You’ve likely played your fair share of combat based platformers. Maybe even a few stunt-based motorcycle games (such as Trials). Steel Rats blends these two into its own formula, providing a fresh take on both types of games. You start off with one character and eventually get three more. Each is unique with different abilities that you can upgrade by completing the many challenges. You don’t have to choose between them since you are able to select them in mid-combat. Your enemies are robots, who are taking over the city. You must complete many different missions spread throughout various districts. With hidden secrets and three challenges per level along with a scoring system, you’ll be playing this one for a while.
Here’s what I liked:
Trials with Guns — There is a light emphasis on stunts. The physics might remind you of Trials, which is the title I think of most while referencing the style. As you do tricks, you gain a combo meter that allows you up to five times the points. As you earn them by getting kills or tearing up breakable objects, you gain a total score for the level. These points will help unlock upgrades (which you can then purchase). The combat is actually quite fun and pretty easy. Being able to speed-saw through enemies and use powerful attacks on larger enemies make it feel fast-paced. The hard parts are when you must be accurate in jumps. Sometimes you’ll need to utilize a boost while hanging in mid-air in order to make an otherwise impossible leap of fate. There’s an excellent mix of platforming while destroying robots, sometimes combining both. Overall the combat feels natural and I enjoyed the battles.
Character Variety — Even though there are only four characters, they all have a unique set of abilities. You can even customize the skins for them as well as the bikes. I will admit that the skins are very basic, and I would not miss them if they were removed. Everything else is great! You can get enough junk (currency) to upgrade almost every mission. There are basic attacks, charge abilities, and even an ultimate. You can switch between the characters to utilize their skill sets for different scenarios. My favorite character was Toshi. He has a companion “junkpet” that follows him everywhere. It can electrocute enemies, and at higher upgrades can chain lightning, which does devastating damage and almost feels broken (in a good way). The other three guys are a little more difficult to master but still have something to bring to the table.
Pipe Dream — There are ramps, stuff to saw through, and plenty of junk bots to destroy. The most impressive mechanic is the ability to magnetize to pipes that run along walls and even the ceiling. Getting to them can be part of the fun, as sometimes you’ll have to get creative in how you boost, jump, and tilt your cycle to grab hold. You’ll be blessed with unlimited boosting and will go faster than normal. Sometimes you’ll be left adjusting yourself quickly so that you don’t land on your head. I had a lot of fun every time these sections appeared, and they never got old. Every once in a while you’ll also have to shoot enemies while speeding on top of the ceiling. It’s some of the most fun I’ve ever had with pipes!
Challenges and Unlockables — In each mission, you will face a series of challenges. You can skip them, but try to do as many as you can in order to upgrade your bikes. They aren’t all difficult, but you may need to replay most of the missions a second or third time in order to succeed. Some are timed, but it’s usually about combat. If you like backstory while you play, finding hidden golden rats in each level can feel very rewarding. It sets the replayability meter on high. Besides just finishing each area, you will also want to perfect all of the challenges and scores. For completionists, this will be extremely addictive.
Here’s what I didn’t like:
Black Screen of Death — I’m not sure how it got through testing, but there is a terrible glitch that forces you to restart the entire level. One minute you can see everything, the next moment you’re in complete darkness. You can hear your motorcycle and even move around. Yet, you can’t see anything. Several attempts at suicide sometimes work, but it’s disappointing that this bug happened to me at least 10 times while playing. It appears to mostly occur after a small cut-scene, but I’ve also had it happen while moving to different elevations. Try to avoid skipping the scenes, because that’s when it normally becomes a problem. There might eventually be a fix, but at the time of review, it’s a complete wreck.
U-Turn — The only part of the movement I had a problem with was doing a turn. Sometimes it flowed nicely, while other times I was struggling not to tip over. This was especially difficult while in mid-air. There are lanes which have a sort of foreground and background. This is where they come up with being 2D. You can switch between them by holding in the direction you wish to be in. You can easily hit the button by accident causing you to face the wrong direction. Another technique is tied to it, and double pressing it results in a spin attack which you’ll be performing often. Sometimes while turning, you can get stuck in place. More than once I found myself struggling to get out of an area I probably wasn’t supposed to be in. The lanes don’t always work great and turning is often needed to switch. In confined areas, it can be a real struggle.
Shooting the Sky — Besides all the cool powers, you’ll also find various ammo boxes lying around. You can pick them up and use weapons against the evil robot empire. You can’t, however, choose what you’re shooting. There is an auto-aim function that does a terrible job, typically choosing the wrong target. I’m generally shooting at the sky, cursing and wasting bullets. It seems if there are enemies above you in the level, it prioritizes them. What a waste of good bullets. I want to say my accuracy was around 50%. It’s not implemented well at all, and I almost would rather not even pick up ammo in the first place.
It’s a weird concept but works almost perfectly. The controls would seem difficult to master but are actually quite easy. There are only a few hiccups with the controls which I feel don’t hurt the overall driving experience. It’s almost as if you’re actually running around on foot, like most platformers (except for turning). While quite linear, being able to replay missions for collecting junk and mastering challenges boost the overall game length by a few hours. I don’t think much could improve the game, besides a ridiculous spike in difficulty in two spots (the last boss is insanely frustrating). Steel Rats races into near perfection, with only a few downsides to controls and aiming. It’s easily one of my favorite new titles released this year.
Score: Highly Recommended
Steel Rats was published and developed by Tate Multimedia S.A. on Xbox One. It was released on May 17, 2019, for $14.99. A copy was provided for review purposes.