I don’t own many roguelike games where death is permanent and you have to start over. Heat Signature is probably not quite a roguelike in that your burgeoning galactic empire is where your hard work is saved. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Heat Signature is a game where you’re helping to liberate space stations from four rival factions, getting them to join your cause to unite your area of space. You do this by performing jobs that make nearby stations think you’re really awesome. These jobs all involve breaking in to various ships and performing acts of theft, rescue, assassination, or capture. Do enough of these, and you can pick one of your nearby space stations to join your cause (minus combat, which seems odd). Each station gives you access to more stations beyond them as well as unlocking items that are sold in your territory’s stores. You also unlock “clauses” for the missions that net you a bonus if you succeed. For example, you may be required to leave no living witnesses, no one can be killed, and so forth:
The tactics needed for successfully navigating most missions involve some preparation based on the briefing coupled with an ability to improvise when things go pear-shaped. Some guard may see you, another guard might have a defense shield that makes them impervious to your weapons, or a ship attacking the one you’re on might have just blown the bit where your escape pod was docked to atoms. Your characters will die, and that will, indeed, suck. However attached you get to them, the point is to advance your empire, because that’s the “permanent” progress you’re working for. Eventually, you’ll have a setup where your new recruits will be able to purchase the gear you had to rely on random loot drops to acquire, meaning they can handle tough missions right out of the gate.
Even if your mercs don’t die, they have their own personal goal that, once fulfilled, will likely lead them to voluntary retirement. Each one has a mission they can purchase help for (i.e. your spouse was kidnapped, you have a vendetta against someone, etc.) and perhaps end their career on that high note of accomplishment. You may also want to retire them because as a given character accomplishes more and more, the easy missions aren’t offered to them anymore. The more time they’ve spent bleeding or deprived of atmosphere is a permanent condition (unless you unlock some higher tier equipment), so they could be looking at dying within seconds the next time they’re shot or tossed into space. Also, they can eventually be too big of a hero to generate as many liberation points for nearby stations, and there’s really nowhere left for them to go other than taking suicide missions and eventually dying or entering a kind of Hall of Fame and passing on a treasured piece of gear.
There are also Defector missions where a named character from a liberated station has a personal mission (like taking an enemy out on a heavily-armed ship only using a short blade and a concussion grenade). Afterwards, they go into the Hall of Fame, though I believe they might be available as playable somewhere down the line. Maybe. I’m not entirely sure. They don’t have any effect on the galactic liberation thing, so they’re mostly for funsies, as far as I can tell.
The game is procedurally generated, so occasionally you’ll hit a mission that’s absurdly easy or (to your style of play) nigh impossible. I find myself trying to do no-death runs because it’s a bit more of a challenge, but also because it tends to not alarm the entire crew at once, so if there’s a countdown clock (and there often is), waiting for someone to stop standing with their friends and walk away so I can hit them over the head in peace is probably a poor strategy… unless the mission *calls* for stealth, in which case… You get the idea.
Combat gives you an advantage in that at any time you can pause the game. This lets you line up shots, choose different weapons, and pull off chained attacks that would make you seem like a caffeinated Neo. Even so, your opponents can come with an array of gear that makes fighting them a quick way to get tossed out of an airlock (which happens a lot). Realistically, and somewhat annoyingly, they have a hard time calming down, so if they’re around one of the bodies you’ve left behind or they’re otherwise alerted, a change of strategy may be called for. I think you can leap through space from one section to another (if there’s a gap), but I’ve not been brave enough to try it yet.
For most of the game, my buddy has been the wrench. It’s quiet, non-lethal, and you get 8 meters of “dash” between triggering an attack and hitting your target. That’s just outside of the range of some of the personal sensor devices guards might have, so it’s still effective unless the guard requires armor-piercing weapons to take out. You can also get various flavors of teleportation device, traps that can beam your victims into space, guns that turn enemy turrets to your side, and many other items I’ve likely not seen yet.
The game isn’t perfect, as it does have some A.I. exploits that I’ve discovered. Firstly, when a guard is doing a task at a terminal or is in the ship’s captain’s chair, they’re totally absorbed. They won’t notice you strolling up behind them, ready to put their lights out. Terminals are like crew-bait, in that eventually every crew member apart from the one flying the ship will have some reason to go look at a terminal, which opens them up to having a short conversation with Mr. Wrench. They also won’t venture through any openable doors in the ship, unless they’re actively chasing you. If you’re confident that you won’t attract such a fan club, you can store your piles of bodies in a cleared-out section behind a bulkhead and none of the other crew should ever open it and peek inside. They’ll never try to get into your boarding pod, either, so you can dump all the bodies you want in there. However, until you close and reload the game, you’ll be sharing your pod with a bunch of unconscious or dead people, as they don’t go away for some reason.
Did I mention that bodies cause panic and alarm? They do that for some reason. Best to tidy up after yourself as you go, if possible.
I’ve not been brave enough to try a “wanton destruction” strategy, as there are ways of blowing up parts of a ship. You can shoot fuel tanks, set off certain kinds of explosives, or even commandeer other vessels and crash them into the target. There’s a lot of emergent gameplay potential, I think, and I hope there are going to be some add-ons in the future to expand on the mechanics thus far. It’s also a good pick-up game, letting you do a few quick missions between tasks… unless you get sucked in to the campaign, like the hapless victim of a sudden cabin decompression.