Steel Rats Review
In my mind, I like to think Steel Rats was conceived at 3am by a load of drunken game devs. Stumbling home, one of them drunkenly slurs, “Listen, listen, I’ve got… an idea. Let’s make a game, right, that’s a 2.5D action platformer, with stunt-based brawling,” he says, waving his beer around, spilling liquid on his friends’ trousers. “And it’s about a biker gang in a dieselpunk version of the 1940s, where they fight against robots made of junk, and they all ride motorcycles with saw-blades for wheels!”
Despite the effort to make the game undefinable, one thing is certain: Steel Rats is loads of fun.
The basic premise is that a bunch of junk has gained sentience – which is definitely nothing to do with the mysterious floating orb at the junkyard – and the reanimated bathtubs and car engines are now enacting a murderous rampage on the home of the eponymous Steel Rats. There is a story, of sorts, and it’s revealed over the course of the missions through some gorgeous cutscenes. It’s fairly simplistic stuff, but a welcome addition which adds a splash of gravitas to proceedings.
It’s a great looking game in general, and the environments, characters, and enemies have clearly been crafted with love. Throughout the journey to discover more, and hopefully stop, the invasion of the junkbots – again, definitely nothing to do with the orb – you tear your way through a variety of rural and urban settings.
This ain’t no Sunday drive, though. While making your way through each level, you are constantly under attack by a wide variety of junkbots. These enemies range from the cute and fun-sized, through to giant, lumbering War of the Worlds mechanoids. Fortunately, each member of the biker crew is more than capable of bashing, electrocuting, or buzz-sawing the various enemies back into their constituent parts.
There are four characters that you can play: bearded bossman James, inventive young Toshi, sassy racer Lisa, and… Randy. I think Randy is meant to be German. I’m really not sure. Other than that, they’re a fun bunch, and voiced well. Each of them also has a signature fighting style, and at some points this game almost feels like a bike-based version of Street Fighter. When you’re in the flow it’s super fun, and there’s something immensely satisfying about the momentary resistance enemies have to your saw-blade wheels, before they explode into a plethora of glowing scrap.
Destroying your enemies rewards you with junk, which you can use to unlock additional health and abilities for each of your riders. There’s also the ever-present cosmetic stuff, but at least nothing is locked behind a paywall, so if you want it, it’s there.
Despite the fairly exotic window dressing, what lurks underneath the hood of Steel Rats is a familiar and well-designed take on the Trials bike games. The dev, Tate Multimedia, has made similar games before, and Steel Rats seems to be their effort to add a bit of freshness to proceedings.
With 2.5 dimensions to play in, the controls are somewhat different from the kind of bike game you’re more used to. For a start, you’re not constrained to only moving in one direction. You can turn your hog around, and move through levels in multiple dimensions. The levels are fun to blast through, and while the camera can sometimes be disorientating, it does a good job of keeping you on the action most of the time. The only thing I found frustrating was the lack of guidance from the game for certain areas, where getting through a section became a case of dying enough to memorise the patterns of obstacles.
All in all, Steel Rats is a great genre mashup, and Tate has done a fantastic job of bashing together a load of different ideas that, in practice, probably shouldn’t have worked as well as they have. The design is spot on, the gameplay is fun, and the sound, music, and art direction is fantastic. Now excuse me while I go and fit saw-blades to a motorbike.
What do you mean, that’s not legal?