Steel Circus is gunning for the big boys in gaming. Well, not technically “gunning,” because none of the characters have guns. But there are staves, shields (you can throw), and plenty of fisticuffs in the rough-and-tumble sports game from Iron Mountain Interactive.
The premise of Steel Circus is simple. There are three players per side and a ball, and the objective is to toss the ball into your opponent’s net. The team with the most goals at the end of regulation wins.
If you’re like me, you’re already thinking, “Oh, so it’s Rocket League.” No, you see, Rocket League has cars. This has people.
Not enough? That’s fair, because there are about a hundred games out there going for that “competitive e-sports vibe,” and I asked Game Director Helmut Hutterer about that during our play session this week.
“The team aspect,” was his first response. Although there certainly is room for individually skilled players to shine, it’s hard for one person to carry a match all by themselves. “In other online multiplayer games, having one exceptionally good player can carry the team. Here you need to play together to win.”
Having individual characters is another benefit that Steel Circus enjoys over something like Rocket League, with each character having individual stats (such as speed and durability) and two abilities. The abilities are on long cooldowns, though, which is both a plus and a minus, from my point of view. It makes it so you don’t face chaotic team battles “where everyone uses their skills at the same time for the last push,” Hutterer said, but at the same time, I want to use my cool abilities more than once a minute. Maybe slightly shorter cooldowns would allow you to feel powerful without disrupting the standard gameplay too much.
Without those skills, the game feels rather like a FIFA soccer (or football, depending on where you’re from) game, a title the developers are well familiar with. You shoot and pass with the same button (holding it down for power), sprint (with a bar that depletes as you hold down the button), and have a short-range tackle (on a cooldown). We’re not talking a soccer tackle, either, but more like American football, where you actually knock down the opposing player and take a point of health off them. Other abilities can also deplete health, and if you run out, you spend 10 seconds off the field recovering, giving the opposing team a kind of “power play.” Coordinated teams will likely have a balanced set of players, including some bruisers to inflict damage and speedier players to run with the ball and score.
In our less-than-coordinated matches, I still managed to play reasonably well, I thought, considering that I was a) playing against developers; and b) using a mouse and keyboard. The devs definitely suggested that the game is better for controllers, and a console port is in the works, but said that half of their players still use mouse and keyboard.
Not-even-remotely-pro tip: Unless they change the default keybinds, I suggest putting sprint on space bar and re-mapping your ability keys to whatever works for you. The game uses WASD controls and trying to run to the left (using A) while holding down the default sprint key (Left Shift) is impossible. I can see why it would be much easier with a controller, especially with how you aim, but it’s at least workable with a mouse and keyboard, given a little tweaking.
Even with a lot of scoring, I was pleased with how quickly matches went. And even with my limited playtime, I was scoring about a goal or two per match and getting accustomed to characters’ different abilities and what I should watch out for. There are currently seven characters in the game, though more are in the works, as well as various game modes.
Free players start with three characters, and you can buy more with real money or by farming up the in-game currency. You can also buy a supporter pack that unlocks all characters. The cash shop is what you’d expect for this kind of game: skins, emotes, and sprays, nothing that should even remotely be considered pay-to-win. The only nitpick I’d have is how the cheapest skin costs 650 gold, but the smallest amount of gold you can buy is 600, with the next smallest being 1,100. That just feels icky, and will hopefully be changed.
Steel Circus is Iron Mountain’s first game (with publishing help from Oasis Games), and as an indie title trying to wedge its way into the competitive multiplayer scene, it’s going to face an uphill battle. Still, I thought it played pretty well for a game at this stage of development, and the relatively minor complaints I do have can be addressed with further beta testing. It might never be as big as Rocket League but it’s worth taking a look at if you’re looking for that kind of experience without having to spend money.