Steel Empire (PC) Review

By Gabriel Jones 15.09.2018

Review for Steel Empire on PC

In an age ruled by metal and steam, two nations are engaged in constant war. The Republic of Silverhead, known throughout for its brave soldiers, has launched a desperate attack on the Motorhead Empire. The cruelty of this Steel Empire has gone unchecked for far too long. For the forces of good, this is their last chance to crush evil and put an end to war. Is there any nobler cause? No, of course there isn't. Now quit fretting over rhetorical questions and prepare for battle.

When it comes to Mega Drive shmups, there are two classics that immediately come to mind: Thunder Force IV and MUSHA. Although they are certainly great, the real strength of the 16-bit console's STG library was in its diversity. There was, to put it simply, something for everyone. Fire Shark, one of Toaplan's best, received an impressive console port. There was Gynoug, which married traditional horizontally-scrolling action with surrealistic art-direction. Anyone willing to put themselves through the fires of Hell could hunt down a copy of Undeadline. Alternatively, they could pick up Hellfire, another solid arcade shooter.

Lying amongst this treasure trove of underrated STG goodness is Steel Empire. As with most other popular shmups of the 16-bit era, this one offers a side-view perspective, and a collection of horizontal and vertical scrolling missions. Where it begins to set itself apart from the rest is in the overall structure. Before each of the seven missions, players are prompted to choose the Etopirica or the Zappellon. The Etopirica is a biplane that excels in speed, while the Zappellon is a zeppelin, built to dole out a lot of punishment. While there is some strategy in using the right ship for each mission, pilots should rely on their skills to overcome the deficiencies of their chosen ride.

Screenshot for Steel Empire on PC

This is also one of those exceedingly rare games where the player-ship has a health meter. Indeed, all a collision with a bullet does is drain a little bit of life. Some weapons do more damage than others, but it's impossible for one to be destroyed by a single hit, unless, of course, their health is in the red. Hearts are generously placed throughout each of the seven missions, so staying alive isn't terribly hard. Extra lives are also fairly common, making this an easy shmup to get into. Naturally, experts will strive to complete all of the missions without ever taking damage.

What is perhaps the most interesting aspect of Steel Empire is how it demands players to respect both sides of the screen. Usually, in horizontally-scrolling shooters, it's safer to stay way in the back, allowing for more time to react to enemies and their bullets. That's definitely not the case here, as most stages feature assaults from all sides. The centre tends to be the safest place to be, although that also changes depending on the situation. It isn't uncommon for bosses to move from one side of the screen to the other. Driving the point home even further is the fact that there aren't any warning signals when enemies approach. Staying way in the back is a great way to get blindsided. Thankfully, the player-ship can fire in either direction.

Screenshot for Steel Empire on PC

Altogether, this is a good shmup that deserves a spot in anyone's library. Steampunk games don't come around very often, and this one captures the look quite nicely. The soundtrack, provided by industry legend Noriyuki Iwadare, perfectly accompanies the on-screen action. Each mission is nicely varied, although the finale can be a little exhausting. The last boss just doesn't know when to quit. Also, the frame-rate can sometimes feel a little dodgy. Still, this is a cult classic for a reason, so be sure to check it out.

Back in 2004, this game was remade for the Game Boy Advance. Aside from the obvious audiovisual makeover, a handful of bosses were changed. Some of the enemy formations and attack patterns were also different. That aside, there aren't any significant changes like a revamped scoring system. The basic structure and mechanics remain. In other words, anyone familiar with the previous title will have absolutely no trouble jumping into this one. The 2014 Nintendo 3DS version saw even more visual enhancements, as well as other fixes.

The Steam version is, by most metrics, just fine. All seven missions are accounted for, including the ridiculous multiform last boss. There are absolutely no problems with the controls, and essential aspects like proper hit-boxes are accounted for. It also carries over the achievement system from the 3DS edition. Unlocking all of the achievements will require players to beat the game on the hardest difficulty, without losing lives or using screen-clearing bombs.

Screenshot for Steel Empire on PC

Chalk it up to experience, but this edition seems to be easier than the Mega Drive original. Perhaps this is a side effect of a couple decades' worth of experience with shmups, as well as the rough edges of the 16-bit game getting smoothed out. By the second play-through, this reviewer had already managed to clear the hardest difficulty without continuing. Granted, a handful of lives and bombs were lost, so it's not quite flawless play. Still, considering that the bulk of the deaths can be attributed to the finale, it leaves large stretches of the game feeling a little dull.

The average play-through takes about an hour, which is surprisingly lengthy for an STG. Interestingly enough progress can be saved in-between missions. The player can also save and view replays. Finally, there's a practice mode, which is always nice to have. It's a shame the 1992 game couldn't be included, as well. While it has an iffy frame-rate, this piece of history is still worth revisiting.

Screenshot for Steel Empire on PC

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

On its own, Steel Empire is a fine shmup. As a remake, however, it's a bit lacking. The level design and mechanics were left mostly unchanged, and the lack of difficulty will leave veterans feeling empty. An overhaul of the scoring system, one that promoted riskier play, would help this title stand out in an excessively-crowded market. That said, it does a fine job of occupying one's time. Also, it will surely appeal to those out there who haven't yet developed a taste for one-hit-kills, and thousands of tiny neon bullets.

Developer

Mebius

Publisher

Teyon

Genre

Shooter

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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