STAFF REVIEW of Steel Rain X (Xbox One)

Saturday, December 24, 2016.
by Brent Roberts

Steel Rain X Box art Having been born in the late 70's I've had the pleasure of growing up throughout the different variants of gaming for over 30 years. There is one genre though that seems to stay as constant as the North Star, and that would be the side scrolling shooter games. Back in the day we had classics like R-Type that showed us what an alien onslaught looked like and how to upgrade our ship to do incredible things. These types of games were the foundation of what we know today. Developer Polarity Flow has released Steel Rain X on the Xbox One for the price of $9.99, and my biggest question to this would be does it do enough to revitalize the genre to warrant its' price tag?

The story of Steel Rain X is one we have seen countless times before. Humanity has collapsed and we must seek to the stars to ensure our survival. Along the journey, multiple frigates come into contact with an alien species named the Xenox (not to be confused with the copy company Xerox). Hopeful of peaceful contact, humans were caught off guard and out of the three Frigates that were dispatched only one survived the attack by the Xenox. This lone Frigate escaped to an isolated planet where scientists manage to find a way to adapt and utilize the enemy weaponry for human use. From here this weapon became an adaptable starship, and at the same time, humanity's last hope for survival. While this may sound intense for a story, the way it's laid out before you in the game itself is rather disappointingm but the plus side though is that these types of games never focus on their stories at all and instead focus on screen filling action, which I'm happy to say is the case here, despite a few hiccups along the way.

The controls take some getting used to. The Left Stick moves your ship around while the X, Y, and B buttons all correspond to your ship's firing formation, which are aptly named A, B, C. Your Right and Left Bumper, along with Left Trigger, all utilize power-ups that you collect throughout the mission or purchase from the store. Each firing mode offers its own identity in terms of firing pattern, strength, armor piercing abilities, and more. Throughout the missions, as you collect the various color upgrades, your ship and it's corresponding firing pattern will grow and intensify. Once you have the firing positions down though, you'll quickly find various colors will become your preferred choice.

Now that we've established that there will be a learning curve with the controls, let's talk about the learning curve with the real soul of Steel Rain X, the RPG elements. Imagine incorporating an element that would be reminiscent of Sim City in a side scrolling shoot 'em up game and that's what you have here. Once you beat the 3 stages on a planet you can send down a probe to colonize it (for a small fee of course). When the probe lands you will see the space open up to you and this is the land from which you will have to work with. Once colonized, you must first build housing for your civilians and then you will need power, so you will end up building a power plant. Once you have these two amenities you can start to look into developing other buildings such as a science lab, trade depot, manufacturing plant, and so much more. Through here you'll have to manage power consumption, resource development, and research progress.

There are a few tips I learned after playing for a while and that is start by focusing on building trade depots and science buildings. The reason for this is that Steel Rain X has a massive 3 column upgrade system that takes time to upgrade each node, and the more science buildings you have, the less time each upgrade takes. I managed to get one of the top tier nodes from 2 hours and 30 minutes down to just 12 minutes. But there is a problem that I found in the game, and that is the fact that the countdown timer is not accurate. Every second in the game is equivalent of 2 seconds in real life, so if you read that it takes 9 min to upgrade a node, expect 18 minutes of real time instead. There are a few other issues with the construction as well. Sometimes I would have 8/12 civilians assigned to a task, I'd build a trade depot which costs me 2 civilians, so now I'm at 10/12 assigned. I would destroy the trade depot and I would still show 10/12 assigned and some options that require more civilians were blanked out. This happened on more than one occasion and it appears that the game has a hard time even managing its own resources.

Another gripe that came into both the researching and the building menu is the pin point blue dot that is used as your selecting tool. This small dot is about the size of a point of a pen, really, it is, and it moves around the screen INCREDIBLY slow, so once you've found your dot, moving it to where you want is a chore on its own. The same goes for the research screen, however the background and the majority of the colors in this screen are the exact same color as this minuscule blue dot, so finding it is next to impossible, and once you find it, maneuvering the dot to select what you want to research is a straight up pain. I wish I could say that this is the end of it, but it's not. Not by a mile.

There are other options to pursue such as upgrades that you can purchase with coins, or building prototypes to help improve your ships, and even trading resources to buy Xenox materials for advanced weaponry. You can naturally setup your own self-sustaining system through proper building, but any and all upgrades will come only when you level up your cores, and even then you're forced into the research trees to gain access to the top tier upgrades. My issue here is trading. When you start trading you can select how much material you want; however, you cannot pick just 1 for whatever reason. You press right on the D-Pad and the numbers start to skyrocket almost instantly. I think the lowest I could ever select was 2, so plan on taking a very long time to try and fine tune just how much you want to trade. I found this process very tedious and worthless when I started to form camps that were self-sustaining.

After going through the various menus I dove into the campaign missions since my only other options were Arcade and Survival. It was here that I saw that the graphics of Steel Rain X weren’t groundbreaking beautiful, but they definitely weren’t a total disaster. Most of the time I found myself too caught up in dodging screen filling enemy fire to concentrate on the mediocre backgrounds or the decent model for the enemy ships and their variants. The sound though was nothing but a synth heavy techno blast of looped sounds that drove me up the wall. Listen, I get that they were looking for energy, but this was just way too much. I ended up turning the music down completely. It's a shame but sadly the graphics and sound don't do much to help this game along.

One aspect that I found well done was the difficulty slider that ranged from 1-10 which dramatically changed the entire feel and experience of Steel Rain X, and then if that weren't enough, the game offers up a Hardcore mode for that extra "oomph" when it comes to throwing everything but the kitchen sink at you. There were other touches as well that stood out, such as the ability to select either the main story missions, orbital patrol missions, side missions, your upgrades and more, all from the mission screen. This was a blessing because I didn't have to start switching in and out of many different menus and the mission screen acted as an almost secondary hub to the hangar.

A mixed bag of both good and bad, Steel Rain X tries to bring a new evolution into the world of shoot 'em up side scrolling games with its take on the RPG elements. Sadly, while the idea was well conceived, the execution could have been better. That being said, would I pay $9.99 for this? Of course I would. Like a kitten that is "not so cute" at birth, Steel Rain X is one of those games that you know is faulty and flawed, but it provides so much enjoyment that you can't help continue playing with it. For the price it's a fairly good value for money, and if you like shoot 'em up games then this title is most likely calling your name.

Overall: 7.4 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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