The Steam description of Heat Signature describes my life perfectly – “a game … where you break into spaceships, make terrible mistakes, and think of clever ways out of them.”
Obviously, I do not break into other people’s spaceships (and if I did, I wouldn’t freely admit it on the Internet), but I am no stranger to making terrible mistakes. I cannot always guarantee that the strategies I devise for getting out of them are clever, but I certainly try.
This is probably the main reason why Heat Signature appealed to me.
It is a game by Suspicious Developments – the developers of Gunpoint. It has been in development for over three years and it finally landed on Steam on 21 September 2017.
The game is quite simple in its idea – you break into spaceships, deal with the occupants however you see fit, and complete an objective. That’s it – there are no alternate roles, you cannot become a trader or the captain of your own vessel. There are no planets to explore or massive secrets to find in the galaxy. If you do not fancy breaking into spaceships, Heat Signature is not for you.
If you do like the idea, though, you can pick it up on Steam for $14.99.
When it comes to the story of Heat Signature, you are given nothing but a basic framework.
After the tutorial, you are dropped in a space station somewhere in an unknown nebula with a tiny bit of backstory for your character and a single personal mission to complete. Other than that, you are free to create a story of your own.
The personal mission themselves are just like the regular ones you will take, just harder. So, there are no grand bosses or shocking plot twists. It is just you and the spaceship you are breaking into. It’s up to you to create the story of how you made a huge mistake but lived to tell the tale.
The gameplay relies on several core principles.
- Fly your own little pod to the target space ship and dock with it;
- Enter the spaceship, make your way to the objective (an item to steal, a person to rescue, or an enemy to assassinate), and complete it;
- Get back to your space station;
- Rinse and repeat;
For example, you might have a time limit in which you need to complete the objective. There are also different types of equipment enemies might carry, such as shields, guns, heat scanners, and so on. To top it all off, ships can have vastly different sizes and layouts, ranging from small five-room vessels to massive labyrinths, flying in space.
But what makes the game come to life are your own actions. While dealing with the various enemies onboard, you are more than likely to get yourself into some sticky situations where every fraction of the second counts.
Thankfully, Heat Signature allows you to pause time whenever you want and for as long as you need, so you do not need lightning-fast reactions to survive. In fact, you will probably spend the majority of your time playing the game in that pause screen, which allows you to switch out equipment and plan your next move.
During the pause, you can line up shots and attacks and execute them, which will resume time, but only until you pause it again. This means that you might spend ten minutes devising a plan which will take just two seconds to execute from start to finish. Two seconds that you can break up with numerous pauses that allow you to prepare for your next move.
Normally, such systems feel somewhat dull and sluggish. Only a handful of games manage to pull it off, with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic being my favorite up until now. However, Heat Signature doesn’t simply pull it off, it excels in making this system feel as fluid and pleasant as possible.
Combine this with the fully modular ships, each room of which can be blown off, and you get an astonishing number of possibilities. Each mission can be completed in an infinite number of ways.
For example, you could simply break a window and let your assassination target suffocate in the void of space. Or, you could smash the window to get yourself and the character you are about to save sucked out in the vacuum, then control your pod remotely and pick you both up.
Or, if you are in that kind of mood, you can neutralize all hostiles and just fly the entire ship back to a friendly station. Sure, it might be a bit of an overkill, but it will save you the hassle of going all the way back to your own tiny vessel.
However, there are some missions that limit you to a degree. As you progress through the game, special assignments will start appearing on the job board that will require you to complete them under specific circumstances. For example, you might have to leave no witnesses, or complete the mission without killing one.
These special missions can sometimes be tricky to pull off, but they will also provide you with greater rewards.
Speaking of the rewards, each mission adds to your bank account and to a progress bar that unlocks additional Liberations. While the money is obviously used for better weapons and equipment, the Liberations allow you to free a space station from enemy control.
Liberating space stations will grant you different rewards. For example, freeing a specific station might make armor-piercing guns available in your shops. Other benefits could provide starting characters with more money or unlock various gadgets, such as teleporters or key cloners.
Speaking of starting characters, you will use a lot of them. Unlike most games, the death of your beloved character will not be game over. Instead, you will have to pick a new person to play as, while the old one remains very much dead.
This means that losing progress with liberated space stations is literally impossible. However, you will have to start from the beginning and deal with the easiest missions once more until you can accumulate some wealth and equipment.
Alternatively, you can retire a character before they are killed in the middle of space-nowhere. If they have accomplished enough in their lifetime, you will be able to pass on one of their items. This will make it discoverable by your future characters and your current Steam friends.
Overall, the gameplay is extremely fluid and action-driven, so it is not easy to describe it. Everything one writes about Heat Signature’s gameplay mechanics will sound extremely boring and do no justice to the game. Appreciating the value of the gameplay can only be achieved through personal experience and I cannot recommend it enough.
Graphics and Audio
Visuals in Heat Signature are nothing to write home about. While they are aesthetically pleasing and well-made, I couldn’t find anything that would make them memorable.
Most of the time, you will not even pay attention to how your randomly-generated character looks like. Instead, you will spend your time zoomed out to such a degree that it will resemble a vague human-shaped silhouette from a top-down perspective. The ships themselves will be connected boxes with random objects inside that you care little about.
However, that’s perfectly okay. Heat Signature is not like Gunpoint, where the setting and atmosphere matter that much when it comes to the overall experience. This is probably why Suspicious Developments created an art style that looks good and alive but not to a point where it would distract from the action.
When it comes to the sound, I can describe it as minimalistic, but pleasing. There are no voice-overs, or huge, bussy sound effects. Instead, the developers opted for simple, understandable sounds that will not overwhelm you in any way.
The sound and music only accent the gameplay itself, which is the strongest point of the game. While there isn’t much there in terms of sound, I can only applaud Suspicious Developments for what they have achieved with it.
All things considered, I could not find anything wrong with Heat Signature. It is a magnificent little game that will keep you glued to the screen for hours. Once you get the hang of it, each mission will only take you a few minutes, which will leave you craving for more.
If you know that “just one more turn” feeling from the Civilization franchise, remember it. That’s exactly how Heat Signature feels – mission after mission, you will keep wanting more spaceship-trespassing fun.
That being said, if you expect a vast open world with a huge variety of things to do, steer clear. Heat Signature is designed with one activity in mind, and that is breaking and entering. There is nothing else you can do and that’s the main selling point of the game.
Simple, addictive, fast-paced gameplay that will appeal to both casual and hardcore gamers is the formula here. And, man, am I loving it!
|+ Simple, addictive gameplay;||– Uninspiring visuals;|
|+ Fresh take on the roguelike genre;||– Some enemies limit your options significantly;|
|+ Huge replayability;||– Not a lot of variety in content – you will have to create your own excitement;|