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Review - STEEL EMPIRE - Remastered 1992 steampunk shooter!

Steel Empire - PC Steam version - Purple clouds

 Steel Empire(in Japan: Kotetsu Teikoku (鋼鉄帝国)), originally developed by Hot-B, is a shoot'em up which first came out in 1992 on Sega Megadrive, then ported to GBA in 2004, and finally remastered for the 3DS in 2014, by Starfish and Mebius. And today, we're reviewing the recently released PC version, which is based on the 3DS one, with almost no changes. And yet, this is the best version of Steel Empire ever released.


Store Platform OVERALL RATING: 82%
Buy it on Steam PC
 + THE POSITIVE
+The best version of Steel Empire!
+ Literally non-stop Arcade action
+ Remastered graphics preserve the original style
+ Perfect controls
+ The parallax and lighting effects!
 - THE NEGATIVE
- A bit unoriginal?
- Lacks a soul (where are characters?)
- More options would have been nice
(A CRT filter, please? Resolution options?)
- Strange mix between sprites and non-sprites
Buy it on Nintendo 3DS
Buy it on Ebay GBA
Buy it on Amazon MEGADRIVE
(original game)

INTRODUCTION

GENRE: 
Empire of Steel - Megadrive cover - 1992
The Megadrive box of Empire of Steel!
Classic 2D side-scrolling shoot'em up, 90s style. By 90s, I mean that you shouldn't expect complex combos and wild power-ups. The game's graphics and music have been improved, NOT the gameplay.

STORY:
The Republic of Silverhead is threatened by the brutal expansionism of the dictator of Motorhead, Sauron. Zzzzzzz....😴 Anyway, who needs a story in a shoot'em up?
Just shoot everything that moves on the screen, alright? 

FUN FACT !
"Steel Empire" was called "Empire of Steel" in Europe! Come on, it is a fun fact, right? I bet you regret so much reading this now.

Steel Empire - PC Steam version - Underground base
This might seem like a detail, but back in 1992, it was actually quite something to be able to shoot front AND back! (you fly in only one direction, though!)


  • Complete remake truthful to the original game, based on 3DS version with improved graphics and controls
  • Side-scrolling shoot'em up game, originally released on Sega Genesis and later on Game Boy Advance and Nintendo 3DS
  • 7 complex stages full of adrenaline-pumping action and boss fights
  • Collect special power-ups and increase your firepower with a level-up system (up to 20 levels)
  • Steam Achievements & Trading Cards
  • Full controller support
  • The classic is back! 
Steel Empire - PC Steam version - Huge cannon - dollar bonus
FUN FACT !
 Originally, Steel Empire was supposed to be a "licensed" game for the movie Laputa: Castle in the Sky! Unfortunately, Studio Ghibli refused to grant a merchandising license, so the game had to be changed and use different artwork and a new name!

GAMEPLAY - OLD-SCHOOL 😎👍

 You play as the ace of the "Silverhead" pilots, the local Top Gun hero, and you can choose between two types of ships: 
- the Striker, a little but highly maneuverable airship.
- the Zeppelin, which is much bigger and slower, but more powerful too.

 Each of them can drop bombs (upwards or downwards depending on the aircraft) or open the fire forwards or back instantly! This option is essential if you want to survive in the universe of Steel Empire. Enemies come from all sides, and they do have a certain preference for appearing suddenly in your back! Thanks god, hit detection is flawless!

Steel Empire - PC Steam version - Train boss
The "Zeppelin"'s bullets cause considerable damage to your enemies, but it's a bit sluggish. Its bombs go up, which isn't ideal in most situations.

You can't speed up your ships, but they can be leveled up thanks to powerups you'll grab on your way.(the blue "P" rounds!) 
Get 3 powerups and your ship levels up! After reaching level 10, you'll start packing some serious firepower!.... And you can go up to level 20.😉👍

On the other hand, the two available ships have just one type of weapon. You won't pick up different weapons like it's the case in most shoot'em ups.

HOW TO GET THE HIGHEST SCORE?

1) Kill everybody. Try to not let anybody pass you alive. lol
2) Avoid being hit! You need as much health as possible and the end of every level.
3) Grab all dollar items!
4) Save your bombs!
Simple and straight-forward.👍

Steel Empire - PC Steam version - On the moon
Very early in the game, you get your first two little "helpers", in the form of little airships flying above and below you and give you extra firepower!

During seven non-stop pure action-packed levels(using both horizontal and vertical scrolling, as you'll go very high in the sky sometimes, then visit underground bases!), you will face Sauron's troops in a crazy "steampunkish" warzone, making the game kinda look like a simplified "Progear"(2001, developed by Cave, and it also looks Steampunk). 

 The first level will have you take over the mining town of Rahl. Once this task accomplished, the second level will take you to the far end of the Rah mine, in which you'll be forced to purge completely all of Sauron's troops. 
 Then, you will tackle the Floating Castle, which is to Sauron what the death star was to Darth Vader in Star Wars. Finally, you'll face your final enemies directly on their own territories, up to the fortress  'Germbaum", the last refuge of the tyrant.

Steel Empire - PC Steam version - Striker ship
The "Striker" is fast but his firepower is less than the "Zeppelin". Its bombs go down, and it's the best of the two available ships

NO TIPS ! 😥
 Yep, the developer did a very bad move: apparently, all the tips which worked on the old Megadrive version have been removed. So, no "99 ships" or "select stage" cheats for you, sorry!

One final note: the game is noticeably easier than the Megadrive version(which was already not hard at all), even on normal level!

GRAPHICS - STEEL EMPIRE ON NEO-GEO!🤩

 Frankly, this is how Megadrive games should be remastered.👍
I don't necessarily agree with every design choice, like, for example, the backgrounds which are blurry(although I can understand they did that so that it doesn't interfere with the action which happens in the foreground), but overall, it's exactly how I would imagine the game on an improved version of the Megadrive, like a 32-bit 2D console of the late 90s or something. 

Well, let's say the Neo-Geo.😁(Which was marketed as 24-bit, actually.)

Steel Empire - PC Steam version - Huge boss
Some of the "sprites" are huge! This level reminded me of Stage 5 in Thunder Force IV(released the same incredible year of 1992), when you have to destroy a huge ship piece by piece.

 Bosses are huge, everything moves very fast on the screen, and the whole design is very homogenous, more colorful and alive! You'll appreciate the nice little animations like spinning propellers and other various flapping wings! It's a minor detail, but the (3D?) smooth-looking explosions look weird over 2D pixelated sprites. On the other hand, the lighting effects are great!

NO RESOLUTION SETTINGS ?
You can either play fullscreen or in a tiny window. (click alt+enter to enter windowed mode.) 👎

Empire of Steel - Megadrive - Wallpaper screenshots
For those interested, this is how the game looked on Megadrive! Very lifeless and dark, right?

MUSIC - REMASTERING WASN'T NECESSARY...🤔

Listen, the military and moody melodies still sound nice and are ageless anyway, but frankly, the "remastered" OST actually sounds more lo-fi than anything modern to me!

I could understand this deliberate choice, though. As previously stated, the game already looks like a Neo-Geo/Arcade game of the late 90s, so maybe the developers wanted to make the music lo-fi like it was the case in Neo-Geo games(BEFORE the CD version!)?
It does fit the graphics style, after all. But on the other hand, you can't help feeling that it could have been SO much better, especially when you listen to such strong "military" themes.

It's hard to find the PC OST online, but here's a nice video showing you the differences between Megadrive, GBA, and 3DS version(which sounds the same as PC). What do you think? Personally, I think Megadrive still sounds the best!


For the true audiophiles out there, you can download here the original Megadrive OST, directly recorded from the console! (Flac version: Part1, Part2, Part3, Part4.)

The sounds are TERRIBLE and extremely harsh, agressive, and manage to sound even worse than the Megadrive version, which is quite a feat. It's the only very bad thing in the game. In 1990, Thunder Force III sounded way better, so, developers have no excuses.

WHAT DO YOU THINK, WILLY?
 "Meh..."
Friends - Joey shrugs  I don't share Lily's excitement that much. 
Yes, Steel Empire offers you a frantic and non-stop fast-moving experience, and I remember that it was actually one of the best available shmups back in '92. 

And yet, strangely, it's also one of the early 90s shmups which aged the most, in my opinion. 
It feels too simple to me, and lacks both a strong identity(I'm not into steampunk at all, if that's what it is), and varied gameplay.

 Alright, it's amusing for half an hour, but do you realize how many similar shmups we saw since the past 30 years?

RATING BOX
Steel Empire - SEGA Megadrive Genesis game cover

VERSION TESTED: 1.0

Publisher:

Developer:

Release Date:
13 September, 2018

Genre: Shoot'em up

Single-player

Difficulty: Normal 


Store Platform
Buy it on Steam PC
Buy it on Nintendo 3DS
Buy it on Ebay GBA
Buy it on Amazon MEGADRIVE
(original game)
GRAPHICS: 86%
The steampunk style has some charm, and the remastered visuals respect the original feeling of the game. Love the parallax effects, adding lots of depth!
MUSIC: 81%
Nice motivating military tracks, but it doesn't necessarily sound better than the original OST.
SOUNDS: 47%
The lo-fi SFX will make your ears bleed after 10 minutes of gameplay.
GAMEPLAY: 92%
Fast, Frantic, and Furious. Non-stop fun, intuitive arcade controls, What else can you ask for?
GAME LENGTH: 68%
Around 45 minutes to complete, which is almost normal for a shmup. Because of its very simple gameplay, replayability is very low, but it has 4 difficulty levels!
OVERALL RATING: 82%
 Quite an enjoyable Shoot'em up, but too bad it feels too "old-school"!
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