As my body slowly bleeds out in the vacuum of space, I know I have to act quickly, or else I’ll lose everything I’ve worked for. I hit the spacebar to pause the action and take remote control of my space pod. This enables me to propel the pod toward my body. The timer is counting down on my oxygen, so I can’t get cute with minor course corrections. Instead, I head toward my character at high speeds and hope my aim is on target. As my life timer gets into the single digits, my pod swoops over my helpless space pirate and brings her back into the safety of cabin. Now, it’s time to get revenge.
This is Heat Signature, and it is a methodical action game about robbery, contract killing, and kidnapping in outer space.
Heat Signature is available now on Steam for $15. Game studio Suspicious Developments launched in September 21 to ceaseless praise from most people who have gotten their hands on it. You can include me among those people. I adore Heat Signature because it encourages you to meticulously plan your infiltration of enemy ships, but then it also gives you all the tools you need to get out of hairy situations when your plan disintegrates in the face of an armored guard and an inconvenient turret.
But even when your heists go wrong, you always come away with a story. A big part of this is that Suspicious Developments built Heat Signature as a roguelike where you aren’t trying to succeed at the same exact mission over and over. Instead, you choose your randomly generated character from the bar in your homebase. Then you guide that character through various missions until they retire or, more likely, they die or get captured. And if your character eats it during an especially tough kidnapping mission, that’s now canon. Your character died and the rest of your team knows it and that mission is now gone.
That continuity creates a strong link between you and the actions you take. My character that was marooned in space that I rescued with the remote-control pod? That was only the first half of the story. In the second half, I return to the ship even though it is running for the safety of its base because it caught me attempting to infiltrate and the guards threw me out of an airlock. This meant I had around 60 seconds to get into the ship, complete my objective, and escape or kill the captain before I would end up captured.
So I ran in with a plan: kill the captain as quickly as possible. I used my silence gun to take out the guards that knocked me out on my previous run, and this left no one but me and the captain. I sprinted to the captain, aimed my longblade, and took him out. My mission was to steal an item hidden in one of the crates, so I grabbed that, took control of the new ship, and flew it back to my homebase to scrap it for goods.
It was a successful mission, but I’m going to remember it for how it went wrong. And that is the key to Heat Signature’s appeal and why I can’t stop going back to it.