Steel Rain X is a bit of a unique title. You see, never before have I felt the urge to play something which mixes up multiple genres that are so far apart that it is not worth even thinking about. From the fast paced, lightning reflexed side scrolling shooting world, full of enemies and high score collecting, the development team at Polarity Flow have decided to mix in a slow, stupidly in-depth, rather god-like planet saving RPG that requires the complete opposite: patience, perseverance and thinking.
And there was me thinking I was going to be on nothing but a fast train to bulletstorm hell!
It’s certainly a strange old mix but as long as you’re prepared to invest equal time into both situations, will find something that can satisfy multiple urges…perhaps not fully, but enough to let you get on with life without too much worry. If you don’t though, then you’ll no doubt be left wondering what exactly Steel Rain X is trying to achieve. It’s probably about now when it’ll be best if I break everything included down into its component parts. And believe me, there are many of them.
Your very first option will be to choose your game mode, and it is here where you’ll get to determine just how far you wish to go with Steel Rain. The Arcade and Survival modes do exactly what they say on the tin, bringing the shoot em up side of the game to the masses, without needing to worry about any other distractions. High score collection and various difficulty levels ensure that these two options will quite possibly bring enough joy to those just wanting a quick hit of intensity. There is even an editor mode included which gives you the option of creating your own stage, but beware, the process is mind numbingly laborious and this will quite possibly only appeal to a very small subset of gamers. As such, it shouldn’t really be seen as much of a selling point.
But that’s fine, because running alongside these is the full Campaign – the main draw for anyone wishing to get the most out of what Steel Rain X has to dish up. The main meat and drink of this, or at least what you’ll initially think is the main meat and drink, is in the shoot em up side. A side scroller, it’s super fast, and full of enemies, pickups and explosions as you take your ship – or 2 Wings to give them their correct name – from one end of the stage to the other…saving multiple worlds from alien forces in the process. Never will you be spending too long in any run through either as the majority of the 27 or so battles will be over in less than five minutes flat.
It’s this short, sharp and intense environment which allows Steel Rain to prosper.
Now, you may think that this is no different from the numerous other shmup titles that we’ve seen over the years, and from the outside you’d be about right. But your wings in Steel Rain X come in various forms – three in fact – and you’ll need to utilise all varieties in order to succeed.
Your most used flying formation sees your little fighter equipped with forward firing weapons, picking off on-comers from a distance. At any time however you can instantly switch to another firing type which also attacks those coming from the rear, above or below, dishing out slightly less forward firing damage in the process. Alternatively, a couple of very powerful up-close and personal beams can be used to remove any close by threat, all whilst allowing for easier retrieval of all important pickups as you go.
Attached to the X, Y, and B buttons, changing your tactics on the fly is super simple, extremely quick and remarkably fluid. In fact, Steel Rain X does pretty much everything you could wish for in a shooter.
But the three different wing types aren’t your only concern as multiple colours seemingly alter the weapons and shielding abilities too. These are upgradable as you progress through each stage, and the game as a whole, with multiple pickups either changing your weapons or powering them up massively. What you begin a level with will, almost certainly, not be what you end it equipped with and the delight found in switching between a whole multitude of weapons is rather brilliant.
With battery pickups alternating between the weapon colours and each coming equipped with a quick countdown timer, what you pick up, and when you do so, is completely in your hands. Currently find yourself as the ultimate force of destruction? Stick with it. Want to find something to help you in the battle just a little more? Grab those collectibles and see what happens. The universe is pretty much your oyster.
The enemies you’ll come across throughout your travels are reasonably varied too, with multiple enemy and weapon types, from big to small, hard to weak or fast and slow showing for enough variety in Steel Rain X so as not to get bored. No matter what is coming your way though, it does all ultimately come down to constant shooting and quick reflex dodging. But it’s all good fun nonetheless.
Situated in the heart of Steel Rain X, and working wonderfully alongside all the manic tendencies of the crazy shooting, is a slower paced, basic Sim-city style element which may just seem like a bit of a tacked on extra. If you think that though, then you couldn’t be further from the truth.
Giving you control over numerous planets, with small grid areas to establish your home, this allows you to create small colonies which in turn power the whole experience. You’ll need to populate each globe, research plenty of tech and constantly fight off your colonised habitats from alien forces throughout. It’s pretty time consuming, especially as you sit around waiting for your next big technological advancement, new item or prototype upgrades to take hold, but ignore it and you’ll find yourself getting short shrift from Steel Rain X.
It is however here, with this less exciting game aspect, where things drop down a couple of notches. With nearly everything on the shooting side working perfectly, it’s unfortunate that scrabbling through the necessary menus, especially when trying to pinpoint your next research project is a bit tiresome, with inconsistent controls bringing forward a little annoyance. Granted, it’s simple enough to colonise your planets, but much of what you are left to do is pretty random, with far too much hopping between menus needed for any real progression. There isn’t even a nailed down menu navigation option in place either, occasionally leaving you to use the thumbsticks to move around, whilst other times you need to control a small dotted cursor. I’ve lost count at the number of times I’ve sat there hitting the B button to go back in the menus, only to find out that the area I’m in requires a cursor movement instead.
With its slight issues, Steel Rain X does indeed turn out to be a bit of a strange one. A full on slow burner, you may well be initially left wondering at the best way to attack it. If truth be told, once you get past the opening few shooting stages, and begin to embrace the RPG side for what it is, it turns out to be a pretty damn decent shoot em up, containing enough depth to suit those looking for a game to get their teeth fully into. Oh, and it also becomes very, very, addictive especially when you team up with a second player and let them control your ever helpful drone.
I would, on a personal level, prefer a game that focuses more on any of the main mechanics a bit more, perhaps mastering them first instead of becoming a jack of all. And it would have been lovely to see a proper two player cooperative option in place, with two ships/four wings dishing out the ultimate justice, but if you’re prepared to check out something a little different, then Steel Rain X is worth a shot.