I will openly admit I had never heard of Steel Rats before I was asked to review it. I had seen a couple of mentions of it on my Twitter timeline but knew very little of the title before playing it. So this is a completely blind review with no knowledge of what I was getting myself into. Very exciting, that feeling of a new unknown game to be explored, played and hopefully enjoyed.
I will not talk for too long about the story, you can find that bit out yourself when you play and I don’t like to spoil too much. You play a gang of scrap collecting motorcyclists who are defending their city against a robot invasion. It involves a varying cast of ragtag characters and locations which are quite varied and interesting. The story serves its purpose, even though there is not a lot too it but it drives you on through to the finish and definitely has its moments.
The game is a frantic 2.5D arcade game that puts you on the back of a motorcycle, or as I later discovered, an acrobatic killing machine of death. Early on the levels are very ‘Trials’ like, the game has you jumping over ramps, navigating various obstacles and riding to the end of the level to move the story on or complete your next objective. There are plenty of breakable objects on the way that can be cut through using your front wheel as a chainsaw, which is very satisfying and fun to do. I know, who doesn’t want to use their front wheel to chainsaw through breakable obstacles?
The game starts to drip feed you extra gameplay layers as the levels progress, early on you start to encounter robotic enemies of varying types, bosses, drones and all sorts of metal monstrosities. You unlock combat moves, guns and various characters as you ride and smash your way onward through the game at breakneck speed. This keeps things fresh and there seems to be always something new to play with while your riding through the campaign which you can complete in 5 – 10 hours, your time will vary greatly depending on how much of a completionist you are. Much more time will be spent if you want to do everything this title has to offer.
Each level has 3 challenges to do which add replay value, I found myself replaying each level to get these challenges done as they were varied, fun and the levels are quite short so they never dragged on in any way. These challenges unlock various upgrades and skins for your bikes and characters so they are definitely worth doing. Some of these upgrades cost ‘scrap’ which is the currency of the game and can be gained very easily by smashing through the environments and killing the robotic enemies you come across. In each level lies a secret which unlocks a bit of backstory, which I thought was nice and fleshed out the characters and lore a little bit.
Once you have unlocked more characters you gain the ability to swap them on the fly, creating an extra dynamic to the gameplay because each character has different abilities. The characters also serve as lives too, this means that when one of them dies you cannot use them again in that level. Lose all your characters and its game over and you will have to restart the level. This system also helps with the challenges which often involve performing tricks off jumps or killing enemies in a certain way, being able to change your character gave you options during these challenges providing a certain strategy to completing the levels. The levels also sometimes have a small puzzle element to them, maybe sometimes requiring switches to be unlocked or my favourite part of the game, ‘pipe surfing’. I don’t think that is the official name but that’s what it should be called. When your bike jumps in the air you can hold the X button and stick to pipe sections of the levels. This often has you riding backwards, upside down and generally just defying any sort of gravity laws we normally adhere to. My favourite part of a level so far was a pinball-like section where I had to jump between these pipes, shooting off in all directions to get through the stage. It was fast, fun and frantic. I loved it.
Flying through these levels at very high speeds while smashing environmental objects and destroying robots is great fun. A little fiddly at first, early on I found myself banging into everything and hitting walls quite often. You have lots of options when riding through the levels and a lot of commands to get used to. It has the same mechanics when in the air as some other motorbike based physics games, backwards on your analogue stick raises your front wheel and forwards on your stick lowers it so you can manoeuvre in the air and create yourself a decent landing. Moving up and down while travelling left and right through the levels takes a little to get used to but after a short, while it all ‘clicks’ and you become a bike-riding, android destroying acrobatic bad-ass.
Graphically the game is pleasant enough, the bike models are great and the environments are detailed and nice to look at. The character models can be a bit basic but that’s neither here nor there really and I am just nitpicking. Your travelling so fast that none of this really matters, there’s so much going on with the combat and the speed that you traverse the levels at that you don’t really get much time to sit back and look the graphics. I will say that I do love the comic style cutscenes and art between the levels, being a big comic fan I liked these a lot. The artwork is very nice and drawn in a pleasing style.
The sound design is also good, I would have liked a more crunchy fast-paced soundtrack to go with the fast-paced gameplay but its fine and is no way a detriment to the game. One thing I will say about the sound is that when you jump onto the pipes on your bike you are blasted with a synthy blast of a sound effect which only adds to the already great ‘pipe surfing’ sections of the game. It really is a satisfying sound to match a satisfying gameplay mechanic.
The performance of the game is great in most places, during gameplay I did notice a few small frame drops but this was hardly noticeable at all and happened very rarely. The game handles all the action and fast-paced gameplay very well most of the time, there are explosions, bullets, enemies and smashing items all over the place and the game hardly ever has issues with all the mayhem. I noticed a few stutters in the cutscenes but these were very small and most people would not even notice it. There were a few times where I got caught in a death loop with no way to get out of it. I remedied this by making sure I avoided the cause of the loop in my next run, it was slightly annoying but maybe this can be fixed with a future patch.
I have really enjoyed my time with Steel Rats, its fast, bold and a lot of fun. The levels are short and have replay value if you try to complete challenges, which are varied and tied to future upgrades for you to purchase. It has that unique feeling when you get everything right when you somersault off a jump and in mid-air kill a few androids, then slide around a bend and leap into another death-defying jump, it makes you feel invincible and it’s all very rewarding. You just have to put in enough time to get over the slightly niggly controls at the start but it’s worth the effort. I may even return to it at a later date to mop up the rest of the trophies and time permitting, that elusive platinum trophy. When you have had enough of all the current open world blockbusters and fancy a frantic bit of arcade action then look no further than Steel Rats. The price is perhaps a little high, it’s worth the price if you love arcade titles but I would have liked to see this title about £15, just a few pounds short of its current asking price.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*