Steel is one of those maps that has a hit and miss effect on the community. A lot of people really like Steel and wish it could be played on more servers. Others utterly hate the map and refuse to play on it. Personally, I’m not sure, but I find myself veering towards disliking it.
Let’s start with the good stuff. Steel is a very nice-looking map, set in that Dustbowl-like environment, dry with a hint of vegetation, some grass, but with lots of indoor areas and quite a few tight corners, more like Turbine. Both types of environment look attractive, not enough to distract you though. There are also dynamic components to the map, where pathways open up as you push your way towards the final point, E.
Gameplay-wise, it’s quite different. It’s a lovely change to your normal Attack/Defend map, as you can attack E straight away without having to capture every other point, although such an attack is rarely successful. It’s much easier to capture A and B, possibly C and possibly D, before heading out to E, each adding a new route to be able to get to E in the first place. If you don’t capture anything, you need someone who knows how to jump to get to E.
The trouble with Steel is that it is a bit of a maze. For a new player, it’s easy to get lost. Normally, getting lost isn’t that big of an issue, especially in a survival game, but if you’re lost in a first person shooter, it feels like a negative experience, particularly if you end up running into the path of the entire enemy team. Getting lost initially puts a lot of players off playing a specific map. Often, the solution to this is to “go play the map on your own and work it out yourself!” but that’s an equally negative piece of advice. Most TF2 maps strive to be understandable from the get-go but Steel is an all-round different concept, sadly slightly similar to Hydro.
There are signs scattered around Steel and they do an okay job. Their job is better for RED players, but for BLU players, they can be a tad worrying, especially if you’re going from C to D, where you run past two RED resupplies. Some signs though are simple black and white and often tend to be missed, as black and white are colours generally used for generic signs in other maps. As well as signs, there are also misleading alternate paths, some of which don’t go anywhere, some of which make odd spots for Engineers and others which have some purpose that I don’t really understand. The sniper deck just off A looking over E is one of them, as it seems pretty easy to spam a few rockets up that way. For any other class, it’s useless.
The thing that irks me most about Steel though is BLU’s spawn room. There are only four exits from BLU’s spawn, and they are all rather narrow and small. While the exit to A isn’t too bad, as the second path leads up and around the back of where a lot of the RED team often wait, the direct path to B is incredibly narrow and it’s easy to spam projectiles down there. The small path off the side is also down the same narrow, easy-to-spam corridor and even if you manage to get there, you’ll often find a sentry or a Demoman hanging around.
Because of the troubles getting to B, it’s generally easier to try and capture B as fast as you can from A top stop RED from setting up and camping that tunnel. Of course, you can go via the two A paths, but that takes quite a bit of time. The path from A also happens to go straight past where all the Soldiers and Snipers will spam their projectiles.
In fact, I’ve almost always disliked B point. It’s fairly open, making it easy for Snipers and Scouts to get around. It’s relatively close to RED’s resupply room and it’s really easy to defend from BLUs coming from their spawn room. Even once you’ve captured B, there’s a very narrow path towards C that is incredibly easy to protect with stickies.
There are other things that annoy players. Engineers are quite powerful in Steel as there are lots of nooks and crannies in which to hide. There are quite a few flanking routes, but there’s also some not-particularly useful routes too. Many games I’ve played, BLU seems to get stuck on B for a long time, being held back with ease by RED just outside their spawn room. Nonetheless, Steel is a fine change from Gravel Pit and traditional Attack/Defend maps, so maybe we’ll see similar, less maze-like maps in the future?