Steelrising keeps the vital, generous spirit of the great Double-A games alive

In these parts there is no higher praise than “double-A”. Sometimes it can be a reflection of the budget, but never the skill, craft and imagination of the developers. A great double-A game is often a quirky affair built around immediate pleasures and often delivered with a twist.

One of the things I’ve realized recently is how much Double-As like to find a rhythm to settle in en masse. For a while, this was a “third person shooter with a gimmick,” so you had Fracture and its ground warping, or Red Faction with all those walls collapsing. Then we had open worlds, whether you were a saint or you were in a UFO, and endless covert shooting, with things like… well, there was a lot of covert shooting actually.

I’m pretty sure, in an earlier era, Steelrising would have been a cover shooter. That sounds bad and I absolutely don’t mean it that way. What I mean is that it’s a soulslike today, at least in part because soulslikes are the perfect contemporary style for double-A development. You get a framework that’s both recognizable and satisfying on which to build your specific double-A charms. I hadn’t realized until I suddenly looked around how many double-As were taking the souls approach.

In the case of Steelrising, those specific double-A charms come down to the setting most of the time, offering an automated twist on the French Revolution that sees you heading to the barricades to take down the ruling classes and beat up all sorts of brass. and bronze horrors. It’s lovely, offbeat stuff, from the fact that you meet Marie Antoinette before the credits have really faded, to the fact that you play as some kind of ballet china doll, teetering on spindly legs, but with twin swords securing you. you are capable of unleashing the appropriate terror on anyone you meet.

Steel lift trailer.

I’ll be honest: a surprising amount of the early fun comes from seeing how familiar From Software systems are repurposed: what counts toward a bonfire here, and what you’re collecting instead of souls. Over time, however, all of that faded away. Steelrising became something of its own, offering its own delicacies.

Delights like a dimly lit eighteenth-century world, straight out of a Claude Lorrain painting, where the outskirts of Paris have muddy streets criss-crossed with paths and castles turned into cross-cutting puzzles in ruins. That’s a treat in itself: Steelrising puts a lot more emphasis on platforming than many Soulslikes. He’s a bit clumsy, but he means well and is ambitious. I like the feeling of picking up my compass, noticing that the place I’m aiming at isn’t just on the horizon but floating above it, and wondering how I’m going to get there.

Combat is loud and fun, enlivened by the odd balletic movement that brings to mind a fleeting memory of PN03. What I really like is the full assist modes, meaning you can really tailor the challenge to get what you want from the game.

Steelrising is everywhere this week, and I’m glad to see it thrive. It will live on, I think, as a warm memory of one of those great double-A games that kept the spirit of the industry going through the years when small, ambitious teams faced many challenges.

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