Take a hero shooter such as Overwatch, mix it with a souped-up version of the sport of handball, and you have all of the basic ingredients required to make Steel Circus; a three-on-three multiplayer sports game that revolves around larger-than-life heroes and their diverse special abilities. Created by indie developer Iron Mountain Interactive, and publisher Oasis Games, Steel Circus is another addition to the growing list of recent future sports games, joining the likes of Rocket League and Disc Jam in their revitalization of a genre that was previously popular back in the early 90s.
Steel Circus imagines a future where our sporting heroes (called Champions) are made up of the likes of a stereotypical ginger Scotsman with a mechanical bagpipe, a robotic businessman who can bend reality, and a futuristic paladin who enjoys chucking her massive shield at people's foreheads, among other eccentric characters. Each Champion's objective is simple: work together in teams of three to score more points than the opposition by throwing a ball into a modestly-sized goal. When you factor in all of their special abilities, however, this becomes more difficult than it sounds.
Look at our Scottish pal as an example; he can use his robotic fist to slam down on the ground, knocking back and damaging any opposition players caught in the blast, while his bagpipes allow him to play a traditional warsong that discourages opponents, limiting their movement speed. Each Champion has two special abilities of their own, and choosing when and how to use them comprises a significant part of the strategy inherent in Steel Circus matches. Abilities are generally used in defense and in support of one of your teammates when they have the ball. When in possession of the ball yourself, the only course of action is to pass, shoot, or utilize a handy spin move to dodge out of harm's way. This creates an environment where the person on the ball feels vulnerable, encouraging teamwork to bypass the opposition, and elevating those with a higher skill level.
Passing and shooting are both handled with manual aiming, so Steel Circus displays a useful reticle beneath your chosen Champion to give you a good idea of where the ball will go once it's left your hands. On the defensive side, beyond using your abilities to disrupt the opposition, you can also get close to other players and tackle them to win the ball back. There's also the option to sprint, but this pulls from a stamina meter so you will have to decide when the best time to use it is. Character selection factors into this, too, as each Champion has different attributes for power, speed, and sprint. As the meta evolves and more characters are introduced, there are sure to be those who emerge as specialists in particular roles, even if no such thing is defined by the game itself. You might, for instance, prefer to stay back and protect your own goal with a Champion like Cap-X02, a small robot who can deploy a barrier to block the ball and other players, or focus on using Ellika's shield toss to damage and eventually knock out opposition players.
Health is something you do have to take into consideration. Sustain enough damage and you'll be KO'd for a short time, giving the other team an advantage, much like a power play does in hockey. Although there's no accounting for the unpredictability Steel Circus sometimes showcases. The ball physics are terrific, and pinball bumpers in each arena are designed to create chaos. There's definitely a tangible skill level, though, which should separate the best from the rest. Learning how to play Steel Circus is relatively straightforward, but even in these early stages particular players can stand out due to their capacity to think outside the box and use their Champion's abilities in innovative ways.
Steel Circus' early stages are promising so far. Now available in Early Access on Steam.
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