I shot through half the galaxy to catch up to the military ship, using thrusters to match speed as I approached. I maneuvered my tiny breaching pod — barely the size of one of the dozens of rooms onboard the warship — and began my mission. I had worked dozens of jobs to earn the money for the intel I needed. The officer who had murdered my husband was onboard. I was going to kill her.
In Heat Signature, you play as a rotating cast of criminal fixers, stealing, capturing, killing, and hijacking your way around the galaxy. Part of this is to liberate the galaxy from control of your standard evil empire, the Sovereign. And part of it is personal — each character will have their own personal quest, whether it’s rescuing an idiot child or avenging their spouse’s death.
Back onboard the warship, I had a problem. The ship was extremely well-guarded. Most guards wore heavy armor, meaning I couldn’t shoot them. I needed to steal keycards in order to get close to my target. And the target herself was wearing armor herself — armor I had no way of shooting through.
Luckily, earlier missions meant I had picked up a few tools. One, the Glitch Trap, would allow me to lure guards into a trap that instantly teleports them into outerspace. (Not even heavy armor can do much about that one.) One device would let me copy keycards from a distance. Another, the Slipstream, would slow down time for everyone else and speed it up for me, meaning I could dash through rooms before most guards even realized I was in there. But the one device that would really matter was the Swapper: a teleporter that swaps positions with one other person.
I snuck my way through most of the ship, copying keycards and dashing through rooms. At one point I stupidly let a guard catch enough of a glimpse of me to sound the alarm, sending the ship toward a military base. I had no choice but to dash to where the pilot was strapped in, no doubt dreaming of the unimaginable distances of deep space, and knock him on the head with a wrench. The alarm was canceled and I was safe, for a moment. Even more enticing, I was one room away from the officer I’d spend so long working to kill. But I still didn’t have anything to kill her with. I’d used up everything I potentially could have killed her with on my way there. Until I looked one room over and saw that I was next to an engine room, which contained a very combustible engine. I fired off one gunshot into the wall to draw the officer’s attention, and she began walking toward me. Once she was in range of the Swapper, I fired a single shot at the engine and used the Swapper. The officer was suddenly in a room about to breach into hard vacuum, and I was not. During the course of making my way through the ship, I had been shot and thrown into space 11 different times. My character, Yanet Ceylon, used her gun to blast out one more window, got her breaker pod to come pick her up as quickly as possible, headed back to the bar your band of mercs call home base, and promptly retired. Enough, as they say, is enough.
That, at heart, is playing Heat Signature. You’ll get thrown curve balls as the game progresses — you’ll approach large ships, each procedurally generated, with a mission to steal and capture or kill or hijack something. Missions themselves get harder; guards who used to posses wrenches and short attention spans start carrying shields that let them suddenly teleport behind you and blast you with a shotgun. But the game is largely forgiving. Even if you get shot or knocked out, guards always dump you in space. Have this happen enough and you only have a few seconds to live before dying, but at first you can screw up quite a few times without much consequence. And you always have four mercenaries to pick from, so if one should end up asphyxiating out in space, there’s always a steady stream of new soldiers of fortune ready to take their place.
What’s more, you can pause the action at any point. Suddenly find yourself in a room with three guards with guns drawn? Hit space bar. Throw your wrench at one, grab his gun, move just enough to dodge the other two bullets, shoot the other guard, and then throw your gun at the final guard. The pausing allows for those “I love it when a plan comes together” moments, even in the middle of barely controlled chaos.
And that is when the game is truly at its best. You’re halfway through sneaking through a ship undetected when a guard discovers his friend you KOed with a wrench a few corridors back, and suddenly you’re in a corridor-by-corridor gun fight, trying to figure out if you can still complete the mission before getting captured or killed. Certain games thrive on watching a carefully executed plan go off without a hitch. Heat Signature is about playing as a collection of hard-drinking criminals where things hardly ever go right — and it’s all the better for it.