As the indie game market continues to grow, we thought it would be timely to kick off 2011 with another game review. Steel Storm, a game produced by a small company called Kot in Action Creative Artel, is a top-down arcade shooter that puts you in control of a small futuristic aircraft. Like the addictive space shooters of the past, Steel Storm keeps the action and explosions coming.
Steel Storm: Episode I is available for free download for Linux, Mac, and Windows. Episode II is still in beta, but those who pre-order at a reduced price can play the beta version now. This review will cover Episode I.
Steel Storm is very pleasing to the eyes. Do not let the words “top down” fool you. Although it functions like a 2D top-down shooter, the game is actually rendered in 3D, giving you the full depth of each level, ship, and obstacle. Weapons fire and explosions are as bright and colorful as you would expect from a modern 3D shooter.
Steel Storm includes advanced graphics features like dynamic lighting and anti-aliasing, which make the game look stunning, compared to others in its genre. With moderate graphics settings, it worked well on both my 2.6Ghz quad core desktop and my Intel Atom/Nvidia Ion-based netbook.
You can choose different camera positions for your ship, which is particularly useful if you prefer a slightly angular view rather than straight top down.
The Linux version of the game came with both 32-bit and 64-bit executables, making it easy to install and run. To begin the game, you create a player profile and are immediately given options to start the action. The game supports multiple graphics resolutions and fit my 1440×900 precisely.
Episode I includes single-player campaigns, where the player must fight enemies, collect power-ups, and complete specified mission objectives. It also has the type of multi-player functionality you would expect in a first-person shooter, with death match and cooperative play. You can join currently running servers or host your own public or private death matches or campaigns. Do not expect to find a lot people in active matches, but that may change over time.
For even more extensibility, Steel Storm also has a level editor, allowing you to create your own campaigns and death matches. The editor is easy to use and builds upon already established level designs.
The default control scheme uses the mouse and keyboard, but the control system is customizable and supports the use of a gamepad. I found the gamepad to be more appropriate for this type of game, using one analog stick to control movement, and the other to aim.
The average enemy ship is pretty easy to defeat, although it will still require dodging and hiding behind safe objects. Stationary guns also pose a threat, particularly if ships are also attacking at the same time. Some larger ships are more intelligent and require a bit more strategy, but you should not have much trouble defeating them one-on-one. The real challenge is taking on multiple ships at once. The most enjoyable weaponry are the missiles, and once you have them, you will definitely want to make use of them to quickly take out nearby enemies with one clustered shot.
Unlike some retro top-down shooters, Steel Storm actually requires you to do other things besides just shooting. You must find ways to open force fields, destroy enemy installations, and escape certain areas within a given amount of time. All of this adds a little more thought to the game, which is good if you like that type of gameplay and bad if you only wanted to blow things up.
Finding your way through a level to complete tasks can be confusing at times, but fortunately, there is a map to help you figure out where you have been and where you need to go.
Steel Storm is fun, and the added features make it a game you could potentially enjoy for hours. For multi-player fun, you may need to schedule matches with friends, but it should be easy to pick up, even for casual gamers. Considering it is free of charge, you get quite a lot, including the source code. Steel Storm’s gaming engine is licensed under the GNU General Public License, meaning you could conceivably create your own maps and enemies for it.
This game will not revolutionize shooters, and the strategy will not keep you up at night, but the gameplay is addictive enough to warrant the purchase. I give Steel Storm a perfect 5 out of 5.