No need to get Colin Powell on the horn just yet!
Imagine yourself going into a battle, with no support, with no idea what you are going after, and without knowledge of your enemy. Sound fun? Maybe it does sound fun at first, but simply spend twenty minutes playing Sony Computer Entertainment’s, Steel Reign, and you will know that this scenario can be quite the opposite. The burning sensation in your temples that may result from playing this game for more than an hour may be mistaken for fun, but it is more likely to be frustration.
Steel Reign is a tank battle game that pits the player against ten levels of anti-tank warfare, and anti-tank sentiment. The first thing to be aware of is that you may immediately throw the instruction manual away after figuring out how to drive, aim, and shoot (This should take about fifteen seconds). After mastering these skills the booklet is of no value to you and actually can steer you in the wrong direction. Unless, of course, you really have burning desire to know about the evolution of the TDED engine that powers the enemy vehicles. The manual also tries to “help” by giving you a scenario for each of the ten levels that you must face. Disregard this. The manual works perfectly to set you up for ambushes and missed assignments by making no mention of them. All the manual does is perpetuate the ongoing “story” of which you are supposed to be playing a role in. (The story is too much of a stretch to warrant even a light-hearted description here.)
When it comes time to actually playing the game, the first thing that one will notice is that the distance viewed by the tank’s radar is actually slightly less than the distance that can be viewed with the naked eye. This makes the radar almost useless for combat in an open theater, but somewhat valuable for seeing around walls in the city theaters. The first level is a typical Chuck Norris level. Destroy all the basic necessities: flatten the militia encampment, blow up the radar installation; and, of course, what tactical movement in a video game would be complete without destroying the enemy’s bridge? (If you have never played a game with this premise before, please purchase the original NES and it’s collection of war games, immediately, to begin your basic training)
Upon completing the first level, the player gets a total of how many enemies were destroyed, what objectives were completed (this is a helpful stat, since you must complete all of them to finish the level, anyway), and how many secrets were discovered. Wait a minute, did that say secret? It sure did. Well then what is a secret and how are they discovered? It would seem that the answer to this question would be in the manual, right? But, oh no, I already threw the manual out. No need for worry. Information about secrets, as well as many other topics, is not in the manual, or anywhere else for that matter. This is only one of the problems , for which you, yourself, must pull the answer out of thin air. All that I will say is that one time I found four secrets on one level. (How? Why? I dunno.)
Another interesting feature of this game is the Auto Aim setting. The player can choose either Full Auto Aim, Partial Auto Aim, or Manual Aim. In Full Auto Aim, the weapons turret will automatically line up to the targeted enemy. This mode does not allow the player to aim the turret at all. In Partial Auto Aim, The player is given horizontal control of the turret, while vertical aim is still the responsibility of the computer. This is the default mode, and the one most frequently used. In Manual Aim, the player has control of both the horizontal and vertical. This assistance in aiming is helpful for the first couple of levels, when Partial Aim is perfect for the battles faced. As the game becomes more intense, the player must employ a considerably higher level of strategy in order to succeed. This means at some times the player wants to control the turret to fire at objects which have not been targeted (Manual Aim), and at other times it is more beneficial to have Full Auto or Partial Aim, allowing the player freedom to navigate treacherous terrain without having to worry, as much, about aiming the weapons. As the game progresses, it appears to be increasingly necessary for success that the player be able to switch between these modes. This is where the problem lies. The only way to switch between these modes is to pause the game, go to Options, change your Auto Aim option, then return to the game. What a way to kill the rush of a battle. It becomes very tiresome to have to be repeatedly pausing the game to ensure the appropriate Auto Aim option. This becomes a more serious handicap as the game wears on and limits the capabilities of the player.
The two player mode of this game is reminiscent of an old tank game for the Atari 2600. Now of course the Atari version cannot compare with Steel Reign’s 3-D environments and tank simulations, but in terms of game play they appear the same. While the one-player mode of Steel Reign is hyped by a battle scenario, the two player mode is nothing more than you and opponent with an entire battle field all to yourselves. The objective? You guessed it, blow the other guy up. Usually head-to-head combat is great in a fighting/battle game, but most of the tanks move too rigidly to be effective in head-to-head combat. These machines were built for strategic attacks, not to be squared off, shooting at each other until the other guy blows up.
Overall, the game has a very plain feel to it, as though it were begging the player to make the game come alive. Unfortunately, the hindrances in game play and option availability do not allow the player to interject the needed life into this game. The two-player mode is even more lifeless than the one-player mode and the only thing that keeps this game together are the great artificial environments and the 3-D action. The actual game itself leaves quite a bit to be desired.