Uchronie: A history that never was, a hypothetical alternative world. What would the world look like if say the invention of the airplane took place one hundred years earlier?
Steel Empire is a well done side scrolling shooter set in such an alternative history with lots of steampunk influence as well. The opening cinemas which describe the enemy movements are in black and white and flicker like an old movie camera. You choose between a fast moving single engine airplane or a larger, slower, and tougher fighting blimp and have to go kick some Victorian-era flying machine bootay.
For a shump it's pretty traditional, with the usual powerups including speed up, a Gradious style option (where two little ships flank you to add to your firepower,) an "Ex" upgrade that increases the strength of your shots, etc. Your ship also has the ability to shoot forwards or backwards at will and release a screen destroying "lightning bomb."
Level design is pretty ingenious. The first few levels are pretty traditional (and actually pretty easy.) Straight forward patterns of enemies fly headlong into you, seen it before. After the third level or so things start to heat up. The third level has you flying through a rocky cavern with enemies coming at you from both sides, falling rocks from behind, and also a daring escape through a very tight tunnel after the death of the level boss. Ingenious.
Bosses are pretty huge and follow the 19th century steampunk motif; Large dirigibles, flying platforms, impossible airplanes, huge trains with multiple cannons. Most of them involve shooting forwards and backwards in some way and generally aren't too hard to take down with practice.
Overall a great shooter with decent graphics and sound, good solid gameplay and an imaginative theme. The levels are full of little period details (such as the windmills that take off into flying machines,) and how everything seems to be made of heavy steel with rivets showing. It's motivation to get to the next level just to see what comes next.
Graphics: Very detailed and well animated. There's a nice amount of parallax in the game which adds to the atmosphere without becoming too distracting. Some of the levels use well done graphical effects such as the fog in the cavern level.
Sound: Not much to grab your attention. The generic "tink!" sound of your ship's cannon can get a little repetitive. Explosions and such are not Earth shattering but they get the job done.
Gameplay: Very solid traditional 2D shumpness, with the later levels diverging more from the formula.