Review by James McGovern
First off, a confession: I have to admit I have had great difficulty reviewing Steel Saviour, by SR-71 Software. My initial difficulty was centered on the fact that I was having a good deal of trouble progressing past the game’s first level, much less seeing what lay beyond.
Of course, this was simply because I almost exclusively refuse to read instructions unless confronted with insurmountable conditions. Steel Saviour’s more difficult skill levels afforded just such surroundings.
Upon resetting the difficulty to “low,” and getting the cheat code from the developer, I began to see a new game. To be sure, this is not an easy game, even when tuned down the skill level, I found myself turning towards the cheat code out of frustration and sheer laziness.
The Lay of the Wasteland
The game is set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland devoid of water and civilization. The introduction is narrated by one lost soul who finds himself attempting to eek out an existence in this harsh and dreary world. This would-be champion tells a tale of Armageddon brought about by some force or forces from the deep.
The ruins of the ancients dot the landscape leaving only faint and forgotten clues to the world that once flourished. That is, until our hero finds and repairs a ship left by the ancients. Once he has trained himself on the craft’s operation, he descends into the foreboding caverns of an underground world in search of answers and possibly revenge.
Into the Abyss
Descending into the nether regions of the cavernous deep
you find yourself
I found it refreshing that unlike most side-scrollers the playfield is larger in many areas than is the screen. This means that in many regions you can actually go up or down pushing your view further in that direction thus revealing new vistas, enemies, or rewards. The world in which you choose to descend affords excellent, if not disconcerting, visuals with a high creep factor. The soundtrack that plays as you navigate this world is suitably gloomy and ominous.
All Creatures Great and Weird
You are “greeted” by a cornucopia of ever more bizarre and deadly foes that may make you question the sanity of the game’s developers. At first there are decidedly phallic looking winged creatures of various sizes and shapes that float little green nodules at your ship as you weave your way through your frightening surroundings. For a while I thought the nodules were some sort of power-ups, which might further explain my frustrations in reviewing the game.
When your avatar ascends to the second level, it becomes apparent that there are many more peculiar and downright eerie opponents in this offering. I happen to find spiders and other long-legged exoskeleton bearing critters to be quite disturbing. I am not at all ashamed to admit that when it comes to terminating these beasts in my household, it is my better half that wields the shoe sending them to the big, dark, and damp corner in the sky.
That said, this might be the wrong game for yours truly. There is at least one such crawling monster in SR-71’s seascape that honestly sent a chill up my spine. This unnerving denizen has many friends that are as diverse as they are alarming. There are seemingly gentle, but truly deadly phosphorescent jellyfish and roaring mutant crabs that leap from the lower reaches in persistent attempts to crush your craft. You will encounter lurking anglers just beneath the surface that spit balls of fire and golden orbs falling from the cavernous ceiling bent on impact and destruction.
To be sure, the game’s creators are mad, simply mad. Considering the weapons provided, I am certain they are sadists as well.
A BFG! A BFG! My Kingdom for a BFG!
Ok, so maybe calling the developers sadists is a bit harsh, but I like LOTS of weapons. The limited amount of armaments awarded in the game is my only beef with Steel Saviour. The limited arsenal does provide quality in weaponry if indeed it lacks quantity of the same.
Your initial weapon is a single-pulse blaster of marginal effectiveness, but power-ups and new weapons present themselves relatively quickly. You also begin with a few smart bombs with more awarded throughout the game. As you progress, you can obtain three other weapons with limited ammo; a heat-seeking missile launcher, a triple action firing blaster, and a chain gun of sorts. Each has benefits depending on the enemy of the moment and you are able to switch between them using the spacebar.
Just When You Thought it was Safe…
Also of note, when you lose a life after taking three good hits, the entire screen jumps out at you in a flash of light while zooming in on your avatar and the event that sealed your doom. My 4-month-old daughter sits on my lap while I play and review these games and I can tell you it made her and me jump the first time it happened!
Steel Saviour elicits many unexpected reactions due to similarly non-standard effects and visuals. The shifting playfield and the startling zoom effect upon the avatar’s demise require the player to focus and rethink what is the norm in side-scrolling games.
To play this title you will need a reasonably well equipped PC though by no means a current gaming system. The developers require at least a 500 MHz CPU and 96 Mb of RAM as well as a 3D video card with 16Mb or more of memory. The software allows you to remap controls as desired and has a few settings that allow you to modify the level of video detail.
You may need to check yourself into some form of treatment when you are through with this title. This is not the game to play in the wee hours if you are blessed, as am I with fears of the creepy things that go “click-click” in the night.
Overall, I found this title to be very enjoyable with stunning visuals, highly effective atmospheric effects, and compelling game play. I would ask that the developers consider arming the avatar more extensively in future if they intend to unleash such a horde upon our hero.
At the very reasonable price of $19.95, Steel Saviour does not disappoint. If the subsequent worlds are anything like the first two, there is the distinct possibility of extensive therapy in your future, but this journey to the center of madness is certain to be tremendously challenging and exceedingly entertaining.
[Editor's Note] When approached for the review of Steel Saviour in Retroblast, SR-71 Software provided us with a demo copy for review. Generally we try to secure a full version of software for review as there are often issues that cannot be evaluated with a demo copy. We received this note from Tom Ebling, a reader who has purchased the full version and has additional notes regarding the licensing arrangement that are worth noting as they may influence your decision to purchase the software.