Steel Circus Preview – It’s Not the Winning That Counts, It’s Crushing Your Rival

Steel Circus Preview

Let’s go straight to the point: Steel Circus is Speedball 2 for the new generation. Or at least it’s trying to be, since reaching the same heights of the Bitmap Brothers classic is a nigh-on impossible task. Speedball 2 is perfect in every regard, pure gameplay bliss that remains unrivaled; Steel Circus is a very promising game that is yet in its early development stages and needs a substantial dose of polish and testing to become a worthy spiritual successor.

I’ve seen the word MOBA thrown around when describing Steel Circus, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Beyond the obvious comparison to classics such as Speedball 2 or Brutal Sports Football, even Rocket League, this is a futuristic sports game. Don’t call it American Football either; this is handball, albeit a ruthless, sci-fi version of it.

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Ice Cream! Ice Cream!

With the introduction out of the way, let’s talk about the brief Steel Circus closed alpha that we managed to partake in. First and foremost, Steel Circus is incredibly stable at this stage, something that deserves credit – I don’t remember having a crash or serious bug during several hours of playtime. Matchmaking times were reasonably long, but that is understandable considering that not many players got access to this first alpha.

Steel Circus features a bunch of exceptional Champions as the stars of this sports spectacle, each one with two unique skills. The alpha was slim in this aspect, with only four Champions: Enforcers Lochlan and Ellika, Specialist Cap-x02 and Striker Schroder – poster girl Shani sadly didn’t make it into this alpha. Developer Iron Mountain Interactive is planning on having a couple more for these early test phases, and between 15 to 20 Champions as a long-term goal. Steel Circus is a game that begs for variety, so they can’t come soon enough.

The alpha offered a sole 3v3 Quickmatch mode in one arena called Shenzhen. This build is somewhat barebones, but there are a lot of things planned, including detailed stats tracking, player progression, more game modes and a ranked option, as well as many other things. This alpha was mostly designed to test the basics of the gameplay and progress from there.

You move your Champion via a controller or a keyboard/mouse layout, but let’s be honest here – Steel Circus is a game for controllers, as the developers are keen on reminding us. If you don’t have a decent controller for an optimal experience, don’t even bother jumping in.

Steel Circus Preview Goal

Now let’s look closer at the four Champions. Lochlan is your typical Scottish stereotype, complete with kilt and bagpipes, albeit with a robotic fist thrown in for good measure. He is slow but strong – each Champion has Health and Speed stats – and his two skills are Slam (slams the ground, damaging his opponents) and Warsong (plays his bagpipes to prevent opponents from moving at full speed).

Ellika is a lot like Lochlan but slighty faster and throws her shield to stun her opponents. Her second skill imprisons her rivals in a small circle during a few seconds. Schroder is a swift cybernetic ninja who can disappear into the floor and move faster for a while, and he is also able to switch places with an opponent for his second skill. Finally, Cap-x02 is an all-round little robot who excels at defense, especially due to its ability to create a temporary barrier that stops both the ball and any player – using this to protect the goal is turning into a widespread tactic. Its other ability turns it into a turret, blasting players in its crosshair.

You won’t have an easy time settling for a Champion. There are many factors to consider, such as speed and health – will you choose a faster Champion or one that is able to endure more blows? Yes, because you can be knocked out of the match for a few valuable seconds. The limited duration of the sprint also takes some getting used to – you’ll find yourself pressing the button for a long time after the speed meter is emptied. Saving speed for the decisive moments is crucial in this game, but it’s not an obvious thing.

Steel Circus Preview Pass

Brutal Sports Circus

While I liked Steel Circus’ gameplay a lot, I’m a bit on the fence about some of its aspects. It is clearly a skill-based game and with serious eSports ambitions, but it can be adjusted in order to lower the entry barrier for the casual player. Don’t get me wrong, this is clearly one of those cases of “easy to learn, hard to master”, but it takes quite a bit of practice to get the hang of the passing and shooting system. It’s tricky to accurately point the ball in the right direction while simultaneously running and directing the character – perhaps the second analogue stick could be used as a means of immediate, automated passing to a teammate? It’s not that easy to explain, but you would understand if you played the alpha.

Dodges and tackles also need some work as well. In fact, this is possibly the mechanic that is worrying me the most right now. The developers seem to be aware of it and I hope that they reduce the cooldown for these actions or remove it altogether – Speedball 2 may be chaotic at times, but it was a whole lot of fun precisely due to the frequent tackling and utter mess that was going on. It also patently lacks feedback, both aural and visual – it needs a more biting sound to go with it, and the animation must evolve, as the stun reaction is a complete deal breaker. The Champions need to feel the tackle and properly convey it to the player, falling to the ground instead of just standing there, frozen, with a few stars hanging over their head.

This is evidently something that will be further worked on based on player feedback, so I’m not too worried about it, but I would be lying if I said that it didn’t bother me.

Steel Circus Preview Going Alone

But Steel Circus already is a lot of fun, no matter your skill level. I’ve dealt humiliating thrashings and I’ve also been on the receiving end of a few of them, but I ended up laughing anyway, mostly due to the spraytags that you can use on the field. This is a fun game and gets much better if you manage to convince a few friends to join your team, sharing tactics and working together.

I really want Steel Circus to succeed, and that’s not because I’m remembering Speedball 2 through rose-tinted glasses – I really love that game to bits and no sequel, spiritual or not, ever managed to deliver the same brutal, gritty magic. Steel Circus may feature a cleaner approach but there is no shortage of brawling and mocking going on. Hopefully it will grow bigger and better and earn its spot in the solar system as one of the best futuristic sporting events.

The business model of Steel Circus is still under wraps. In case Iron Mountain Interactive and publisher Oasis Games lean towards free-to-play, it should grant the game a larger player base. However, Rocket League isn’t free and just look at how that turned out. Place your bets, gentlemen.


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