Reel Steel Review (Xbox 360)
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I wouldn’t blame anyone for passing on Real Steel, based simply on its description. It’s a game based on a movie. It’s a cheap(er) XBLA title that’s gotten little fanfare. It’s also made by Yukes, a company known primarily for wrestling, and occasional, children's games.
Yet despite these ingredients, Real Steel is a fun arcade boxer with an unusual theme and lots of customization options.
Reel Steel is based on the movie of the same name, which to be honest, I haven’t seen. I have seen enough to understand the context of the game, which essentially seems like futuristic Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots.
Gameplay is pretty simple. There's a light and heavy punch for either arm, all mapped to the face buttons. Fighters can block or dodge, as well as lumber around a ring.
There are two meters to monitor: overall health and energy. If total health drops too far, the fighter is obviously knocked out. If the energy dips, punches won’t be as effective and there is a chance you’ll momentarily wear yourself out.
It’s a relatively straightforward system that certainly feels familiar. But the most important thing here is that it works: it’s paced just right to give the robots a true sense of heft. The sound also plays a big role in making the hits seem legitimate.
A couple of other gameplay features are worth noting. First, it is possible to lose an arm, in which case you continue the match down a limb. It’s possible to win; unlikely, but certainly funny. Also, when you are knocked out, a mini-game of sorts gives you the chance to revive. It’s not groundbreaking, but different enough than just mashing buttons.
Adding to what makes this game enjoyable is the varied career mode, which adds context to each of your matches. You’ll be earning money, which can be used to repair or upgrade your fighter. Damage carries over from match to match (though you’ll get limbs back), forcing you to balance your funds between upgrades and critical repairs.
Upgrades are handled through a shop that sells various parts, including heads, limbs, and computer components. This game is stat-heavy, so you need to carefully monitor what you equip; a heavy fist upgrade will likely reduce speed. There is also an energy/weight system that limits what you can initially equip.
This mode isn’t without weaknesses, though. First, it’s really “grindy.” Each stage of the ladder only has a handful of opponents, so you’ll be battling each one quite a bit. The boxing is simple and fun, but seeing the same enemies over and over gets pretty repetitive. There’s also a leveling system that unlocks new parts to buy that seems to throttle your overall progress.
Also, this game is leaning heavily on DLC. You can pay real money for parts if you want to, but what’s worse is that the robot visual designer costs extra. Without it, you’ll be fighting with a plain steel grey robot with glowing blue innards. I guess it’s OK as an option, saving us a few bucks, but it seems like something that could have been added for free.
You can play local multiplayer, which is a lot of fun. A simple game like this is the perfect halftime entertainment while your buddies are over watching football. It’s also a friendly and appealing enough for kids, without being super-violent.
Online is another story, as I was unable to find matches the few times I tried to get online. I’m not sure if it’s a server issue or just that no one has bought the game.
If you enjoy sports games with a lot of customization and engaging gameplay, and aren’t afraid to spend time grinding through repeated opponents, you’ll like Real Steel. It’s the rare mix of movie/sports game that works well, and for 800 Microsoft Points, you get a lot of metallic bangs for your buck.
Learning Curve: Not a hard game to learn, but will require some time to get really good. Helpful tutorials explain most of the game.
Control Scheme: As intuitive as it gets. Very reminiscent of older arcade boxing games.
Visuals: Effective, especially the animations and robot models. Not cartoony at all, but also not super-serious.
Audio: Really effective sound effects, though no announcing and generic music.
Customization: Lots of ways to upgrade and enhance your boxer, though you’ll have to pay extra to get him to look exactly like what you want.
Value: Lots of gameplay, though mainly because you’ll be grinding past the same opponents to upgrade your robot. A cynic might add that the grinding helps make those DLC parts more appealing.
Score: 5 (Average) -- This is the quintessential average game. There are good spots, there are bad spots. You might love this game, then you might hate it. In the end, you'll just feel like it could have been so much more. Rent these for sure if you are a fan, and you might even buy the game if you can overlook the many flaws.