesting challenges. Another bonus is that it's also a cross-buy title, giving you the option to play an equally enjoyable version of the game on your Vita. The only downside is that with the annoying absence of cross-save ,you'll likely stick with a single platform once you've decided which version you prefer.
So far, its been a great year for turn based strategy games on PlayStation 4, and SteamWorld Heist has added further to the bounty. With its addictive and accessible gameplay, not only is it the perfect title for players of any skill level to test their metal, but you'll also have such a good time playing it that you'll quickly forget it isn't the direct sequel to SteamWorld Dig that you may have been hoping for.