Earlier this year we had a very early hands-on with Steel Circus and it certainly wasn’t clowning around. This title was an unexpected high point of EGX Rezzed 2019, and not just because I was carried by a semi-pro Rocket League player. Just a few days ago, we got another chance to get hands-on with the futuristic sportsball sim while the team at Iron Mountain Interactive warm-up for the Steam Early Access release on 8 August.
For those of you that didn’t catch our Rezzed coverage, Steel Circus is an odd yet enjoyable mix of team competition and over the top sports sim. It takes inspiration from games like Mario Strikers, Sensible Soccer, and even Rocket League when pitting players into battle, all to get a ball of light into an opponent’s net. The whole idea takes a bit of a sideways jaunt when Iron Mountain Interactive, sandwiched in more than a few MOBA elements. The mix of team-based hero utilities with dynamic gameplay makes Steel Circus as different from FIFA as Switchblade is to the traditional MOBA. We just don’t quite know yet if will it drive off with a ton of players on board or simply crash by the wayside.
The team behind Steel Circus has been developing the concept of a hero sportsball title for a couple of years already and there’s been plenty of change already. Originally envisioned as a robot wars bot basher, this game made something of a sideways move away from the real steel comparisons and towards something more akin to a sports game, and it is all the better for it. Logging in for the first time, the current iteration of Steel Circus remains quite faithful to my hands-on time earlier this year. The game continues to drop players into a glowing neon arena where two teams of three go head to hed on a top-down soccer-style pitch to get the most goals.
Bypassing practice and ranked matches, we went straight into the auto matchmaking systems. Seven characters are available for selection here and each of the heroes has a particular role to play on the field. Defensive tanks, like the big man Lochlan, are clearly telegraphed by their size or associated armor while players with more mobility, like Schroder, are garbed up in spy gear and face masks, like an assassin class. These aren’t the only variations available to choose from and each of the heroes has their own personality. Being a northerner I still have that soft spot for Lochlan and got back on the bagpipes for a match or two.
Like each of the other available characters, Lochlan starts each match with a constrained health pool and energy gauge. This allows him to utilize a limited number of moves that, while making him unique among his peers, doesn’t feel overcomplicated or particularly overpowered. Each player on the pitch can charge up a basic pass or just tackle opponents in the arena. In addition, every character is augmented with two unique skills, from supporting songs to AoE stuns and even explosive artillery.
Matches are generally a five-minute fast-paced encounter that kicks off from the center of a sparse neon pitch. This enclosed field of play provides just about the right breadth of play to make the process of passing a ball between players tactical. Positioning is key and action feels fluid. The physics engine allows the ball to ricochet at a satisfying speed between walls and the odd internal obstacle. While only two arenas exists right now, Iron Mountain Interactive has spent a great deal of time iterating on the basics with their existing community testers to narrow down a number of elements. Everything from the speed of the ball, the ricochet physics, and the goal sizes here have already been tweaked to be optimal.
Again, while there are only seven characters available right now there are several designs ready to go for future updates and based on the update schedule we pinned down at Rezzed, it shouldn’t take long to find more ways to play. With the foundations of play in place and a rough roadmap ready for Steel Circus there’s still plenty of room for new and interesting work. One of the ideas bounded about during our playtime was inserting different environmental traps into the world.
Just like the matches, progression is already in place. Steel circus has a dual currency progression system that allows players to rake in gold and crafting material. It’s a relatively linear system right now and allows players to craft a range of purely cosmetic rewards This looks to include items like spray tags and armor, but that’s all in flux. This is augmented by an account-based leveling system and a cash shop system. It is intended that this will mirror that crafting system and will provide access to cosmetic rewards and will not impact gameplay. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if we find characters included in the cash shop but we didn’t get confirmation. That said, we did get confirmation that the game will come with a founders pack style system when it gets nearer launch.
Feel Like Winning?
Now we’ve dispensed with all the facts, let’s get down to the way Steel Circus plays. Taking definite inspiration from Mario Strikers, Rocket League, and even Overwatch. The hybrid mix of elements that you’ll find here all pair down to a very simple concept and Iron Mountain Interactive never try to overcomplicate things. The pace of play is furious and the ball flies around the pitch at a pace that’ll keep you moving along. It isn’t hard to pick up and play Steel Circus, with a limited control set and a combat system that is clearly weighted around impacting the action instead of PvP. This is where Iron Mountain succeeds. The mix of physics, a range of unique characters, and a top-down view that gives you an overview of the action all contribute to the end goal. I’m not saying that Steel Circus is going to overtake Overwatch but if you want an online hero shooter that ditches the PvP for playing as a team then this might be worth watching.
Steel Circus is coming to PC via Steam Early Access soon. We’re going to have some very special news later this week so if you want to check out more before everything kicks off for real then head to the game’s official website now.