I am looking through my Steam Discovery Queue as part of my daily routine, and I notice Steel Empire listed as a new release. As a SHMUP connoisseur, I looked forward to trying this latest publication. To my surprise, however, Steel Empire is port of a game that has existed for over twenty years! Whoops! Well, with its Steam release, we can determine if this old-school shooter holds up to new-school competition.
As Steel Empire is a SHMUP, one can expect…shooting. Because all units are comprised of airships and other mechanizations, this game is blood-free. This is a game from an era when games were still considered “clean.”
Though the Steam version of Steel Empire became available on 9/13/18, it was first released in 1992 for the Sega Genesis! I had never heard of this game before; perhaps it was among those 100s of games I was accustomed to browsing in Service Merchandise catalogs. It would later be ported to the Game Boy Advance in 2004, and then to the 3DS in 2014. The latter edition is essentially the Steam version, too, only with higher resolutions. Yet even with higher res than a 3DS screen, a border occupies significant space on the screen edges. There is no option to adjust the borders, so I think this is locked to maintain image quality no matter the rig. The gesture is superfluous, because while the graphics are better than the Genesis version, they are identical to the 3Ds version, so do not expect to capitalize on running a beast machine to run this game.
Speaking of superfluous, Steel Empire does bother with a story as told from still screens of text. This method of presentation is outdated, and the low-quality port-to-port-to-port effort is magnified by the fact that an annoying, ear-splitting melody that loops the same two verses accompanies these intermissions. Unfortunately, the mission BGM, while “remastered” is not much better.
Steel Empire does get one basic element right: when shooting things, they explode, and I am awarded points for the effort. Alright, let’s build on that. The game requires players to choose between a WW2-era fighter aircraft and a zeppelin; the former is fragile and agile while the latter is tougher and slower; the game mentions that one excels at air fighting while the other is efficient in taking out ground units, but in this area, I could not tell the difference between them as they both can shoot forwards and backwards while also dropping bombs on the ground at an angle. I favor the aircraft, because both have health bars anyway, a feature that is foreign in most SHMUPs where death comes from a single blow.
Steel Empire is generous with the power-ups, though. Health is particularly generous to the point where death on normal mode is rare. In fact, the only two times I died through my entire playthrough was when I was intentionally experimenting while passing through a boss, and during the final battle. Combined with the power-up that grants two miniature ships that offer triple the firepower, a screen-clearing superweapon, and “P” weapon augments that level-up the chosen craft, players should grow accustomed to being OP. It is possible to run through Steel Empire in a single hour-long sitting because of this. Two harder difficulties can theoretically extend the length of the game, but this is one designed in the era of when high scores were the mark of expertise rather than those achievements that 0.1% of gamers earn—again, dated.
I discovered that Steel Empire is a port only after finishing the game and sitting down to write this review. The discovery that this is a game originally released in 1992 was a great relief to me, because this game is much too antiquated to compete with the likes of Tesla vs Lovecraft, AIRHEART, or SYNTHETIK, which were all released in the past year. Steel Empire is only for those who desire nostalgia and mediocrity.
Review code generously provided by Teyon.
The Bottom Line
Steel Empire is a SHMUP blast from the past, and not much else.