The SteamWorld video game franchise has been around for 14 years. But the series isn’t so much a bunch of sequels as it is a collection of very superficially related games that explore different gaming genres (including a tower defense game, an XCOM-like turn-based shooter and a roleplaying card battler).
The one common denominator for them all is that the games center around steam-driven robots in a post-apocalyptic world.
The new SteamWorld Build corrals that steampunk collection into a Wild West realm of city building and management, with just a dash of rocket ship-construction and space travel on the side.
The game starts out by offering gamers five different maps to choose from, each sporting its own terrain advantages and disadvantages (and a special location-focused building). Giddyup Gorge, for instance, is the most beginner-friendly map—featuring fewer obstacles and abundant resources—while Fossil Park delivers a Jurassic Park influenced setting with fewer forest areas and more sharp-edged challenges.
Each of the five settings starts you out, however, with nothing but a broken-down train station, a disconnected, crumbling mine shaft, and a patch of tumbleweed-choked desert. And the first order of business is to build a town.
Determined builders must reap whatever resources they can through lumberyards and the like; build worker housing, warehouses, general stores and repair shops; manage their cash and establish trade; construct roads and farms; increase the worker bot population and keep them happy; and raise up a good old Wild West robo-boomtown.
Ah, but that’s not your only objective. The game’s light-but-charming robo-story also includes an apocalyptic threat: The big ol’ planet we’re living on is a dyin’! So the second half of SteamWorld Build’s challenge sets you off to dig beneath the surface of your blossoming city. There you explore, excavate, and reveal a couple more levels to work with.
Down in the mines, the bots upgrade to become miners, engineers, mechanics and the like. They carve out tunnels, find hidden treasures and produce a wide variety of usable resources for the city growth above. But the real goal is to somehow find and dig up forgotten and lost technology that can be used to build a spaceship.
Ultimately then, SteamWorld Build becomes a multi-leveled, almost real-time-strategy game focused on the delicate balancing act of managing resources, maintaining populations, and expanding your borders and capabilities toward a final escape from your doomed planet.
SteamWorld Build is a single-player game and can be played without an internet connection.
Lots of fun can be had here for fans of building sims. As you take your first step onto the sunbaked dirt of your soon-to-be town, the tasks before you can feel complex, but unless you’ve chosen a hard difficulty level, the learning curve is quick and easy and welcoming to first-timers and younger players.
SteamWorld Build also offers a Move Tool, which allows you to pick up and relocate any building to another spot at no cost. This mechanic makes a world of difference for players who want to rearrange a cluttered or poorly planned town into a layout that’s more efficient.
The game is colorful and pleasant to look at from its bird’s-eye perspective. And you can swoop in to get a closer look at the scurrying steampunk robo-world, all of which is whimsically animated.
This game’s voice acting, though relatively brief, is fun and entertaining. Someone ultimately sacrifices themselves to protect the robot population.
As players dig beneath the city, they soon find that the abandoned mine isn’t as empty as they might first think. There are cartoony monsters, creatures and creepy crawly plants lurking there, ready to attack. Security forces can drive them back with guns, flamethrowers, traps and a variety of later-gained turrets.
There’s also a threat of falling rocks and a total collapse in the mines if the excavations are not properly supported with braces. All of the above can lead to robots and creatures being killed, but there’s no gore in the mix.
Some of the robot characters require moonshine to obtain their top level of happiness. The dialogue contains use of the word “darn.”
SteamWorld Build has a charming presentation and a lot of well-designed gaming to offer those who love a good build-and-manage sim. There’s fun in them thar SteamWorld hills.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.