Coo, I spent a rather pleasant Thursday evening with this one. The awkwardly named Steel Storm: Burning Retribution (can steel burn, or indeed storm?), from the even more peculiarly named indie developer, Kot-in-Action Creative Artel, is top-fun top-down shooting. I've decided the game is just called Steel Storm, and that the developers are now KIA Cartel. Much easier. Let's take a look (from immediately above).
Or indeed from other angles, should you be mad enough to choose them. You have a little floaty ship, and there's lots of other floaty ships that want to shoot at it. RUDE. So you shoot back. Which is another way to sum up games on the Amiga. And it does a great job of recapturing that spirit, but with some really rather lovely cell-shaded graphics.
Things start of extremely simple, perhaps even for just a touch too long. For a few levels you'll be wondering why you have spare ships. There are tasks to complete in each level, unlocking areas of buildings, taking out certain structures, and finding switches for forcefields, and at first this is a reasonably sedate experience. But when it starts ramping up, it does so with some excellent pacing, soon getting you to a place where repeated attempts to clear a level become more likely, forcing you to adopt more and more tactics. And rather pleasingly, it seems to have room for you to decide what those will be.
For those who enjoy bullet-hell, while Steel Storm never reaches a Bangai-O level or similar, things can get frantic, and if you've the reflexes to deal with it you can hammer out your infinite supply of ammo and take those bastards down. Or there's room for a more cautious approach, waves of enemies cleverly triggered. It becomes apparent that picking up a certain bonus will unleash another set, so you can portion them, divide and conquer, hide behind things and take sneaky shots.
I've stopped playing for a bit (I think I'm pretty near the end of the game's six missions) because I messed up far too late in a particularly tricky area, and in disgust at myself I needed a break before I restarted. It's that sort of game - losing comes from making mistakes, playing poorly, rather than the game's suddenly being unfair or difficulty spiking. Not so far, at least.
It's a really smart game, which is a real pleasure. It's clearly been meticulously thought about, and the AI of the enemies is surprisingly good. It's extremely cute to watch the enemy ships dodging in and out of cover in a way I've not seen in such games. But there's some issues too. I'd really like the map to be improved. At the moment you have a complete view of the level from the start, with no indication of where you've explored and where you haven't. Having it greyed out until you've been there would be fantastic. There's also some odd discrepancies when firing at something on another height from you. They can shoot at you, but you can't shoot at them - it seems a bit silly. And while I think it's a design decision, it's not possible to fire at an enemy that's gone off screen, even if you know it's position. Not a big deal, but it feels a bit strange.
It can be glitchy too. I had an odd moment in one level where the entire world starting hurting me, my ship taking damage from all sides (indicated by red blur at the edge of the screen) despite no attack, and at other times developed a propensity to drift down and left. A couple of times I've gotten oddly stuck to the ground, too. However, these bugs are very minor, and disappear with a reload.
The key thing is, I've been having a tremendous amount of fun. Levels begin with a description of why you're doing what you're doing, and what your objectives are, but after that it doesn't fuss you with some needless narrative. There's no one barking orders in your comms, or talking to you about the war. Which means podcast on, happiness prevails. Tricky challenges, careful play, or just some madcap bullet dodging (which I've been practising in Bangai-O HD: Missile Fury, so there).