Released for both consoles (Playstation 4 and Xbox One) and PC, Steel Rats is Tate Multimedia’s take on a mashup of genres that emphasizes 2D trial-like motorcycle action and classic 2D platforming combat. Our review is based on the console version.
Testing Steel Rats for this review wasn’t actually the first time we went hands on with the game – it was actually part of one of the more interesting meetings we had at Gamescom this year, where Tate had set up a giant robot with multiple monitors to host playable code for the game. As a fan of classic 2D action games like Abuse and Turrican and someone who enjoys games like Trials as well, I was immediately sold and couldn’t wait for November.
The titular Steel Rats is a biker gang in a retro futuristic world that’s going up against an invading alien army of robots – the Junkbots. With the focus in Steel Rats being firmly on the on-screen action, the story serves more like a backdrop – told a little bit like an old sci-fi cartoon through some cutscenes.
The action itself is somewhat cinematic in nature as well, with the view zooming in and out for dramatic effect as you approach a jump, open space or enemy confrontation. It probably takes some getting used to if you’re a Trials purist as it can tricky to gauge a distance, but Steel Rats isn’t really as much about stunt bike racing as Ubisoft’s franchise is.
Instead, vehicular acrobatics and combat are mostly just the gameplay mode of choice for Steel Rats’ unique blend of action adventure. That doesn’t mean that you’re not performing amazing stunts, flipping upside down while firing on some aliens, but Steel Rats isn’t the test of skill that Trials fusion is – with much less of an emphasis on precise timing, momentum and your ability to string moves together. If you were hoping for something like Trials but in a different setting, then Steel Rats probably isn’t what you’re looking for.
Instead, you’ve got a crew of four bikers – each with their own riding style and special weapon to head into combat with. If one of you falls in combat, you can restart with one of the remaining three. This also adds a little replayability to the game, though the levels and the campaign structure don’t change much – it only affects the way that battles play out and (in rare cases) how you tackle a level’s obstacles.
Steel Rats is way more forgiving than Trials outside of the stunt department too, but not always for the better. There are hardly any opportunities to really wipe out with your bike, and even a head-first collision into a wall or obstacle doesn’t have much of a consequence. Instead, it merely stops you in your tracks – which unfortunately also kills the momentum a little, in moments where your bike suddenly feels like a heavy and clunky beast that needs backing up.
When Steel Rats flows, however, it’s a lot of fun. The setting is interesting and is nicely realized, and the mashup of platforming, stunt bikes and vehicular combat works well. In a season filled with AAA titles it may feel a tad underwhelming in scope, but it’s a smaller title that’s a lot of fun to play and doesn’t shy away from mixing things up a bit. If you, like me, enjoy two or all of the genres that Steel Rats brings together, then you’ll probably have a lot of fun with it. Just don’t go into it expecting Trials.