There’s a handful of films at home that the family and I very rarely end up watching. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The Revenant. The Imitation Game. Her. The Judge. Absolutely outstanding films, but they’re also what we call “heavy” – and we seldom have the emotional energy to sit through two hours of “heaviness” at the end of a long day. So we pretty much never bite the bullet and say “You know what? Let’s finally do this.”
Today, I’m biting the bullet. I’m gonna talk about something that makes me very sad to think about. It’s a game called Steel Circus, and last month the developers bit their own bullet, shut down the servers, and pulled the plug on their dying game. Which is such a gruelling shame, because Steel Circus was probably the most fun I’ve had in any competitive game since Rocket League.
Steel Circus is a futuristic fast-paced game of 3v3 handball with superpowers. Each team picks three champions out of a roster of six, and each champion has two active abilities that they can use whenever they’re off cooldown. There was Cap-X02, a WALL-E-esque robit who could place down walls to block shots and fire off an artillery strike from across the pitch. There was Lachlan, a giant Scotsman who could slam the ground to stun nearby opponents, and use his bagpipes to slow down everyone nearby while giving himself a speed boost. There was Shani, an extremely quick and powerful champion who could throw electric javelins at enemies and then teleport to the javelins.
All of these abilities added layers of colour and tactics to an already colourful and tactical game. Players could dash forward to tackle opponents, but if the one in possession dashed at the same time they’d avoid the attack. So the better players would become very good at predicting the actions of enemies. And then there was the next level of skill, which involved advanced techniques like deliberately passing the ball to the enemy and instantly dashing to tackle them; or throwing the ball to the side so it ricochets off the nearby wall, and dashing past the opponent in the process.
Like Rocket League, Steel Circus excelled in particular at two things. The first was its accessibility, both as a player and as a spectator. A quick brief on the abilities of the different champions, and you’re all set to marvel at some pro-level matches. And the second was how fantastic the team plays were. When your team clicked, it was thrilling to a degree I’ve rarely experienced in games. It was a sport of extreme depth, one which rewarded quick decision-making, positioning, and reading your opponents.
Since its Early Access release back in August last year, I’ve had to watch despairingly at the concurrent player count dwindle from its initial four digits down to three, then two, and finally to zero. It was a polished game, filled with nuance and fast-paced plays, but it seems great design and great implementation aren’t all that matters. I just hope that someone else decides to take what Steel Circus did, and turn it into the success it always deserved to be.