Steel Rats Review – Charming, Stylish, But Needs a Tune-Up

Steel Rats Review

Though it may not have been entirely well received Ghost Rider was one of my favorite games to spend hours and hours on for the PS2. Not only was it fun as hell to beat up bad guys due to its hack and slash nature, but the parts where you got to ride the motorcycle squashing demons was especially fun. What caught my eye with Steel Rats is that it combines the two elements I loved so much from Ghost Rider, promising a combat experience without having to get off the bike once. Steel Rats may be a completely different genre, in a completely different decade, but it’s still a charming attempt at something truly unique.

Steel Rats starts off with a cutscene that will effectively capture your attention and get your engine roaring so to speak. You’re on a mission, as a group of four bikers, to stop the invading Junkbot forces and to retake the Coastal City. You’ll have to complete multiple levels in five different districts of the city, destroying everything and anything you come across along the way.

While you’ll start out as Toshi, as you play through the levels you’ll slowly unlock the other three characters: James, Randall, and Lisa. Each of the four characters have unique abilities and skills, and you’re able to switch between them all at any given time during each and every level. Of course, you might just find you prefer one or two characters over the others, and that’s fine too. Whichever character you choose to rely on most, the entire game is based on completing the levels quickly whilst trying to cut your way through as many enemies and metal barriers as possible to earn currency. Like many other platformer games, the faster you complete the level, while completing the tasks shown at the main screen before diving in, the more bonuses you can earn. These rewards in turn help unlock different abilities, skins, and weapons for your characters and bikes. If you complete the levels and find the secret hidden within, you’ll also get to see more into the lives of the characters, as each secret unlocks a cutscene. Truthfully, and rather unfortunately, there isn’t much of a story here, as you’re really just playing through the levels, being treated to the occasional cutscene throughout.

Motorcycle Platforming Goals

With that said however, the level design is really what this game is all about. Not only is the gameplay and level design creative, but impressive, as each and every level has different layers to it. Though Steel Rats is a side scrolling 2.5D platformer, there are elevators that need to be activated, ramps that need to be quickly u-turned onto, pipes that need to be climbed vertically or upside down, and this adds a ton of enjoyment, and a little strategy, to the game. In fact, you really need to pay attention to which side of the screen you need to maneuver the bike to, as one small misstep and you can miss a ramp and be falling to your death. Just a minor penalty surely, but it will set you back to the last checkpoint and will seemingly make hitting the completion time goal that much harder. That, paired with the simplistic combat design of simple dash or chainsaw attacks, and ultimates, you’ll make quick work of your enemies, even if they do become more aggressive the further you venture into the depths of the junk bots territory.

What hits this game hard though is a complete lack of customization for each of the characters. Call me crazy, but without a story or a way to really stay invested, the game really loses its momentum the more you continue playing. There’s no denying that the combat system is a damn good time and the level design is impressive, but without something to hold my attention, I found myself losing interest towards the end. Had there been more reasons to keep playing, other than seeing how it would all end, like earnable skins for the four characters and bikes, the latter part of the game would’ve been just as enjoyable as the first levels.

PAX West 2018

What’s worse is that the entirety of Steel Rats is played solo, with absolutely no co-op or multiplayer options available. After playing through the game it’s understandable why there isn’t a multiplayer game mode, but it seems like a wasted opportunity by Tate Multimedia to not have included a co-op mode. The game is, no doubt, a good time even playing on your own, however it would’ve added another layer to the game to be able to play it with some pals, kicking the crap out of junk bots together.

Style for Days

But at least you’ll sound amazing while playing on your own because despite its issues, Steel Rats is a true manifestation of style. From the crisp 2.5D graphics that are just plain nice to look at to the amazing and crisp detail shown in each and every one of the cutscenes, the art style is bang on here. The only thing that really makes it better is how every little action within the game comes paired with a glorious palette of sound. Combat sounds like slicing through armor, riding on the pipes sounds like an amplified zipper noise and every clang of the game, from beginning to end is worth taking in.

It’s frustrating that a game that oozes style from nearly every facet can need a mechanical tune up so badly. With more fine tuned controls, and more meat on its bones, this could’ve been an absolute home run for the developer. Instead, despite all of its charm, Steel Rats simply fails to really hold the players attention for its entire journey and it’s a real shame.

*** Xbox One code provided by the publisher ***

The Good

  • Stylish as hell
  • Sounds awesome
  • Level design is impressive

The Bad

  • Controls are a bit touchy
  • Not much of a story here
  • Lack of customization