Corvus Prophecy was a man with a plan... and also a wrench. The plan: steal the Salt-Vasser Object, then retire off the money from selling it, and finally leave behind the space mercenary life. Unfortunately, information on its whereabouts costs money — money Corvus doesn’t have, but money he could make by sneaking onto spaceships.
This is the core of Heat Signature, the latest release from Gunpoint creator Suspicious Developments. First, you pick a randomly created character with a randomly created personal objective. Then you earn money by completing missions that have you sneaking onto procedurally generated spaceships to steal, capture, or kill someone or something. That money can then go toward better gear, or you can save up to pay for information to further your personal mission.
Corvus was one of my first characters. After a few successful missions, I got a bit more confident than I maybe should have been. I made the mistake of getting too far into the ship without an exit strategy, which is when a guard knocked Corvus unconscious.
Normally, getting knocked out by a guard leads to your character being tossed out of an airlock. You can save yourself by getting a space pod to pick you up before you run out of air, and then you can either try and get back to the ship and finish the mission, or give up and go home. As a result, mistakes never feel too punishing, especially when the unexpected happens — and it happens a lot — like accidentally blowing up a room you’re in, or inadvertently shooting a nearby window, only to be flung out into space. Or, in Corvus’ case, failing to hit an armed guard with a wrench.
But the guard never made it to the airlock with Corvus. As he was being escorted, the ship pulled into a friendly space station, where my mercenary was captured instead. All of his gear and money was now lost to me. Losing a character like this has been fairly rare in my experience with the game, but each time was memorable. These moments help teach you more about the game, but more importantly they help build the ongoing narrative.
When you do lose a character, you’re presented with four new potential space adventurers to choose from. After losing Corvus, one option stood out to me: Santana Prophecy. I laughed at the random name generator giving me a new character with the same surname. But it made sense when I read Santana’s personal mission:
Rescue my idiot kid Corvus Prophecy, who got captured by Sovereign.
Heat Signature has a very loose narrative about your little faction of space mercenaries slowly taking control of more and more space stations from the other warring factions in the game. But for me, Heat Signature suddenly became about Santana Prophecy rescuing Corvus. Not just because he’s his parent, but because “my idiot kid” instantly paints a picture of what their relationship would be like. Those few descriptive words make them feel more real and interesting than the randomly generated avatars they really are.
That’s the most striking thing about this game. Though much of Heat Signature is random, it’s all seeded in such a way that creates these wonderful, unique stories. That could be through some sort of clever solution you come up with for getting through a ship, or some mistake you made that ended in a hilarious way, or two characters having an unexpected connection. Each of these moments feels personal. Heat Signature doesn’t give you a story to experience — it lets players find their own.