Another day, another Ratalaika Games title. This time I’m doing a Steel Defier review for Xbox Series X. I’m always more than happy to check out new games from Ratalaika as they’re typically pretty short and offer an easy 1000 Gamerscore. Steel Defier is no different, but if anything, the length is even shorter than I expected. In fact, I beat it in under half an hour, even though I was pausing throughout to take notes.
The quality can be pretty hit and miss when it comes to these solo-developer indie titles, but I was actually pretty impressed on this occasion. Sure, it’s not winning any awards, but this was a very solidly produced game. I would much rather a compact game that plays well than a larger one full of glitches. So, whilst Steel Defier is incredibly basic, it does what it sets out to do. Ultimately, it’s a quick and easy arcade game relying on fast reflexes.
Anyway, time to get into the nitty gritty! Like I said, this was a particularly short game, so the review will reflect that. Don’t expect pages and pages of detailed analysis, but I’ll give you my best summary!
Story, Audio, and Visuals
Yup, I’m lumping these three factors into just one heading as there’s really not that much to say here. The story exists, but the premise is as simple as it gets. Basically, you’re escaping a facility and need to dodge all the security traps. That’s it. There aren’t any cutscenes as such, but every now and again, images will appear on the screen accompanied by a small amount of text.
Graphically, Steel Defier employs a pixellated aesthetic, reminiscent of the early days of gaming. It uses a relatively muted colour palette, but not to the extent that it’s boring to look at. The different traps in the room each have their own colour, making them easy to identify. I also really appreciate that the physical boundaries of the objects match the visual ones. That’s so crucial in a game like this.
The music is this dramatic sci-fiesque tone, and it feels very old school. It’s on a very short loop, so by all accounts it should feel repetitive and annoying, but it somehow doesn’t. I think it works well as the urgency of the music matches the fast pace of the gameplay.
In Steel Defier, you’re navigating your way through a facility, room by room. Every room you enter is primed with deadly traps, and being hit by even one of them means game over. Well, not game over exactly, but you have to start that particular room again. In terms of the overall escape attempt, though, you have unlimited lives. I think this was an excellent choice by the developer, as I feel it would be pretty frustrating having to start again from the very beginning every time you die.
The later rooms are especially challenging, and Steel Defier will really test your reflexes. You need to strike a fine balance between speed and precision. It’s also all about skill rather than luck, as you don’t encounter situations where traps spawn on you. You always get a brief flash to show where the next trap will come from, meaning there’s always time to dodge it. However, it can still be pretty difficult. One particularly challenging room took me over 20 attempts!
The top corner of the game shows a map, so you can plan your route to the exit. When you complete a room, you’ll be presented with multiple doors, so paying attention to the map is crucial. I have famously awful navigation skills, so I really appreciate the simplicity of the map. You need to collect key cards in each room whilst dodging the traps. They spawn one at a time, and once you’ve collected all of them, you can move on to the next room.
Traps and Upgrades
There’s a fantastic range of traps that you encounter as you progress through the facility. The rooms start simple as you get used to the movement controls, and then it slowly ramps up the difficulty. Every few rooms, it’ll introduce a new type of trap. I really appreciate the imagination that went into creating the range of traps you need to avoid.
The initial trap is just a long bar that moves across the screen either vertically or horizontally, changing direction whenever it hits a wall. But then there are others such as boxes that patrol the outer perimeter of the room, spikes, and boxes that explode into smaller boxes that whizz in different directions. My personal nemesis was this green pillar with blades attached. It would spin around and I was always getting caught out by it.
Some rooms are alarmed, and the room will flash red when you enter it. You’ll then only have a small circle of visibility as you move about. This makes it considerably harder to not only find the key cards to escape, but also to dodge the traps whilst you search. I loved that feeling of urgency when I entered an alarmed room, it was an exciting rush.
There are also upgrades that can be found throughout the facility. These offer you various boons to improve your chances at overcoming the traps. Some examples are running boots, the ability to double jump over traps, and a shield that lets you tank one hit per room. These come in really handy as the rooms become increasingly more chaotic.
Survival Mode and Achievements
Once you beat the game (not long after you get started, believe me), you will unlock Survival Mode. Predictably, this just entails you surviving for as long as possible in a single room. You can set a high score, and then try to beat it as you play again and again.
With Survival Mode, you have access to all the upgrades that you found in the campaign. If you missed any upgrades, you can always go back to the campaign and enter the rooms that you skipped until you find all the upgrades. Use your range of upgrades wisely to last as long as you possibly can.
If you have the shield upgrade, it works a little differently in Survival Mode. It will still allow you to tank one hit, but it replenishes every 15 key cards. And I don’t mean, “if you get hit, you have to wait another 15 key cards from that point”. I mean that regardless of when you’re hit, you’ll get your shield back when your total number of key cards hits the next multiple of 15. However, you can still only have one shield in total.
Steel Defier is fantastic for any achievement hunters out there. Depending on your level of skill, it’s very plausible to get 100% completion in just 30-45 minutes. I love to rack up the Gamerscore, so this was a welcome discovery for me.
There’s nothing wrong with this game, and I mean that emphatically. It runs smoothly, the movement is well calibrated, and I didn’t encounter a single glitch. However, a good game doesn’t just have nothing wrong, it also has to have a lot right. So, whilst, Steel Defier was undeniably enjoyable, I can’t in good conscience give it a rating any higher than this, simply because it’s too short and simple to warrant an exceptional score.
I can understand why other reviewers have scored it lower, but my personal criteria revolves around enjoyability. Sure, it was incredibly short, but it was fun, and I feel that’s all I can ask for. Add in the abundance of achievements and the unlimited gameplay offered by Survival Mode, and I feel totally comfortable recommending this game.