Have you ever wondered what it's like to shoot a hulking Scotsman with an artillery barrage? No, it's just us then... Still, that must've piqued your interest as it did ours, especially when the title we are referring to is actually a sports game. That's right, we're talking about Steel Circus, the greatest future sporting tournament since pod racing crashed onto the big screen.
Developed by Iron Mountain Interactive, Steel Circus is an Early Access PC sports title based on a future version of handball. The backstory behind this title features a dystopian 2350, where the solar system has been devastated by a long period of conflict and war. In order to resolve this and attempt to bring peace to the system, a tournament pitting Champions from each warmongering faction against each other was created to draw the attention of the public, while leaders met behind closed doors. This became known as the Steel Circus, an event that manages to capture the attention of everyone in the solar system each year.
Steel Circus brings all the best parts of handball and mashes it together with futuristic technology and ethics. What this means in effect is you get the most volatile version of the sport you can imagine, combined with players who throw the rulebook out the window, well mostly anyway. The aim of Steel Circus is similar to handball; get the ball and score by throwing it in the goal without letting the opposing team do the same to you. Each game as it stands involves an online-only 3v3 scenario, currently lasting for five minutes in total or until one team scores ten goals against their opponents. This is the Quick Play mode. The ranked equivalent will likely be a little different, but we won't know about that until it is released in the November update as the development road map found on Steam suggests.
Within Steel Circus, the only other playable mode as of yet is the Training Arena, which lets you get to grips with each Champion's skill set before taking them online. As for the arenas each match takes place in, they are scattered all across the solar system and feature designs respective of the planet/area they are located in. For example, the arena set on Mars features lots of red and a backdrop of the planet's dusty maroon surface. Aside from maps and modes, one of the best features is the commendation system at the end of each game, showcasing the best players from each team. This works very similarly to the card system at the end of each Overwatch match, where it gives extra recognition to the best players.
As for the controls themselves, they are relatively simple. W, A, S and D keys are for movement and the direction you wish to run. This means that even if your mouse is aiming to the left side of the arena and you hold D, you will still run to the right. The mouse itself is simply for aiming where you want to throw the ball, with left click for throwing, while holding will generate more power for each toss. Aside from these controls, space bar allows your Champion to sprint with Shift and l+CTRL for activating the abilities of each Champion.
On the topic of Champions, there are currently six in Steel Circus, although there are plans to add many more as the development road map also states. Out of the available six, however, three must be purchased in order to be used. To do this, players will either have to obtain them through playing the game and earning the Blue Steel currency in which you need 15000 in total or by purchasing the Champions Pack (an expansion pass) costing around £16.
As for the current Champions, they range anywhere from a suited robot all the way to a burly Scottish highlander, with other peculiar creations in between. Our favourite of the six was Schröder, the eloquent robot we mentioned before. He is all about velocity, boasting a relatively high mobility and a fast sprint speed on top of his abilities that allow him to manoeuvre the arena at a rapid pace. The first of his abilities allows him to swap places with a player provided he manages to connect with them, the second on the other hand, gives him the opportunity to drop beneath the arena, moving faster than usual, popping up after a short while. You can see by these abilities and stats that Schröder is designed to be a striker, taking the ball off of the enemy team and planting it in their goal. This does mean he is particularly poor at defending and is liable to be knocked out.
Even though Steel Circus has a limited number of Champions currently, the game still features an Apex style selection screen at the beginning of each match. This means that you may not always get the Champion you wish to play as there are no duplicates allowed on the same team in the arena.
We did briefly talk about the Blue Steel currency earlier. This is earned through playing matches and levelling up your account and is not limited to just Champion purchasing as Steel Circus has an in-game store for all your cosmetic needs. In there you can buy new skins, sprays, emotes and more for the right price. Just for clarification, these cosmetics, which can be paid for via microtransactions are purely appearance-related and do not affect how the game plays even at the slightest. For anyone who doesn't wish to sink heaps of money into Steel Circus to explore the variety of cosmetics on offer, the title does offer challenges, which can be completed to bring in a bit of extra currency to your account.
As a final point, it's worth noting the soundtrack for Steel Circus fits the title incredibly well. It features an Olympian theme with twists of digital, futuristic tones, making for a very atmospheric and noble soundtrack. The art style is cartoony with hints of realism. For example, the characters, whilst humanoid in form in most regards, are strange looking (to say the least). Schröder is a great example of this, as he has an instantly recognisable humanoid form, which is accentuated in places to reflect the fact that he's a robot.
In summary, while Steel Circus has tight mechanics and a generally fun concept, the title can feel a little empty in places, as you would expect for a game that is in Early Access, with plans to develop and grow further. We can't wait to see how the game performs when there are more Champions available, something which should bring fresh life to a title with lots of potential.