A steampunk aesthetic with bright colors and tricked out motorcycles is a sure-fire idea for success, right? Polish game developer and publisher Tate Multimedia seem to think so. Steel Rats is a high octane ride through neon infused streets. Along the way, players will encounter objects that need to be destroyed, enemy robots and lots of dark tunnels. The game is an entertaining, if sparse, offering.
The look of Steel Rats is reminiscent of Akira or Blade Runner. (The passing resemblance is confined to just the look of the game. At no point is Steel Rats like either of the two movies and it never tries to be.) The majority of the story takes place on darkened streets or in rundown buildings. If it were not for the vast amount of technology, one could be forgiven for assuming the game takes place in current times during a forgotten part in a sprawling metropolis.
Breaking the almost complete darkness are the occasional blasts of bright color. These moments absolutely pop off the screen. Even the title and customization screens lack much in the way of color, so even the tiniest bit adds a great deal to the moment. Steel Rats does a great job of making color (and light) very important. The juxtaposition is done very well doesn’t add much more than an aesthetic.
Steel Rats is centered around driving your motorcycle as fast as you can. The lack of color adds a depressing quality to the game that is in line with the story, but feels out of place in the actual game. The mixture of bright and drab colors add a moody feel that is initially noticeable while remaining unmemorable. There is never anything wrong with how the game looks; it is all just uninspired.
That being said, a game like Steel Rats is less about how it looks and more about how it plays. For those unaccustomed to playing a 2D racer, the game is easy to pick up. The controls are simple and anyone who has played anything that requires controlling a vehicle will be able to understand how to play immediately. This “no fuss no muss” control scheme alleviates possible frustrations.
These controls are deceptively easy, adding an addictive quality to Steel Rats. Maneuvering is a relatively uncomplicated feat, but doing so with speed takes time to master. Perfecting tricks will take even longer as even the simplest stunt takes plenty of practice, and the ease of controlling is not the same as mastering. It is exactly the strategy that should be employed by this type of game.
This is actually the biggest issue with Steel Rats. It does everything it is supposed to and nothing more. The levels are short and to the point with the requisite amount of obstacles and ramps. There is little difference between the first level and the last, and this extends to the playable characters. None seems essential and the option to switch between different characters seems pointless. It is not always necessary to innovate, but that is also not an excuse for tedium.
While the controls for Steel Rats are simple, they also suffer a bit from responsiveness. There is nothing wrong with a game choosing control over graphics and is actually expected from this type of game, but the lack of responsiveness in Steel Rats is incredibly frustrating. Motorcycles slide across the screen as if on a never-ending oil slick while simple joystick movements cause the player’s bike to go into violent seemingly uncontrollable convulsions. Often it seems the best way to get to the end of a level is just to drive in a stuntless straight line.
Steel Rats is a fun motorcycle combat video game. The controls are easy to learn adding a pick up and play quality that is important to games in this genre. The lack of depth to the controls and a generic game design consign the game to being enjoyable but unmemorable.