Steel Rats attempts a new take on the 2.5D scroller genre. Rather than your general protagonist running about the place. Here, you’re in control of some beefy motorbikes, capable of some fancy attacks and maneuvers as well as simply being able to run down anything in your way, thanks to the whacking great blade on your front wheel. Each of the several riders unlocked along the way have differing abilities that will suit unique situations, and you’re able to switch between them on the fly throughout the game’s levels.
While the combat and traversal can be fun, it’s let down by some fiddly controls and a camera that doesn’t really allow you to fully see the route ahead. As I said, combat is fun. Each of the riders brings their own flavor to the proceedings. From Toshi’s drone that will send out ever larger electric shocks to enemies, as well as drop mines to create a path of destruction, through to Lisa’s explosive bomb, there’s plenty of fun weaponry to utilize in the destruction of the invading Junkbot army. Switching between characters is a simple button press away, while holding it will pause the action if you’d rather select someone specific.
The key to success is quickly swapping out between them as each one’s limited energy runs dry in order to max your damage output. Each bike is equipped with a blade attack when boosting, allowing you to cut through the Junkbots as well as certain elements of the scenery, as well as the aforementioned special attacks. Guns can be found dotted around the place too – these are powerful but limited, and really help out in a pinch. The bikes and special attacks can also be upgraded via completing each of the three objectives per-level. These can range from beating a par time to destroying certain enemies in specific ways.
They can be a good incentive to replay levels, which is handy because there’s not much else to encourage repeat play. While the stages attempt some sort of bombast and spectacle, all this really achieves is making it hard to judge the correct line to follow in order to not face-plant the nearest wall. One section sees you outrunning and dodging several trains – despite my best efforts I got squished on more than one occasion simply due to a lack of visual information on my riders proximity to them. This pervades throughout, with narrow corridors or elevator doors needing traversing.
Not so bad when things slow down, but at speed, it’s way too hard to judge accurately. It doesn’t help that the controls are over complicated too – Pressing B will cause you to turn a sharp 180, while double tapping it will give you a spin attack. Add an analogue input to either of these and you get a different outcome – and this is just the one button! While others aren’t quite so stretched, I found it too difficult to accurately perform the desired reaction in concert with firing a gun or weaving in and out of enemies and scenery.
When you can get a nice run going though, it can be fun to move about the place, doing aerial tricks and riding up power lines that your bike will stick to like glue, allowing you to ride up sheer walls or along ceilings. Unless it feels like falling off. One section sees you climbing up several of these in a row, and unless you have things lined up perfectly, expect to fall to your doom on more than one occasion. It can get somewhat annoying, especially when it feels out of your hands as to whether they’ll stick or not.
Beyond the gameplay, things don’t really improve unfortunately. The story is basic, generically written and acted. Visually it’s all a bit muted and the whole affair lacks any real charm. Despite some cool looking moments when some giant force in the background of a scene comes in to play, or, a fast moving sequence plays out correctly, everything is just… there… I’ve spent the last 4 or 5 nights playing pretty much only this and already I barely remember any (good) standout moments. Played in short bursts there’s fun to be had, but it all feels a little too flat after any extended period.
Steels Rats is the definition of a ‘meh’ game. It has some nice ideas and elements, but nothing is really pulled off particularly well. Combat is fine, if repetitive, but the awkward camera view, the unreliable collision detection, and the general lack of any real character, collectively brings the whole thing down.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.