33: Steel Storm: Burning Retribution

If you’re like me, you miss the noughties and their tendency to just jam together several unrelated words with a colon, and call it a title (while somehow still expecting gaming to be taken seriously). From that viewpoint, this does very well, perhaps only missing a few flourishes. Imagine (if you will) S.T.E.E.L. : Storm – Burning Retribution, doesn’t that just warm the cockles of your heart? Sadly, as part of its quest to be the most generic game of all time, SS completely ignores any potential to stand out from the crowd like that and settles into adjective noun: adjective noun like a comfy old armchair by the fire. And that’s apt because if this game was alive, it’d be a lazy cat, basking in the summer sun as you desperately try and get it to do something, anything interesting.

033SS0.jpg

Maybe the problem is that it’s of a genre that I have little experience of, the top-down shooter. You pilot your ship around a 2D world, rotating with the mouse, sidestepping with WASD, and constantly shooting with the mouse buttons. Dastardly enemy ships and towers attempt to bar your path, and you courageously and heroically shoot them. There’s nothing wrong with this, obviously, I’m a big fan of Beat Hazard which is theoretically of a similar type, that was great for moments where enemy ships blot out the sun during a particularly loud solo. Twenty seconds of laser beams, desperate manoeuvres and violent explosions later, you stand alone, triumphant, barely alive. That’s what I went into this expecting, some combination of exhilaration and challenge.

I should mention the look, briefly. The game in itself is fine, a nice compromise between the 3D look and the 2D mechanics, with a slight cartoonish bent. Behind that though, the scaffolding has not been hidden at all: every new map is introduced with a barrage of vertex counts, errors and checksums. The menu in particular looks like someone’s just smeared blue paint on the screen and crudely scratched out “single player”, “leaderboards” and so on with their finger. Obviously it’s an indie game, you expect some roughness around the edges but it’s very noticeable roughness in this case, I’m surprised it was left in the state it was. But oh well, it’s only a menu and a load screen, let’s look at the actual game.

033SS4.jpg

Steel Storm is a series of missions following the adventures of GoodShip in BaddyLand, with the devs somehow feeling that they are crafting some kind of epic space tale. Every map opens with a lengthy briefing written in the most generic terms imaginable, that does little to disguise every mission is exactly the same. Your aim is, always, to bumble around what looks a bit like a series of warehouse floors, killing every single thing in front of you, flicking a few forcefields, maybe knocking out a few factories, then escaping through the sign marked “exit”.

The ground is scattered with powerups, that mostly either repair your ship or give you some arbitrary points that you will be able to compare to the points that other people have gotten. There’s a few weapons, too, and they’re varied-ish, but whatever they are you spend your time with your finger firmly pressed down on the left mouse button, as there is never any reason to not be constantly firing. Just turn around and destroy everything you can. There are two things that will stop you completing a mission in the generous timeframe you have, and neither of them are your fault. Firstly, it’s very difficult to tell what direction to go, some of the time. Yes you’ve got to destroy the incinerator, where is the incinerator? There is a (basic-looking) map, and this does improve as you go through the campaign and there is a little bit more focus, but it’s annoying to lose purely because you didn’t know where the hell you were supposed to be. Map design is either corridors or warrens, nothing in between.

033SS3.jpg

Secondly, when you die, you get sent back to the start. Not as in “Start again and do it properly again”, but as in “Okay yeah all those ships you killed are dead, but you’re now a good minute from where the frontline is now. Go find it!”. This is a weird decision: it strips all the momentum you’d built up to that point, makes you yet again try to navigate through the great space warehouse maze, and just adds in more dead time where you’re bumbling about.

You can also lose a mission by dying too much but you know what the big issue is there? This isn’t a top-down shooter, it’s a top-down cover-shooter. The world is liberally scattered with ship-high walls that you can hide behind to avoid incoming fire, thus removing a lot of the weaving and dodging that would make this an exciting game to play. Instead of having to thread yourself through a ferocious crossfire of bullets, tracers and missiles, you pop out, take a shot, pop back, and repeat. What’s more, you have a bigger range than everything you fight so as long as you run away from them, you can kill them easily. When you do have to fight ships in the open, there’s never really enough of them to make you retreat, so you can almost casually just move backwards and right to defeat them. For all that the devs want this to be an epic war, the numbers are just lacking.

033SS2.jpg

At every stage, it’s a generic ship fight game. The design is basic, the look is alright, the missions are standard missions. There’s nothing catchy or funny, no memorable moments, just more missions where you pilot around a warehouse, blowing shit up to a vaguely guitar-themed soundtrack. I played this all the way to the end, and I can say the second mission was identical to the second-to-last one. How much more damning can you be?

1 star, 5 hours spent (the campaign, once)

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6 Responses to 33: Steel Storm: Burning Retribution

  1. I would say to each his own, but dude, whf?! You didn’t bother to do your homework before writing this crappy review! M is to bring up full map with legend so you can navigate your way around. If you don’t know something, there is such thing as Google you know. Typing in Steel Storm Incinerator brings up the game’s walkthroughs. So you can find out what Incinerator is in the game (which is naturally big building with smoking chimneys).
    The look of the game is intentional if that didn’t occur to you. So it’s not unpolished, or left the way it is. It’s intentionally made to look that way (the menu and the rest).
    I never understood people who don’t like a game, or a genre and yet they making poor attempt to review what they don’t understand. You know what they say? If you have nothing good do say, say nothing at all.

  2. jiiiiim says:

    Yeah I know there is a map (“There is a (basic-looking) map”), and while that did sort out most of the confusion, eventually, I do feel a lot of the early maps are laid out confusingly, though that side of design tightened up as the game went on. Similarly, I do know what an incinerator is, but again, the confusion is about the layout, I kept heading into blind alleys. going in circles and so forth. I’m not saying that I was driving past a load of smoking, chimney-covered buildings wondering where on earth that dashed flame-spewing tower could be.

    The main game looks fine (“The game in itself is fine, a nice compromise between the 3D look and the 2D mechanics”) but that menu and barrage of code as you load up do stand out. What was the intention of that look?

    As I said, top-down shooters are not a genre I have much experience of. This game has been on a few Indie Bundles, though, so I would imagine the vast majority of people who own it are in the same boat. Maybe you’re just aiming at fans of the genre, in which case you can discount my testimony altogether. 😛

    Thanks for taking the time to comment though, it’s always nice to get another perspective and I’m sorry if I seemed a little brash. What would you say the main aim of the game was? And was it achieved?

  3. In retrospective I do agree backtracking, which was not intentionally created, is pointless and I wish it was not there 🙂

    There is no barrage of code, it’s just the engine is showing the console when loading up a level. That’s a legacy of old school games and old school engine 🙂 We are old timers, so to speak, so we don’t mind it at all. Perhaps in the future titles we can disable the console, but how would you type in cheat codes and game fine tuning cvars (very helpful to track hardware incompatibilities and certain bugs) ?!

    As a rule of thumb, we only make games that we like to play. That means our games aimed at people who are like-minded, hardcore gamers. We don’t cater to casual crowd (it’s like making FPS game and hoping that a casual gamer will play it and like it). The reason behind the game being in the bundles is that bundle organizers love the game 🙂

    The way I see it is that if you don’t know a genre, and you play a game from that genre and you don’t like it – don’t review it. I am planning on doing some Let’s Play videos of the games I just recently played (haven’t played any games for 3 years while developing Steel Storm) as part of the PR efforts. The games I will be reviewing are FPS games (the genre I play most of the time) and I really like them. That’s the whole reason to review them to show people what they are missing or correct their view, formed with the “help” of some guys who totally can’t stand FPS games 😉 You see what I mean? Another perspective would be fine if the reviewer was familiar with the genre, and was objective as far as good/bad/new (which is hard, but achievable). The whole article is written in a negative tone as if there is nothing good about the game nor as if we didn’t add anything to this old and rusty genre.

    The aim of the game as in the description of it seen on Steam – fast paced old school sp/mp shooter with top-down view and FPS controls. For people who doesn’t have whole day to play games and who want some hurricane speed destruction and mindless carnage (although to really beat the game and get highest scores you gotta use tactics). It was achieved and achieved successfully. It would be more successful if we had Steamworks with its Achievements, but it didn’t happen (multiplayer would benefit a lot from it).

  4. Bassoon says:

    While there may be some weight to the suggestion that more informed reviews will come from reviewers who have more experience of the genre (and could even move to a discussion about reviews stemming from Jim’s point about bundling ie reviewing it from the perspective of a specific market), the two key criticisms seem to be quite clearly made, and are unrelated to experience of the genre:

    1) it is a “top down cover shooter” (and lacking in challenge due to possible imbalance)
    2) Level design was confusing

    If you accept that as a reasonable summary of the review’s points it might be better to consider them, rather than simply abuse the experience of the reviewer.

  5. jiiiiim says:

    I mean I would not claim to speak with authority on games, mind. This isn’t a buying guide, this isn’t a carefully weighted set of pros and cons, this is just a blog is to force me to play the games I bought but haven’t played yet, and to get some practice at writing about them. I will try to incorporate what you said about looking for more positives, though in my conclusion I did note that many aspects of the game were decent enough (“the look is alright, the missions are standard missions”).

    But this is a measure of whether I enjoyed the game, and I just didn’t, because of the things I mentioned. Because of the layout of a lot of the maps, because of the lack of excitement in the combat, and because of the generic flavour it was wrapped up in, I couldn’t engage with it, or care enough about what I was doing.

    Obviously, I’m just some guy on the internet and if I need to have an experience of the genre for you to consider that valid feedback then ignore it. They aren’t made up for the sake of being negative, though, they’re all things I felt while playing. They’re things other people might feel while playing.

    Good luck in the future though, it seems like the game is doing well, regardless 😛

  6. Yeah, I’ll have to agree with you on this one. I swallowed the hype about it being an adrenaline-soaked old-school shooter thing, but most of the time I was lost and bored. Perhaps this just isn’t my thing.

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