Heat Signature is a top down stealth/action game that gives you the freedom to choose how you will approach each mission. Heat Signature places you in the center of a star system as a rogue faction with the sole goal of taking down three factions that have control of the system.
This mission is too large for one person, you don’t play as a single soldier, instead, you can choose to take control of a number of random rebels that have their own score to settle with the various factions. These characters each have their own individual traits that give them particular strengths and weaknesses, which will influence how you play with them. Each character has their own personal mission, and once completed, future mission rewards will be reduced, and as such you are encouraged to retire and pick up a new rebel to continue the fight.
Missions all involve breaking into a spaceship mid-flight. There is no set linear quest-line each space station that you visit will have a different set of quests, and these quests refresh after each mission. The goal is simply to weaken the opposing factions and give courage to more and more rebels. Missions vary by faction target, difficulty, and objective. Objectives might involve assassinating a target, capturing a target, stealing a piece of technology, and more. If you’ve just started a new character, you wont have many gadgets or weapons, and as such will want to play an easier mission. The easier missions don’t pay as well, and don’t inspire as many new resistance members, so exclusively playing easy missions makes for slow progress, but advancing to high difficulties too quickly can be brutally difficult. The key factor is that you are in control of the missions that you play, and can choose the experience that you want to have.
With each mission completed, more and more new resistance members rise up against the factions, giving you the power to liberate additional space stations, providing more home bases to return to, and unlocking more tech for the resistance to use in their fight against the major factions. This premise of completing missions and liberating stations provides the basis for the entire game. Once all of the major factions’ bases have been overthrown, the game can be ended by speaking with the main NPC who is found at your home station.
Heat Signature plays from a top-down perspective, and gives the player flexibility to play in almost any way that they would like.
When entering a ship, enemies won’t know that you’ve broken in, which gives you the opportunity to take a stealth approach, learning the guards patrols and attempting to take them out one by one, or sneak by without being seen.
Despite each mission starting as a stealth mission, things aren’t always going to stay that way, whether by choice of the player, or by accident. Running and gunning is a perfectly valid way to play most missions, but you do need to read the mission summary to find out what’s going to happen when an enemy triggers an alarm. Once an alarm has been triggered, it can result in enemies reinforcements teleporting onto the ship or having the ship to retreat to a hostile space station, ending the mission early. Thankfully, in most cases taking out the ship’s pilot will disable the alarm, giving you an opportunity to salvage a mission if a mistake is made or if that alarm is triggered too early.
Even on the easiest of ships, the enemies will outnumber you, and on the harder ships, there are so many enemies, and these enemies can be equipped with special gear. As such, in order to succeed, you will need to make use of the plethora of gadgets and weapons. The gadgets in Heat Signature are quite diverse in application. Some can help you go undetected by putting a stealth shield in front of you, others help in combat, by providing a personal shield that makes you temporarily immune to damage, for example. All gadgets have a limited amount of uses, which adds a tactical aspect to completing the missions, as you don’t want to run out of your gadget uses mid-mission and have nothing left to get through the rest.
Whilst playing, you are able to pause the game at any time, giving you a moment to plan your actions before proceeding, line up a gunshot, or prepare a gadget to use. When taking an action, Heat Signature unpauses and the game continues. Even with all of the gadgets available, the ability to pause, and the lack of any random or chance based factors, situations always seem to go awry, and this is where Heat Signature really shines.
When a plan isn’t executed perfectly, the enemies will react by attempting to attack you and call an alarm. In order to avoid damage and prevent the alarm call, you need to take out the enemies quickly, but you might not always have the ideal combination of gadgets available, and you’ll need to think of creative solutions in order to survive the ensuing chaos. You make a plan, and when that falls apart, you’ll need to create a secondary plan. This emergent gameplay works so well in Heat Signature due to the large amount of options that are provided to the player.
In addition to the main mission, some missions will also have bonus objectives that are optional, but provide additional rewards if completed successfully. These objectives will force you to play a specific way, such as not harming anyone, or never being seen. These additional objectives give the player some additional challenges if they feel up to them, encouraging different playstyles, and usually, resulting in more mistakes that need creative escape plans.
Heat Signature is a great example of a systemic game. There are so many systems at play, from AI, gadgets, weapons, even to the enemy equipment, and each of these systems can interact and interfere with each other, creating some crazy results. Heat Signature provides great gameplay, and gives the player the freedom to explore it and their leisure.