SteamWorld Heist's tactical action might steal all of your free time

Command a crew of robot space pirates in this gripping, strategic combat affair.

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Image & Form

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These days, keeping up with games can be a full-time job. So how do you separate the signal from the noise, the wheat from the chaff, the Temple Runs from the Temple Jumps? Allow us to help by regularly selecting a game You Should Play. 

While your iPhone might seem most ideal for quick-hit games, it’s also a pretty great vessel for richer and lengthier experiences like those seen on consoles. Classics like the old Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games are available on the App Store, as is Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, while newer games like XCOM: Enemy Within, Severed, and The Banner Saga can all provide extended play sessions—and are well worth the time. 

And now you can add SteamWorld Heist to that pile. Starting life on the Nintendo 3DS before hitting Mac, PC, consoles, and most recently iOS, SteamWorld Heist is a meaty game squeezed into an approachable package. It’s a turn-based strategy and combat affair that’s similar in a lot of ways to XCOM, however the 2D, side-scrolling design simplifies the action and interface, and makes it seem like a perfect fit for an iPhone—or iPad, for that matter.

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That is a very fair point, Captain.

It also has a richly inviting world, sort of a steampunk wild west in space, wherein your team of robot outlaws must strategically fight its way through other gun-toting androids in the name of survival, loot, and occasionally justice. The nuts and bolts of SteamWorld Heist’s tactical gameplay are plenty strong on their own, but the sharp writing, alluring graphics, and catchy original songs really elevate the experience.

Ready to fight the good fight with Captain Piper Faraday and her robo-crew? Here’s why SteamWorld Heist is a delicious deep dive that plays wonderfully on iOS.

Strategic decisions and skilled shooting: Most of SteamWorld Heist’s missions find you commanding multiple members of your squad through an enemy spaceship, taking turns moving each character and then attacking, defending, or using an ability. There’s safety in numbers, but also strategy: you can position your fighters to flank enemies or best utilize their particular skills, or keep them close if needed. Each mission has one or more objectives to complete, but really, your goal is to survive each skirmish long enough to net some fresh gear and experience points.

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You’ll be tempted to trade away a scoped gun for something more powerful, but the laser sight can be a huge benefit.

Unlike a lot of turn-based tactics games, which have you press a button to attack and see what kind of random result you get, there’s more of an active element to combat in SteamWorld Heist. You’ll need to aim each firearm blast here, and use the uniquely-angled environments at times to try and perfectly ricochet a shot around barriers and into the metallic hearts of foes. That prevents the battles from turning tedious, and rewards a bit of risk in the process. 

There’s plenty to explore: Developer Image & Form estimates that there’s 15 to 20 hours of gameplay in SteamWorld Heist, and that seems like a fair baseline—although there’s plenty more available if you really want to squeeze every bit out of the game. You’ll find dozens of missions spread across the three areas, but there’s something else to consider: every level you enter is randomly generated on the spot.

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Replaying stages can be crucial for finding better gear to enhance your characters.

Even when you play the same mission over again, it’ll have a unique level layout, which means fresh hazards, obstacles, and opportunities. That keeps things fresh, and provides incentive to revisit missions to improve your result and snag extra weapons and collectible hats. Plus, the scalable difficulty level means you can gradually increase the challenge along the way, which also amplifies your rewards. And if you beat the game, you can roll your assembled team into a New Game+ experience for a fresh test.

Packed with personality: SteamWorld Heist has been widely likened to Joss Whedon’s beloved Firefly, and the ragtag crew you’ll amass certainly has a ton of character. The written dialogue is consistently entertaining as you battle through the galaxy, and the hand-drawn, cartoonish-but-gritty aesthetic really matches the mood of the story. And the game really surprised me with its delightful original songs, performed by real-life band Steam Powered Giraffe, which add a lived-in feel to the world.

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Quick stop for a concert amidst the combat? Don’t mind if I do.

Collectively, it’s the cherry on top of a thoughtful and well-designed strategy game that might have been designed first for other platforms, but feels entirely at home on iPhone and iPad. SteamWorld Heist is a must-play for anyone craving some tactical touchscreen action, and as our recent list made clear, it’s one of the best iOS games from 2016.

Developer: Image & Form
Platform: iOS (Universal)
Price: $10

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