A Love Letter to Heat Signature | Backlog Quest!

A Love Letter to Heat Signature | Backlog Quest!

A love letter to an excellent spaceship-infiltration game.

Check out Heat Signature: A Love Letter on the 2 Headed Hero YouTube channel for our animated takes on the game’s final form!

HEAT SIGNATURE’S spaceship-infiltrating guerilla tactics gameplay combines pause time strategy with top-down shooting and puzzle mechanics to present a beautifully-woven formula of skillful and cerebral gameplay. I, for one, have developed an unhealthy amount of affection for its final form – which added enough quality of life tweaks to ensure that I remained completely enraptured until the final station in the galaxy saw freedom.

The game’s overall premise is a simple one: a rare type of battery acid can only be obtained in one specific far flung galaxy, known as The Drift, and four powerful factions all hunger to control this valuable resource. A growing amount of Independents have said enough is enough, and taken it upon themselves to liberate all the space stations in the galaxy to create a Drift free of outside dominion. After a short but amusing tutorial, the game places you squarely in the boots of one of four randomly generated mercenaries, each with their own personal vendettas and starting tools, and unleashes you on the unsuspecting galaxy.

Gameplay boils down to two main components: piloting your Breacher Pod, and infiltrating spaceships. Piloting your pod to the target spaceship’s airlocks requires a definite amount of finesse and skill due to the fact that your pod carries momentum and lacks friction in the vacuum of space. Ships are all armed, and wandering into their line of fire makes quick work of your pod and operator alike.

A single missile hit sends your pod careening through space while the player frantically plays an interesting variation on quicktime events – requiring them to hold certain buttons while avoiding others. Success depletes your pod’s emergency fuel reserves, often forcing a landing at a nearby friendly station, but failure means the end of your character’s short and miserable life. However, special breacher pods with features like airlock teleportation or stealth capability can be unlocked to ease the difficulty of piloting.

Spaceship infiltration is the real meat of the game. Upon stepping through the airlock, the player is placed into a tense game of cat-and-mouse on the path to their mission objective, with superior numbers of guards and turrets blocking the way. Pausing time is available at the touch of a button, allowing the player to plan accordingly, aim accurately, or react with split-second timing, and that’s fortunate since a single bullet or sword hit can incapacitate your infiltrator. Your character can carry up to eight extra weapons and devices to aid them during a mission, but every mercenary’s kit includes the incredibly useful personal teleporter. This device can be used to bring any loose item on the ship directly to your character’s inventory. Keys, wrenches, and even the guns of fallen foes can be teleported to your fingertips, potentially turning the tide of a sticky situation in an instant. Completing missions with your current freedom fighter earns you both money and liberation progress.

Liberating stations can unlock new technology for the station shops as well as special challenge missions that can be completed for fun. Money can be used for purchasing equipment from the station shops, but also must be accumulated to complete your freedom fighter’s personal mission by means of buying intel.

Completing a character’s personal mission lets you retire your agent permanently, gifting one of their items back into the galaxy for future guerillas to discover. Therefore, progression in this roguelike mainly comes from what stations you choose to liberate and what gear you choose to gift at retirement.

The cycle of mission completion (or failure), liberation, and retirement (or character death) is the main loop of the game, which will continue until you finally liberate the stronghold stations of all four major factions in the Drift.

Heat Signature developer Tom Francis is a difficult designer to dislike. Put aside his storied career as a games journalist, ignore his indie success cinderella story , cast away the myriad ways he gives back to the game dev community via his blog and Gamasutra articles, podcast, and series of beginner-friendly Gamemaker tutorials – he comes across as a charming, genuine, and generally-positive sort of fellow.

I’m happy to report, then, that his designs are just as consistently joyful, pairing novel mechanics and an emphasis on exploration with a (wry) (underlying) sense of humor.

While I immediately loved the gameplay, graphics and controls were initially somewhat of a sticking point for me. The game looks clean and cohesive, and the zoomable nature of the Drift provides a cool sense of scale, but some ship tilesets seemed cluttered, making it difficult to tell what was going on in the middle of an intense situation. There’s also a small but significant learning curve with the controls- more than once, I accidentally ejected my merc out of the pod and into the void of space.

Beyond the surface level shine of the experience, three smaller polished details in HEAT SIGNATURE really stood out to me.

The soundtrack is extremely catchy, and fits both the visual style and tone of the game wonderfully – cool, pulse pounding synth tracks permeate your field missions, and the contemplative cyberpunk nature of the station music placed me right in the mood for character dialog and mission planning.

The Steam connectivity to other owners of the game was a stroke of genius – when I found items that other players had named, or heard stories of friends rescuing my captured characters from imprisonment, or it always started a long conversation about the game’s finer points.

The writing is often both thought-provoking and funny. There’s not a lot of dialog, but I really enjoyed the NPC conversations and the huge amount of implied lore.

I had an absolute blast with HEAT SIGNATURE. The brief nature of missions makes it easy to play in spare moments, and the absolute insanity of the emergent gameplay is a joy. Missions are fairly varied thanks to randomized ship layouts, conditional objectives, your own gear choices, and a healthy amount of different guard loadouts. Spectacular failures are often as much fun as skin-of-your-teeth successes, and the combination of skill-based gameplay with pause time planning makes for a significant challenge throughout the entire playthrough.

Overall, HEAT SIGNATURE was an intense and unique romp through the cosmos that tested my reflexes and brainpower alike. Its current and apparently final form is one hell of a sweet cake. Quality of life updates such as the additions of liberator characters, UI enhancements and difficulty options transformed the game from a unique and competent take on the rogue-lite theme into a sublime and engaging space adventure story generator. I wholeheartedly give HEAT SIGNATURE an amorous tilt of my thinker.


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Bawss Sawss, sauce aficionado, gamer, writer, music performer/composer, and one head of the 2 Headed Hero, can be reached on TwitterInstagram, or Facebook.
Rollinkunz, illustrator, gamer, writer, boardgame designer, and other half of the 2 Headed Hero, can also be reached on TwitterInstagram, or Facebook.

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