Steel Storm: Burning Retribution [Review]
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the indie developer community, it’s that they love old school games. While major development houses and publishers focus on pushing the graphical envelope and mashing every possible type of genre into a single title, small development teams have a certain zeal for the single genre games of yesteryear. In the case of Kot In Action Creative Artel (or KIACA), it’s the classic bullet hell shoot-em-up that is near and dear to their heart. With their newest release, Steel Storm: Burning Retribution, KIACA has managed to capture the essence of beloved shooters such as Raptor and Tyrian – for better and for worse.
Just like those shareware releases of the mid 90s, Steel Storm: Burning Retribution does not bother with trivial things like characters or cutscenes. To say there is a complete lack of story in SS:BR is to put it bluntly. Each mission in the game is preceded by a wall of text detailing the objectives for the mission and shoveling out the tiniest bit of context for the player’s actions. There’s some talk about infiltrating the enemy’s base and putting a stop to their plans, but it really all boils down to blowing up anything that shoots at you. KIACA clearly wants the player’s attention focused on the action.
Fortunately for the player, the control scheme in SS:BR is quite responsive and highly customizable for anyone’s style. In each mission, the player controls their hovertank from one end of the level to the exit by use of the classic WASD-keys setup while using the mouse to aim. Along with button mapping and additional gamepad support, there is also an option for fine tuning the camera’s distance and perspective to anyone’s taste. Even though the gameplay in Steel Storm may be simple and straightforward, the level of customization is surprisingly in-depth and quite welcome. Once the player has tweaked the control scheme to his liking, it’s time to jump into the fray and blow hordes of enemies up.
Anyone who grew up playing PC games in the 90s will immediately be familiar with the pace and style of Steel Storm: Burning Retribution. Most missions in the game involve going from the start of each level to the exit while trying to survive waves upon waves of hostile forces. Just like those hallmark games of our childhood, such as Doom and Wolfenstein, there’s usually a keycard or two to be found and progress is usually marked by the appearance of hordes of new enemies. KIACA does mix things up a bit by throwing in a few (not awful) escort missions as well as tossing side objectives in for higher scores. Along the way the player will pick up extra lives, shields, and a handful of different weapon types. The various missiles, lasers, and artillery strikes gained go a long way to staying alive and help to deal with the different enemy types encountered. While these old school gaming holdovers will definitely fill the player with a gleeful sense of nostalgia, there SS:BR does bring back one rather unwelcome hallmark of the genre.
If there is one thing that really mars the overall experience of playing Steel Storm: Burning Retribution, it is the difficulty. While many games these days tend to err on the easy side, and although there is nothing wrong with a good challenge, most of the threat in SS:BR comes from the old fashioned cheap death. Enemies can come at any time and from literally anywhere as they often teleport in and instantly surround the player. A word to the wise: if during the course of a mission any progress is being made, chances are two dozen hostiles are going to appear out of thin air around you. Lives are of course limited, but there is no option for a mid-mission save. With no checkpoints on any of the game’s levels, the lengthier and more difficult missions will make most players grit their teeth in frustration as a half hour worth of progress is lost. It also does not help that losing one of your lives may cause you to lose all of your picked up power-ups, with no way to get them back. Few things are more frustrating than knowing that the exceptionally tough mission is going to be even harder now that you lost all of your weapons and shields.
This griping aside, Steel Storm: Burning Retribution is not a wholly joyless game. There are definitely moments where things hit their stride and whole waves of hostiles are torn apart as you pilot your tank deftly through enemy fire. Due to the game’s often unfair difficulty, completing a mission in one piece is quite satisfying and you’ll find yourself breathing a sigh of relief when the level’s exit comes into sight. It’s also important to note that one needn’t complete the game’s campaign alone.
Along with the game’s twenty campaign missions, SS:BR also includes a number of multiplayer options. Aside from the usual deathmatch and capture the flag modes, the entirety of Steel Storm’s can also be played cooperatively which makes the difficulty much more manageable. Also included is a rather well made level editor, which is very easy to use and could give the title lasting content — provided that it finds a proper audience. Unfortunately, at the time of review, the multiplayer servers were mostly empty so it’s too early to tell whether or not the editor will see much use.
At its heart, Steel Storm: Burning Retribution is a game which is in every way catered for its very niche audience. Your average console player or casual gamer will likely be immediately turned off by either the game’s irritating difficulty or the antiquated game play. However, for those diehard shooter or retro fans out there, SS:BR offers a nice little package of nostalgia in spite of its flaws. The impatient need not apply.