Grind Your Gears
Steel Rats essentially takes all the elements of your favorite motorcycle and racing games and merges them into one. Take the racing element of ExciteBike, mix it with the balancing and tricks of Trials, and throw in some weaponry from Twisted Metal, and then place it all in a gritty Mad Max-like apocalyptic world and you would get Steel Rats.
Even though you are on a motorcycle, this isn’t a racing game. Instead, the goal is to reach the end of the stage while avoiding obstacles, attacking and defending against enemies, and simply staying on track by not falling down pits and grinding through magnetic loops. This puts a stronger emphasis on level design and narrative although the ladder is pretty weak, composed of awful voice acting and nonsensical plot points.
The main gimmick relies on the ability to grind the front wheel of the bike like a sawblade and bash through enemies and parts of the environment. Once enemies are defeated, they leave behind scrap which can be used to level up each rider and their unique abilities. This RPG mechanic forces the player to use combat in creative ways and the different unlockable characters can be swapped at will. For example, the player can grind through enemies with the buzzsaw, sure, or they can smash them from above with a powerful wheelie, zap them from a distance with a hovering drone, or even reflect bullets back by swinging the rear wheel. New enemies are also introduced to the player, each with its own unique attack qualities, and boss battles cap each set of stages. For a lane maneuvering motorcycle game, there is more variety here than you might think.
Besides the lacking story and voice acting, the biggest problem I had with Steel Rats is actually the 2.5D track and perspective. In ExciteBike, for comparison, the player tapped up or down to switch between determined lanes. Here in Steel Rats, the player can freely move up and down, not limited to individual lanes, but this makes some areas frustrating as it is difficult to know where exactly to be at any given moment due to the fast pace and chaos that can ensue on each stage. Further, the only way to grind on the very top or very bottom of the playable area is to hold up or down without letting go. It sounds like it shouldn’t be an issue but when everything is moving so fast, especially with the environment collapsing and enemies attacking, this makes some stages frustrating instead of fun. Some of the magnetic rails also don’t work as they should and the control scheme in general has a bit of a learning curve. Some areas are rather challenging, require some trial and error, and could have used a more lenient checkpoint system.
Despite some flaws, Steel Rats is still a worthwhile title to consider during this busy holiday gaming season especially if you are looking for a new spin on the Trials formula.
Also available on PC.
Makes You Want: ExciteBike World Rally to still be online
Also Waitch: that gravity defying motorcycle scene in Final Fantasy VII Advent Children
Also Try: meeting the Rat in DeadLight