Steel Rats is not Tate Multimedia’s first attempt to make a video game out of motorbikes, but how do they fare when they throw combat and multiple lanes into the mixture?
Developer: Tate Multimedia
Publisher: Tate Multimedia
Release date: 7 Nov, 2018
When I saw the trailer for Tate Multimedia’s Steel Rats I was really intrigued by it. Not only did the cinematic look great, but the gameplay looked fun and unique. After all, what’s there not to like about a game set in some alternate 1940’s where you play as a biker gang whose only goal is to fight an army of invading robots? Well, actually, there are quite a few things that you might not like about it, but we’ll leave that for later.
Steel Rats takes the fast-paced action that you’d expect to find in a motorbike game and puts it alongside a whole bunch of platforming and combat. There are four different characters that you’ll unlock, and you can switch between them on the fly by simply pressing the designated button. As for the game’s structure, it is divided into five major zones, which are comprised of a series of levels, ranging from city streets, underground facilities, forests, jumping between dirigibles (!), and some much crazier stuff later on.
The story isn’t really anything to write home about, it just feels like it’s there to provide context for all the action that the game brings along with it. Still, I appreciate the secrets that are present in every single level, as they contain small voice tapes that give you some insight of the world and its history, which is a nice little addition. Furthermore, there are also a few radio stations here and there that broadcast emergency messages regarding the invasion, which throughout the game lets you know what’s going on with everyone else. With that said, the game is fully voice acted, but while some of it is pretty decent, its majority feels completely off and doesn’t fit the world in which the game takes place nor its characters. However, the game’s soundtrack can be pretty soothing as well as thrilling and hectic, and it was composed by none other than Arkadiusz Reikowski, who also worked in some famous titles like Observer and Layers of Fear.
Steel Rats is all about the gameplay, and it stands both as its strongest and weakest point. The game is as linear as it could be, so while mission objectives tend to vary, you’re still pretty much just racing everywhere trying to do everything as quickly as possible in order to get to the next area of the level or to the exit. There are a few levels in which you’re being chased, and the environment is collapsing, and I found these to be the most fun and entertaining. The rest of the game, while not bad, just leaves me craving for something more.
On each level, there are a series of bonus objectives that you can complete, ranging from performing wheelies, double jumps, to not losing any characters or using a repair station during the level. In exchange for completing these, you’re rewarded with junk, which you can use to purchase skins for your characters and motorbikes, as well as passives upgrades, like extra health, increased damage, or further improving your character abilities. Oh yes, there’s that! Each one of your characters has a few unique abilities that are better than others when dealing with certain enemies. I found the ability to change between characters on the fly to really boost the diversity and flow of the combat, but I wish there was more to the characters than just that.
Now, let’s talk about how the game actually handles. First of all, I have to say that it took me a while before I got used to the controls and how the bike handled, and that is mainly due to the 2.5D perspective from which the game is played, as well as the fact that you’re constantly changing lanes. With that said, sometimes, if you try to change the direction you’re going right before you’re about to hit something like a wall, you can notice that the bike will behave very weirdly as you slowly try to turn around, and the same thing happens if you happen to land upside down. There are these sections where you have to turn your front wheel into a “wheel saw” (which can also shred through enemies and obstacles) in order to attach yourself to a series of pipes that allow you to traverse the various levels in multiple ways, but when you happen to land upside down and you have to turn around in order to proceed, it’s really hard to figure out the way that the bike is going to be facing when it straightens itself back up. Still, the biggest issue that I have with the game is that when there are these precision platforming segments, the game is really difficult to handle, as it’s difficult to tell if your trajectory is good in order to perform a certain maneuver. Perhaps I’m just a noob.
I’m honestly not sure how this issue could be fixed, as I think the controls are absolutely great, which leaves me to wonder if the physics are at fault here. It’s also worth noting that this is one of those games that is best played with a controller. Even despite the fact that you can change the keyboard controls, I honestly don’t believe that you can make it feel as intuitive as the game is when played with a thumbstick. Also, while the game runs absolutely fine for me, as my frame rate pretty much stays above 100 all the time, for some reason, I still experience some stuttering on a few occasions, and I can’t really pinpoint the reason behind it, it’s just random. Enough rambling.
As far as the game combat goes, it does its job well. The amount of enemy types that you’ll run into is not really worth dabbling, because while they do look intriguing from a visual standpoint, in terms of actual gameplay, the majority of them do all the same, either they run at you, or they shoot at you, they don’t have any really crazy abilities that you have to watch out for. While the weapons and abilities at your disposal are fairly limited, they’re more than enough to deal with anything that the game throws at you. With all that in mind, I have to say that if combat is something you’re looking for, you might not have that great of a time here.
Now, if there’s one thing that struck me when I first saw the game in action, was the game’s art direction. It does a great job in building up an unsettling atmosphere, while also conveying vital information about the gameplay itself. Things that you can pick up tend to be yellow or gold and flashy, while enemies are predominantly red or emit some sort of red light. Each of your characters is also associated with a specific color, which also tends to reflect in their abilities. This means that even during combat, it’s pretty easy to tell what’s going on.
It took me around seven hours to beat the game, which I found to be just right because if the game dragged on for a little longer, I’d probably start to get bored of it. Each level is relatively short, and you can easily beat most of them in about three minutes or so, and there are even a few bonus objectives that give you this task. Still, I found the level design to be quite good actually, as it makes quite good use of how the driving handles.
Steel Rats is a decent game for what it is, but I wouldn’t really recommend it if you’re looking for something new, or if you’re looking for the next gaming masterpiece, but if you’re looking for a few good hours of fun, Steel Rats might be a worthwhile addition to your library.