Known as Steel Empire everywhere other than PAL, and coming as a recommendation I set about building my empire, in steel…
EoS is a horizontal scrolling shooter, R-Type like. You pick up power-ups such as additional life and extra ships to aid you in combat. You then shoot at everything that appears on screen while avoiding as much incoming fire as possible. The key differences here are that; A) you get a life bar, B) you level up C) You can fire EITHER left or right.
You start the game with a shitty gun that fires a pea bullet and one very slow bomb. But as you kill things and pick up powerups you slowly level your craft so that you fire tonnes of bombs, and your gun grows from single pixels to death beams that fill your screen.
Empire of Steel is set in a 19th Century in the year 18xx, so expect a strong Steampunk gameworld. I am not overly keen on Steampunk as a design choice, but the design choice works well, and makes Empire of Steel a little more interesting than fighting generic aliens or Germans.
For me, the hardest level was Level 2-B where you have to escape a tunnel. It is fast and frenetic, and the only way to get passed this unscathed is to learn the map pixel perfect, as there is no room for error and the hit detection works against you. Thankfully it is not instadeath and there are a lot of health pickups, but expect to die repeatably here as the passageways are narrow as fuck and will fuck your health bar into oblivion.
Level 6-B was also a pain, with a lot of environmental damage, but by the time you can reach that level you should be able to do it without too much hassle. Other than that everything feels fair.
You have a health bar, so there is none of that 1 shot dead crap, and with health pick ups constant enough for you to learn the game it means it doesn’t take very long before you start to feel comfortable playing on higher difficulties.
Bosses are suitably large and impressive, but each stage also tends to have a sub-boss halfway through the level, which once beat serves as a checkpoint. As a fight progresses the boss will become easier. This is a result of you chipping away at it and blowing parts of it up, meaning it has less and less weaponry to attack you. The visible damage the boss takes, and the graphical changes makes you feel like you’re progressing and that you don’t have the problem of Super Smash TV or Total Carnage in the boss fights in those two games drag too much. Here the boss will change their movement, or attack pattern, but once the big cannon o’ death is gone it can’t attack you with it and deaths don’t feel cheap.
Another thing that is enjoyable about bosses is that they don’t simply explode and disappear, often once defeated, they will slowly crash into the background. Things also happen in the background, like on level 5 where your mother-ship is in the background bombarding a ship you’re circling. It adds depth to the world as it makes you feel like there is a bigger story going on around you and that it isn’t “crack pilot commits mass genocide” like most scrolling shooters.
One other thing to note, is that using a level select cheat works significantly against you. If you use the cheats, you will appear on whatever level you choose with the worst gun. It means you can’t actually kill anything and will need to kill yourself a few times to grind some powerups. It is a nice mechanic as it obviously rewards the skilled, but allows newbs to at least experience the latter levels. However, it does mean the level skip cheat is pointless and the best strategy to cheating is to use the 99 lives cheat.
EoS is pretty basic in scope, but what it does it does well. The difficulty is well balanced (apart from level 2-b), the combat is fun, and the music is a delight.1
However, it does lack the RPG elements and depth that Tyrian had.
Pros: fun to play, fair difficulty curve, levelling rewards you, and credits are very “at the movies”
Cons: a little bit simple
Back in the day:
Empire of Steel reviewed well and scored 90% with CVG.