Review by Matt S.
I write the following without the slightest hint of hyperbole or aggression; it is a simple fact that Steel Rivals is the worst game I have ever played. Bar none. It’s a shoddy and poorly conceived fighting game that fails to have any personality or value to it.
I’ve played some bad fighting games back in the day. Anyone who had a Nintendo 64 would have, because the only fighting games on that console that weren’t Smash Brothers were of the dubious “quality” of Mace: The Dark Ages or War Gods. But those games were breathtaking works of art compared to Steel Rivals.
The idea behind it was sound enough, I guess; it’s a weapons-based fighting game where a bunch of heroes from what I think is meant to be European history and mythology square off against one another using a range of swords, shields, and battering weapons against one another. There’s even a couple of mythical beasts thrown in for good measure. So in a vague sense Steel Rivals seems to want to be like Soulcalibur only playing out on a 2D plain rather than offering full 3D movement.
The problems are immediately apparent, and they are too numerous for me to bother doing the full review with. I’m offended that this game wasted my time, and so I’m going to do the lazy thing and simply list some of the more grevious errors that Steel Rivals makes. If this list can’t convince you that it’s a worthless game, well, it’s your life, I guess.
1) Characters have no personality whatsoever.
Characters are not voiced. They all move exactly the same way across the battlefield, only some (the ones with little weapons) are a slight touch faster than others. They don’t even do victory poses to celebrate when they win. There seems to be some weird attempt to throw fanservice in with half naked characters, but fan service needs there to be fans in the first place to work, and fans generally become fans because they like the characters – which in turn implies there should be some characterisation first. When the only significant individualisation that comes through is that the weapons the characters wield are different to one another, there aren’t going to be fans of these characters. Ever.
2) The game is ugly as sin.
There is nothing attractive about the game on any level. Environments are boring, static, and bland. Character models are seriously lacking in detail and animate jankily. There’s an odd plastic sheen over the characters too, which makes them look like mannequins (and unlike the girls from the early Dead or Alive games, we’re not talking about nice mannequins here).
There are no special effects to speak of, with even the most complex combos looking more like an amateur is wildly throwing around a sword and hoping for the best. The most impressive thing about the characters is their jump button, which for some reason has the character jumping four or so times their height, which is as ridiculous as it sounds. It’s like a cast of flea men and women.
3) Unity was the wrong engine for this kind of game.
Unity makes some really lovely games; think Never Alone or Layers of Fear. But here a combination of cheap art assets, poor programming and a low budget have come together to show every possible flaw in the Unity engine, and highlight that there is a downside to allowing developers to use an engine to produce commercial projects for virtually nothing; in the wrong hands the result is a true mess. Character models have that ugly sheen to them, hit detection is poor, the frame rate isn’t great, and both the special attack and block buttons would actually fail to work at times. I don’t know how this game plays on PC (not well, I suspect, I don’t blame the Wii U hardware for this one), but buttons as critical as the block button only working intermittently are completely unforgivable.
If I was a decision maker over at Unity I’d be disowning this game as fast as I could and getting my logo off it.
4) There’s no strategy to the game whatsoever.
Taking into account that the block button didn’t always activate, the only solution is to mash away on the attack buttons and hope that more attacks connect than the opponent is capable of stringing together. There’s no formalised counter system (though it is possible to interrupt an attack mid-blow by getting something in more quickly… naturally giving the fast characters a massive advantage), and the combos are simple as sin to execute – only one or two of them will be useful anyway.
5) The combat system is massively unbalanced.
As I mention above, speedy heroes have such a massive advantage in Steel Rivals that there’s next to no point to use any other character. Of course for some reason the AI is still capable of breaking attack sequences that you’d have no chance to do yourself, which brings me to my next point:
6) The AI is thickheaded but infailable.
Imagine for me, if you will, a game where the AI behaves in a perfectly predictable manner. Now imagine if that’s a fighting game and it doesn’t actually matter that you know the AI is going to do what it will do, because there will be nothing you can do about it. Steel Rival’s AI knows exactly which attacks you’re going to do as you do them, and responds – when it wants to – with perfect blocks or counters. The difference between the difficulty levels is simply that at the higher difficulty levels the AI won’t deign to let you land any attacks. At all.
7) There’s no story mode.
Not that a story mode would have saved this game, but there’s not even the slightest hint of one. Gameplay options are a single bout or a tournament mode. The tournament mode could almost have been interesting, given that it uses the same group-stage-to-knockout-quarter-finals-onwards system that the FIFA World Cup does, which is the most exciting way to structure a tournament, but that mode would have only had been worthwhile if the game itself was fun. Perhaps Dead or Alive could crib from it for the sixth game.
And I could probably go on, but seven points should, I hope, be enough to highlight that Steel Rivals is irredeemably flawed and should never have been made. I try to find the good in games, even when they are bad – if a game doesn’t work, I like to think that perhaps the concept is sound but poorly executed, or perhaps the development team is young but shows signs of promise. But Steel Rivals has none of that.
As I said, it’s irredeemable.
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld