My stepson Ethan has a habit of making a new friend wherever we go. For example, at last year’s Rezzed event he made an impression on Other Ocean’s Marketing & Consumer Sales Manager Gillian Hickman after queuing up to play Giant Cop three times. Then at the PC Gamer Weekender back in February, the guys from Muse Games chatted away to him for ages when he took a liking to Guns of Icarus Alliance.
Rezzed last weekend was no different and the game this time around was Tate Multimedia’s upcoming vehicular combat title: Steel Rats had caught Ethan’s attention while he and his dad had been waiting with me for a seat at the Disco Elysium stand opposite. Being the boy he is, perhaps it was the huge image of a badass in leathers mounted on a futuristic motorbike in front of a number of ominous robots which had stood out for him.
Tate Multimedia’s press release advertises Steel Rats as ‘a visceral and groundbreaking evolution of the 2.5D action-arcade genre, fusing destructive, octane-fuelled motorbike combat and death-defying stunt gameplay’. It takes place in a dieselpunk world inspired by 1940s and 50s Americana, where a punk biker-gang now find themselves as Coastal City’s last line of defence against a constantly-evolving army of destructive junkbots.
My other-half and I gave a sigh of relief as we saw Ethan select the easiest of the three levels available in the demo. I’d seen from other players already at the stand that the game is heavily physics-based; pulling back on the controller raises the front of your bike and botching a landing after a jump results in a deadly fall. We highly expected several deaths and a bout of frustration before our kid put down the controller and stepped away.
But strangely, that didn’t happen. It took him a while to get used to the controls but soon enough he was zipping around the map, turning the motorbike’s front-wheel into a chainsaw and using it to slice through obstacles and enemies. Lead Designer Rafal Sadowski revealed to us later that day that Steel Rats was intentionally hard and their bosses had been considering whether to tone down the difficulty level.
Later Levels (@LaterLevels) April 14, 2018
He kindly showed Ethan how to switch between four playable characters, each of which were distinct in their skills and attributes. Each had a unique weapon such as missile launchers or the ability to shoot fire out of the bike’s tailpipe; and one of the larger biker boasted higher damage, while the other characters were faster on their wheels but had lower health.
Threats came in the form of environmental obstacles as well as the vicious junkbots – one of which had been made into an impressive statue in the basement of the Tobacco Dock, on which we had the pleasure of playing Steel Rats a second time later during the event. I’ve since learnt that blasting away these enemies earns the player war bonds, which can be used to upgrade their motorbike and equip them against latter-game opponents.
As Ethan raced through the devasted streets, abandoned subway tunnel and starlit rooftops of post-apocalyptic Coastal City, I found myself reminded of Deadlight in terms of the title’s look and feel (just with less zombies and more diesel). He jumped over ramps and railway tracks with oncoming trains, starting to enjoy pulling of airborne stunts, and Sadowski told us this element was something we’d see more of in the finished game.
This makes sense considering that Tate’s previous releases include Urban Trial Freestyle and Urban Trial Playground. Looking at their back catalogue, it seems as though they’re now trying to head in a more ‘serious’ or adult direction; and considering their latest project was recognised for ‘Best Gameplay’ at the Game Connection America development awards, it looks as though they’re going to succeed.
Steel Rats ended up being one of the first titles we played at Rezzed this year and it was also the last. Ethan was pretty tickled when Sadowski showed him a little secret before we left the event: with a few secret button presses, he lifted up the bike and transported the character outside of the level. My stepson was then able to race through shadowy fields, and chuckled to himself when we drove off the edge of the world.
A big thank you to the Tate Multimedia’s team for answering all of Ethan’s questions (and giving him plenty of stickers and badges). Steel Rats is due to release this year on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and you can head over to the official website and Facebook page for more information in the meantime.