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Review: Steel Storm: Burning Retribution

Hey, how’d you like to jet around futuristic industrial compounds, bombarding enemy photon tanks, laser turrets, and fortified bases in a hover tank? Sound fun? Well, it is. Read on for our full review.
There is an intangible comfort to loading up Steel Storm, clicking about its plentiful menus, and feasting your eyes on a plethora of sliders and tick-boxes, the many screens simply bristling with options. When Crysis 2 was kicked out the door earlier this year, many PC gamers cried foul at its bare-bones, vague graphics settings; this is certainly not an issue with Steel Storm: various levels for each setting, gobs of camera angles and gameplay tweaks, and every resolution imaginable were refreshing behold. Just the simple pleasure of booting into the levels and seeing the DarkPlaces engine load up each file in the console will tug at those nostalgic PC gaming heartstrings. There’s even a netbook mode that vastly alters the game’s aesthetic to work within the confines of those miniature laptops’ memory and GPU constraints.

When we interviewed developer Kot-in-Action a few weeks back, they claimed very little influence from top-down shooters of yore, and I tend to believe them: SS:BR plays more like a slower-paced old school first-person shooter, its primary challenge consisting of dodging bullets and concealing one’s own hitboxes while still keeping enemies in his sights. It’s even got red keys! Red keys! The passive aggressive quit messages, akin to classic games like Doom, complete the days-of-yore feel.

There are some flaws in the otherwise tight mechanics: the player view is sometimes a bit too limiting, hiding enemies from view that are still barely within gunshot range. This leads all too often to some blind shooting, and at times, surprise deadly shots from enemies that the player can’t see. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens enough to become a bit of a frustration, turning firefights into attritive battles rather than the enjoyable hide-and-seek affairs that they more usually are.

Level design is a double-edged sword of sorts: the design encourages exploration, often giving little indication of where the player is to work his way towards, a characteristic which does offer the player some breathing room. However, all too often it can tend toward a tedious search for that last Red Key or enemy structure the player forgot to take down. The levels are generally quite beautiful, though there is a definite uptick in quality and variety from the free missions to the full Burning Retribution-exclusive content.

The word that kept bouncing around in my little brain while playing Steel Storm was “solid.” It’s a solid title, with solid mechanics, solid content, solid multiplayer, and a solid engine. There are moments of brilliance when everything comes together, when you’re dropping MIRVs on a cluster of enemies, you’re totally surrounded and dodging bullets for all that your puny tank is worth. There are intense firefights. There are some sprawling environments in which a ballet of bullets and bombs is executed perfectly. Yet sometimes, it doesn’t rise up to that level and just keeps chugging along, being solid. It’s fine, it really is. I do wish that a tick more often it would have offered something a little more compelling though.

That’s single-player content though; the multiplayer ups the fun factor considerably. Not only is there the expected co-op modes for all single-player missions–implemented flawlessly I might add–the game is simply chock-full of adverserial modes, options; heck, there’s even capture the flag. Capture the flag with hovertanks? Please and thank you, Kot-in-Action, please and thank you. I do wish the servers were a touch more populated, but the devs can hardly be blamed for that. Its servers are also cross-platform, so Windows, Mac, and Linux users can join hands in perfect harmony, uniting against large,

Don’t pick up Steel Storm: Burning Retribution thinking you’re in for a blisteringly difficult, turned-up-to-11 bullet hell shooter; that’s simply not what it was intended to be. Instead, it’s a fun, solid slower-paced action game whose thrills come from gently weaving in and out of its bright, beautiful bullets and lasers while exploring its sometimes-vast environments. Pick it up for the solid mechanics, and stay for the deep, engaging multiplayer.

Platform: PC, Mac and Linux

Developer: Kot-in-Action

Genre: Top-down shooter

Time: Roughly 6-8 hours plus multiplayer

Gripes: Some uninspired level design

Get it for the: strong mechanics, bright graphics and extensive multiplayer

Full disclosure: PXOD was given a PC review copy of the game from the developer. Completed most of the game.

 

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