'Heat Signature' takes the roguelike genre where no man has gone before
Roguelikes have become a popular subgenre of games in the indie scene. Such acclaimed titles include Rogue Legacy, the Binding of Isaac, and Enter the Gungeon to name a few. More recently, Suspicious Developments threw their newest game into the ring. Heat Signature is a roguelike set in the depths of outer space. So how does it stand up with the rest of the popular roguelikes on the market?
The classic intergalactic conflict
It’s very important to note that, despite the space sci-fi genre, there are no planets, moons, aliens, or even robots in this game. Instead, this game showcases spaceships, sci-fi tech and gadgets, and the vastness of empty space to contain it all. If you want the kind of game where you can explore off world planets and see exotic aliens, this is not that game. It doesn’t detract at all from the quality, but it is important to note.
Heat Signature takes place in a faraway galaxy divided by the tides of war. The game focuses on a rebel group set on liberating the galaxy bit by bit, reclaiming space stations along their way. That’s the most amount of story you’ll find in this game. It’s very simple, but it’s a fine enough story, almost too similar to Star Wars in many ways, although the twist here is that there are now four warring armies instead of one big empire. It may sound more impressive this way, but none of them differ from another apart from name and looks.
Although this is a wartime setting, don’t expect any RTS elements any time soon. The player in this game takes control of a single operative whose adventures almost always pertain to boarding onto enemy ships and completing their mission. As the player completes more missions, they are able to take over more space stations and, eventually, topple the superpowers that be. The plot in this game fulfills a sort of power fantasy, one of slowly but surely taking over the world with one’s own bare hands. Even though it takes a while to claim every point in the game, it’s satisfying to single-handedly take over the galaxy bit by bit until you have claimed a large enough mass to be proud of.
The player character in this game isn’t one single character per se, but rather many different characters with their own personal goals in mind. These goals drive both the characters and the player to progress far enough to see that goal through. In many roguelikes that have this mechanic (Rogue Legacy immediately comes to mind), it’s always a new character that differs only in how they are played and how well certain stats are. While, unfortunately, the characters in this game do not differ in stats save for the initial loadout, their goals help to create something else that not too many roguelikes have: a sense of roleplaying and character immersion. All of these personal goals are seen as big deals to the characters, and working to accomplish these goals feels rewarding for the player.
The Heat Signature gameplay experience
At first glance, what pops into many people’s minds is that this game looks like Hotline Miami in space. As far as basic gameplay and controls go, that fact is true, but there is much more to it than meets the eye. The game offers the player a plethora of missions ranging in difficulty and varying in goals and specifications (such as going the whole mission without being seen or without killing anybody). The more the player progresses, the more types of mission specifications open up, and harder specifications lead to greater rewards most of the time. This keeps the game fresh despite the lack of varied mission goals (about five in total minus special liberation missions).
The player is able to choose their loadout of weapons and gadgets before going out, usually depending on the details of the mission. The weapons and gadgets all vary in function. Weapons include pistols, shotguns, swords, wrenches, explosives, and a very powerful hammer to knock out your enemies. The gadgets include jammers, teleporters, keycard cloners, shields, and the ever-so-fun slipstream, where the game goes into bullet time mode and the player is able to either evade enemies or swiftly take them out one by one. Using these in tandem with one another creates some very fun scenarios and methods of play, and the game becomes a unique experience for each player.
One of the best parts of this game is flying around in a variety of spaceships and pods. Each character has their own pod to fly around in, and many others are unlockable as the game progresses, varying in what they can do to assist the player. On the other side of transportation are the enemy spaceships that players can assume control of after taking out the captain (and presumably the rest of the crew). While they’re not as easy to maneuver, they can open fire on other ships and break them down, making them really satisfying to use on missions. It’s one of the finer details that make this game so fun to play.
As the player completes enough missions, they are able to liberate stations, a system that doubles as a leveling system akin to other roguelikes. Each station unlocks a bonus challenge mission, and a good amount of other stations unlock upgraded equipment and new ships. What’s unfortunate is that most stations that offer upgrades are for pre-existing equipment, meaning that the main difference one sees as the game progresses is more of the same stuff but with more power or capacity. There aren’t many upgrades that affect the characters themselves aside from starting cash and equipment. While this isn’t a huge detractor of the game’s overall quality, it does turn the game into a bit of a grind after a while when most liberations barely turn up anything new or exciting other than a bit more progression.
Difficulty-wise, the game has its aforementioned varying degrees of mission difficulty. This means more enemies with significantly improved defenses and offensive capabilities, and an enemy ship with a more challenging layout involving turrets, enemy placement, and time limitations. As long as the player is well equipped for the mission ahead, the only thing stopping the player from succeeding is simply their skill alone. The biggest break for players, however, is the pause feature, in which the player can stop the flow of time and combat whenever they please so they can equip or pick up items and prepare for their next move right when they resume. It seems like it would make the game too easy, but it actually becomes a lifesaver in the face of four or five armored guards about to open fire at once. Some might see this as a way to make the game more casual-friendly, but to many others it will be their main source of relief in tense moments.
That good ol' space feeling
On an aesthetic level, this game succeeds at recreating the familiar space sci-fi setting that many have grown accustomed to through series like Star Trek, Mass Effect, and countless more. The interiors of spaceships and stations range from the bright, smooth, retro look to the dark and quite junky feel of many popular space westerns. All of this is done in a simple enough 2D art style that honestly doesn’t stand out too much. It’s not a terrible thing, though, as it doesn’t overshadow the more important aspect of gameplay, and it serves its purpose well enough.
The audio of this game is also faithful to the setting. The tracks have that sci-fi feel with both techno beats and ambient pieces alike. However, like the graphics, they don’t stand out much, and feel more like background pieces than actual compositions. It’s not a bad thing either, because it’s not as likely to distract the player from the task at hand, which could be deadly in this kind of game.
One of the best parts of this entire game is how space is treated. Being a sort of open-world game where the player is able to fly around anywhere on the map, a sense of scale and distance had to be implemented to form a realistic sense of space travel, which this game accomplishes. At any moment of the game, the player can either zoom in or out to reveal more of the screen’s map or more of the character’s specific location. It becomes really impressive when the player zooms in or out just to witness the scale of everything in relation to the entirety of the game’s map. It spurs the thought of how small the player is, unlike many other space-themed games. If you’re looking for a game that really signifies how small one really is compared to the vast world around them, this is that kind of game.
Featured image from YouTube
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