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Kill Your Backlog: Heat Signature

Published on Jul 3, 2023

Hey there! Welcome to Kill Your Backlog, a thing I've been meaning to turn into writing for a while! Seeing as this is a new feature here on the blog, some explanation is in order:

Like many people, I've purchased more games than I've played over the years, from Humble Bundles, Steam sales, and things of that nature. Our digital libraries fill to the brim with games we tell ourselves we will one day play, but things happen and that day never comes.

Kill Your Backlog is an idea I've adapted (read: stolen) from the Action Button Goblin Bunker Discord server. They used to hold these server-wide events that they called Murder Your Backlog. They stopped doing them a while back, and I was never very good at joining in on community events anyway, so I'm carrying this on for myself.

Here's how it works:

  1. Pick a game from your backlog.
  2. Play that game for 20 minutes.
  3. If you like it, great!
  4. If you don't like it, great!
  5. Remove the game from your backlog.

It's a sound method, and one I've already used several times to start clearing out my backlog and moving on with my life. I highly recommend it. Great way to spend an hour absolving yourself of some easy guilt.

I'll try to keep these pretty short, and not super in-depth. They'll mostly just be a way for me to catalog my thoughts on a game, and give it a nice send-off in my brain once I'm done with it. And future installments won't be padded out with loads of explanation at the top.

Without further ado, here's the first installment:

Heat Signature

Developer: Suspicious Developments
Release Year: 2017
Genre(s): Stealth, Action, Roguelike
Played on: PC

I picked up Heat Signature in some Steam sale or another because I was a big fan of Tom Francis & Suspicious Developments' previous game, Gunpoint.

In Heat Signature, you play as a space mercenary, taking jobs of varying difficulties for money you can use to upgrade your gear. Successfully complete enough jobs, and you'll be able to liberate the space station you're on from imperial control, and move on to another space station.

Each job has you flying your personal ship out to dock with another, bigger ship out in space, stealing an item or rescuing/assassinating a target, escaping to your ship in one piece, and flying back to the station you took the job from to collect your reward.

After docking with a ship, the game plays out very much like Hotline MIami: Top-down perspective, WASD to move, mouse to point your weapons, kill or be killed. A key difference in Heat Signature, though, is that you can pause the action at any time in order to plan your next move. This mostly really worked for me, because as much as I loved Hotline Miami, I was often frustrated by having to play a particular level over and over because I was still building up my twitch reflexes.

At the same time, though, this feature also feels like an addition made necessary by possibly my least favorite aspect of this game: its roguelike nature. This basically means your character permanently dies if you fail a mission, and you have to start over as another character without the arsenal your previous character had built up. In this context, being able to pause and plan your actions more carefully feels like an attempt to mitigate situations where you might just get completely blindsided by a mission, and have to reset your run because of it. This isn't a bad thing, mechanically, it's just that now that I'm thinking about it, it feels like I'm seeing the strings in a bad way.

It's a fun loop at first, and failure feels cheap, fun, and easy to recover from. But over time, it started to get old, and I just wanted to be able to work towards a goal without the ground crumbling beneath my feet.

Missions also started to feel pretty stale after not too long, and I began to wonder just how much more there really was to chew on past this initial 20-minute playthrough. Taking on missions at harder difficulties didn't help this feeling, either.

One mechanic I liked as an idea was that each character you play has their own unique overarching goal that they're working towards as you complete missions. It might be something like, to paraphrase the game's Steam page, rescuing their brother, stealing their old gun back, or getting revenge on their partner's killer. That sounds really neat on paper, but in practice, it's just another randomly generated task for your randomly generated character to eventually do for...some reason. It all just feels weightless and empty compared to how a more authored and purposeful experience might feel.

In the end, I felt like I had seen about as much as I needed to see from Heat Signature. It's a neat little loop, with some potential for goofy fun, but there just wasn't enough meat on those bones for me. I haven't historically been the biggest fan of roguelikes, either.

Still, I'm quite hopeful that Suspicious Developments' next game, Tactical Breach Wizards, will be able to hold me for longer than Heat Signature was able to.