Shattered Steel is chock full of Mechs, known as planet runners in this game, ready for an extended siege or two. Of course, you can't just wander around blasting things without a good reason; like replenishing your oil reserve, for example. And Shattered Steel is no exception. Some time in the future, mankind has begun to colonize other planets, mainly after making such a complete mess of Earth. Several mega-corporations have sprung up, claiming planets, and mining them for their resources. And in this ecological unsound future, all is peaceful, except for the odd inter-corporation scuffle.
And then the inevitable happens. An aggressive alien race pops up, seemingly from nowhere, and begins to make trouble. Before you can say 'alien autopsy' , every colony and planet is threatened by this new menace. Something has to be done. And this is where you come in. You are a highly skilled mercenary, and pilot of one of the robotic planet runners. These heavily armed machines, usually used to defend corporations assets from rival corporations, have become mankind's main defence against the alien menace. Of course, it's not all bad news. You're being paid to protect planets from the aliens. So what are you waiting for, merc -- get to it!
It's not just a case of running onto the battlefield, and stomping on a few big eyed aliens, though. The aliens are pretty well armed, with a myriad of bio-mechanical machines and weapons, and they come at you in droves. But with your superior skill, you can make the difference, can't you?
The game is viewed from a 3D perspective, similar to that of Earthsiege and Mechwarrior 2, with you sitting in the cockpit of your planet runner, while the aliens generally do their best to be unpleasant. Shattered Steel has a mission based structure, again, like Earthsiege and Mechwarrior 2, each mission having a set number of objectives which have to be completed if you are to advance to the next mission, and eventually to victory. These objectives differ from mission to mission; one minute you may be attacking an enemy convoy, the next you may be protecting your own trucks while they construct a base of operations. And from time to time you are able to choose which mission you wish to go on. And they don't get any easier.
But fortunately, you can add various weapons and upgrades to your runner, or swap it for a new model altogether. You start off with the standard two-legged, lightly armoured chicken walker, but the top of the range runner is a huge heavily armoured humanoid thing. Must be mechanoid evolution, or something.
Despite your mercenary status, you don't have to provide the cash for the various upgrades. You get new times as you progress through the missions, though new runners are given to you less frequently. But once you have the weaponry and accompanying equipment, such as shields and reactors, you can mix and match them as much as you like, as long as you don't exceed your runner's weight. Each runner comes with rechargable shields as default, which act as a buffer between your opponent's weapons, and rather painful death. At least, it would be rather painful death if each runner didn't come with an auto ejection system. This nifty device can hurl you from the midst of the flaming wreckage, to complete safety. But you do lose your runner; lose them all, and you're in deep trouble.
But the enemies get meaner and tougher too. While you start off facing relatively weak enemies, such as the spider baddies, and chicken walkers, the aliens are no slouches. One of the best things about Shattered Steel is the way that just when you think you can cope, the enemy throws something new at you.
It is humbling, and frightening to say the least, when you follow a chicken walker round a hill, blow it away, then spin around and see a huge bio-mechanical scorpion, just in time to see it hurl ten thousands volts at you through it's tail. Whoops. Dead again. It would be hard enough if the game was an arcade blaster, but you've got to deal with defending objectives, rather than just going straight for the throats of the baddies. The aliens have a nasty habit of splitting up; half of them going after you, the other half splitting up again, and going after your bases. This is one game that really keeps you on your toes.
But you're not alone in your endeavors, and this is another area where Shattered Steel excels. While there are a number of solo missions, you will also find that you have a number of intelligent allies working alongside you. If you can hold off the enemy long enough, on some missions, allied dropships will zoom in, and start taking out the aliens with a barrage of lasers and missiles. There are also transports that, can you protect them long enough to finish their task, will drop autocannons around the area. These cannons in turn spin around, blasting anything that comes into their field of vision. The end result of this is that you actually feel you're part of a bigger force, rather than it just being one mercenary against the universe. Just don't make them do everything; remember, you're the one being (virtually) paid.
The GFX and SFX in Shattered Steel are excellent. The sound effects include bags of bangs, crashes, explosions, and a smattering of speech, just so you know when your runner's about to explode. And the graphics are outstanding. Texture mapped, voxel, and other industry buzz words of the time can be applied to Shattered Steel. The upshot of this is that the game looks extremely good, with things exploding spectacularly; Bioware, for it is they who have written the game, have paid great attention to detail. All sorts of bits can be blown off the baddies; blow away the leg off a biped, and it'll crash and burn. Blow the leg off a four legged runner, and it'll keep on going. A bit like the Energizer Bunny, only with plasma launchers.
When it was first released Shattered Steel's main competitor in the "big, robotic stomping arena" was Mechwarrior 2: Mercs. Both involve said "big stomping robots", lots of weapons, and plenty of blasting action. However, in my opinion, Shattered Steel comes out on top. Shattered Steel provides a far greater challenge than Mercs, with about 50 missions, and increasingly lethal baddies. Plus, Steel actually has a decent plot line. Granted, it may not be the most original ever, but it manages to link the missions together, while Mercs is more of a mishmash of missions.
Shattered Steel is incredibly playable and excels in creating good old xenomorphic rage!