Before you even start playing the game, Steel Empire begins on a paradox. Its story postures at condemning imperialistic conquest, but by choosing the name Steel Empire, the game centers empire above whatever harm it claims that empire brings about. The further I pushed into the game, the more I saw similar tensions pop up left and right. The narration tells us how humanity fears for its destruction, but the accompanying imagery communicates hope and happiness. Likewise, the game is willing to adorn itself in steampunk details if that means the player will look back on this era through a nostalgic lens, but it’s not quite as willing to engage with the darker implications that era in history suggests. Because the game can’t resolve these tensions or even completely hide them, it falls back on spectacle and impressive technique, hoping either one might distract from its underlying problems.