Play as Marie Antoinette’s robot bodyguard in this alternate history Soulslike set in Revolutionary France.
The problem with imitating Bloodborne is that Bloodborne already exists. While the term Soulslike has become a genre unto itself, with games such as Nioh and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order proving worthwhile entries outside of FromSoftware’s creations, most have borrowed from Dark Souls rather than the aggressive rhythm and atmosphere of Yharnam’s streets. As Bloodborne’s reputation has continued to grow over the years, it might be a case of dodging a comparison that’s difficult to overcome.
We should be clear: Steelrising doesn’t come close to Bloodborne’s quality, but it’s perhaps better than you’re expecting. Set in an alternate history depiction of Paris in 1789, you play as Aegis, a female automaton who serves as a bodyguard to Queen Marie Antoinette. As an army of machines terrorises the city streets, under the orders of a tyrannical King Louis XVI, you’re sent to seek out the king to stop the ongoing massacre.
The wild premise and French setting gives Steelrising an identity away from its inspirations. After a tutorial level in the Queen’s grounds, you’re hitching a boat to Paris where robots patrol the burning streets, and the bodies of dead citizens occupy every corner. While the visuals are occasionally muddy due to the dreary, mechanical colour palette, there’s a strong sense of place throughout – with altered recreations of Versailles and the Tuileries Garden being a refreshing change from the genre’s norm.
Of course, Paris doesn’t typically have killer robots parading around. The enemy designs, while not as delightfully messed up as FromSoftware’s finest, do an admirable job of injecting some personality into its metallic squad – from tin can heads who strut around dragging deadly balls on chains to slippery snake-like robots who hang in the trees. Robots are usually amongst the most boring and unsatisfying adversary to kill in games, yet here they’re surprising and possess a gratifying clunk when taken down.
That satisfaction also comes from the combat, which encourages the aggressive play associated with Bloodborne. While there are weapons which have a shield as a secondary function, for the most part, Steelrising is geared towards the offense with various halberds, chains, claws, guns, and spinning wheels to discover. Aegis can also jump which provides some welcome versatility, both in aerial attacks and as a viable escape method.
While there isn’t an opportunity to earn back health with follow-up attacks à la Bloodborne, Steelrising has a stamina recharge system similar to Nioh’s Ki Pulse mechanic. When you exhaust your stamina, there’s a window where you can recharge it entirely at the press of a button. If you abuse the mechanic too often, however, you’ll be punished by being frozen for a couple of seconds – leaving you open to potential attacks. You can ignore the system entirely, but it’s a smart addition to encourage those final swings of desperation when an enemy is one smack from death.
The game is divided between eight main levels, which are structured as you’d expect from a Soulslike. Progression is tied to chairs called Vestals (the equivalent of bonfires), where you upgrade Aegis’ abilities by spending Anima Essence (essentially, souls) from killing enemies. You’ll unlock shortcuts back to previous areas designed to instil the same sense of relief as FromSoftware, but it’s more generous and never quite as smartly designed, with many being giant steel gates that are clearly signposted and often reveal where you need to head next.
Steelrising also throws in some Metroidvania elements. When you defeat certain bosses, you’ll earn abilities to unlock new areas – whether smashing through walls or dashing over obstacles.
It provides an extra incentive to return to past levels as you frequently encounter blocked areas, but the lack of a map makes memorising these locations a chore. There’s no fast travel between Vestals either, which means you have to stroll back to your horseless carriage at the beginning of each area to jump between levels. It makes sense, to encourage the discovery of shortcuts, to a degree but it makes returning to past levels more tedious than perhaps intended.
For those embroiled in the difficulty debate around Soulslike titles, Steelrising presents an admirable answer in Assist Mode. Instead of rigid levels of difficulty, there’s sliders to reduce damage taken, increase stamina regeneration or to allow players to keep Anima Essence after death. As such, it might be the most accessible Soulslike available to newcomers, and an inviting proposition for those usually intimidated by the genre’s demanding nature.
Despite the positives, Steelrising falls short in some areas, when stacked against its sky-high competition. There’re moments when it draws direct comparisons to Bloodborne, with the voices of civilians locked in their homes that you speak to for minor quests, but these disappoint in their execution and offer little reward or insight. The enemy AI is often janky and easily exploitable, with certain boss fights featuring clipping in and out of the level geometry (the developers have said a day one patch should address some bugs).
Steelrising isn’t the most polished Soulslike around but it’s a competently made alternative which has some distinctive and likeable qualities – especially for newcomers. The parallels it draws with Bloodborne and Nioh often don’t work in its favour, but the well realised French setting, accessibility options, and solid combat make it an enjoyable, if not exactly revolutionary, take that might scratch a post-Elden Ring itch.
Steelrising review summary
In Short: A competent Soulslike lifted by its alternate history premise and Parisian setting, but it’s not quite enough to compete with its obvious inspirations.
Pros: The alternate history take on Revolutionary France is well realised and fun to explore, with good production values. Combat is engaging and offers plenty of weapons to experiment with. Robot enemy designs offer a distinctive flavour. Great accessibility options.
Cons: Level design doesn’t live up to the inspirations it pulls from. Feels unpolished with some janky AI. Metroidvania elements feel tacked on.
Formats: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox Series X, and PC
Release Date: 8th September 2022
Age Rating: 12
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