I didn’t have popstars for heroes when I was growing up. My Gods were people like Jeff Minter, Tony Crowther, David Braben, Archer McClean and spectacular teams like the Sensible Software guys, Rare (Ultimate PTG) and the Bitmaps. The Bitmap Brothers were standout developers in my age of Amiga, the Speedball games, GODS, Magic Packets, Cadaver, Xenon, The Chaos Engine and of course Z.
Masters of bas-relief graphics the team delivered quality games, great playability and an unmistakable style of graphics. The Bitmap Brothers were responsible for many happy gaming memories, some of which still stand head and shoulders above more modern competition. Just under 3 years ago the distinctive and original Z was brought back to life by dedicated developers Kavcom, now they have delivered the grown up sequel Z: Steel Soldiers. So let’s take a look under the hood.
Steel Soldiers did a lot of growing up after Z, the satellite view of the map had gone, so had the charming bas-relief graphics which were key in the Bitmap’s style sheet. Replaced instead by the ever growing legions of polygon based characters, the landscape too had become a scalable, turnable, zoomable arena.
The game offers everything an RTS can offer, buildings to capture, troops to muster, vehicles and objectives. The tutorial levels are good at hand holding and drip feeding the controls while the UI to level select from a global map is a nice way to make mission choices. Speaking of the UI, turning the game landscape feels a little off kilter.
As a whole there seems to be something about the game that lacks charm, where Z offered fun and entertainment there are times where Steel Soldiers feels like work. The combat is a touch on the grind side, where you find yourself watching energy bars being slowly whittled away. That’s not to say it’s bad or off-putting, even back in the day there was a disconnect between the original Z and its follow up. It’s a different kind of game, which is a bold move for a sequel to a popular title.
When Steel Soldiers first hit the market it was standing amongst ground breaking games that were heading in this polygon driven direction. It’s just worth remembering that Steel Soldiers isn’t more of the same if you have your rose-tinted specs on.
Speaking of specs, compatibility with the iPad Mini must be an issue because I’ve been kicked to the home screen enough to know I can’t finish the full range of levels.
Overall, it’s a faithful and well crafted port of the original Steel Soldiers, but for fans of all things retro I feel Steel Soldiers offers a good game, just not really the game I’m after.