Tired of old-school vertical or horizontal shoot-em-ups (shmup), the kind that scrolls onwards relentlessly and has you memorizing levels to the point where you can remember when specific waves of baddies emerge and even plot a course to best dodge their bullets?
Well, it is pretty obvious that we are not talking about doujin shmups in this article (so don’t expect to get a whiff of the Touhou Project or any mention of the recent Tale of Allytynex). We are instead covering a different breed of shooter; the kind that gives you free reign over where you want to go and what you want to do.
In Steel Storm: Burning Retribution, a fun and challenging top down arcade shooter from Kot-in-Action Creative Artel, you get to explore huge levels, pick up powerful weapons, and engage enemies on your own terms. There’s definitely value for money in this little gem of a shmup!
What you get
Upon firing up Steel Storm, you will notice the game offers three modes – single player, multiplayer, and an editor. If you look carefully at the setup menu, you might feel like you have seen some semblance of this before – there’s a profile, a control setup page (keyboard or gamepad), sound options, and language selection. This funny feeling of déjà vu is because the game uses the Darkplaces engine, which is essentially an overhaul of the Quake 1 engine featuring improved graphics and image quality.
In the single player mode, you get to choose from starting a tutorial campaign or a 19 mission main campaign (that bears the title of Burning Retribution); you also get 6 extra missions. In multiplayer mode, you have the option of hosting a server or joining a Campaign, Deathmatch or Catch the Flag game. In the former, you can choose to play unlocked missions from the main campaign. Deathmatch multiplayer offers you 6 maps to choose from, while CTF multiplayer offers you another 4. If you feel the number of missions are not enough, you can always create your own missions with the in-built editor; it’s quite intuitive, so don’t be surprised if you finish building a mission in under one hour.
Steel Storm: Burning Retribution sees you fighting off numerous waves of enemy tanks throughout its entire campaign story. The missions also come with primary and secondary objectives like destroying all enemies in an area, hacking into terminals, destroying structures guarded by pesky mechanized turrets, picking up keys to deactivate shields, enabling buildings by slotting in an special key, and so on. Mission levels are huge, and they are often populated with teleporters that have you flitting around a map. Luckily, you can access an in-game map to see where you and your objectives are located, so don’t worry too much about getting yourself lost.
Enemies come in several varieties. First off, are the turrets – there are four kinds: light plasma, heavy beam, rocket, and repair. The latter turret type is the most irritating of the lot; imagine the chaos in a mission as enemies are zapped back to life by a repair turret. Next up, are tanks. They include a lightning tank – an agile scout vehicle which has the ability of stunning the player, a standard light tank (the equivalent of a standard foot soldier), a stronger medium tank, and two rather tough heavy tank mini-bosses. You will also find two mega-bosses that surprised me with their shmup-like attack tactics.
To defend yourself against the aforementioned array of enemies, you will have to rely on the different weapon pickups you find in the game. The most interesting of these are the “storm” weapons – especially the five bullet spreader and circular bullet shield, “rocket” weapons – the homing missiles look really cool, and the “beam cannon” weapons – a searing wide beam of death that’s designed to deliver massive damage. There’s even a “booster” weapon that moves your vehicle at twice the normal speed. You can easily switch between weapons at special terminals or by running over a weapon pickup.
Mission levels portray several different environments: a frozen landscape, a desert planet, a military base, and so on. These maps are loaded with lots of destructable objects – trees, plants, stone, crystals, and more; destroying stuff is the name of the game in Steel Storm: Burning Retribution. More importantly, for every barrel or container you destroy, you might find yourself collecting the much needed armor and shield replenishment pickups. Nothing beats picking up that rare Extra Life though!
The main campaign is humongous, you could easily clock 10 hours of gameplay and still not reach the final mission. The developer however could have done more in the story department, the campaign’s back story never really introduces anything of importance. Being an indie game, we also understand why there is a lack of AAA style videos to advance the storyline; at least in Steel Storm: Burning Retribution, the action does make up for this.
The weapon selection is quite good, with different shooting styles to suit almost any kind of player. A handful of enemy tanks and turrets make up the enemies you will face in the game, while the two mega-bosses will really tax you to the limit. Needless to say, the game could have done really well with a rich selection of enemy models for that added dash of spice. As it is, you will feel that foreboding sense of repetitive gameplay after facing your umpteenth swarm of light and medium tanks.
The Darkplaces engine makes the game looks really, we really love that cel-shaded look. However, we felt the sound effects were generally about average, with not enough variety to go around. We did find the music too jarring in some instances, preferring to mute these tracks when they were playing in the background. Also, in emulating the old-school shooter feel, you are forced to play through the entire game from a top-down view – this is quite a disappointment considering the game is using a modified Quake engine, we would gladly welcome a first-person or third-person view at any time.
Tip: If you complete the single player main campaign, you will get rewarded with an alternative camera view. However, we feel that this feature comes way too late.
Finally, Steel Storm: Burning Retribution comes with a free modification known as Armored Mechanized Mobile Operations. Word is, this MOBA like game will be seeing Early Access on Steam in the third week of September. So keep a look-out for it!