Capcom wanted to reinvent the game with a similar amount of control, banking off of the (metzo) popularity of the Xbox Kinect. With the Kinect, additional controls, like pulling levers, changing views, shaking hands, and punching your crew in the face (more on this later) become your physical responsibility, while controlling the movement and guns of your analog mech are done with the controller. The integration is seemless, and the separation of motion controls and physical controls is entirely intuitive.
Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is rated for mature consumers. It is set to release summer 2012 and requires the Xbox Kinect.
On the battlefield, inside a semi-impenetrable mech, the gameplay is intense. There are people yelling and swearing at you, things exploding, machine gun fire, more people yelling and swearing at you, and so many controls. While you are trying to advance and destroy, there are obstacles to avoid, cover to find, and problems occurring on the inside of your armored war-bot that need to be addressed before you can go back to shooting, all the while you are the biggest target out there.
All of these elements combine to create a certain amount of constant panic. Any time you stop to fix something, you are being shot. When you go to shoot the bad guys, something explodes on the inside of your walking tank, or one of your yellow bellied comrades tries to escape out the hatch and you have to pull him back in. But hitting your targets is satisfying. Not only do you feel like you have accomplished something, because you are juggling so many elements at the same time that when you finally setup a successful shot, a hit becomes the culmination of about five minutes of work, but the enemies explode with a shaky rumble you can feel in the controller and see on the screen.
There are objectives coming in over the radio link with your squad, but there was so much yelling, swearing, and explosions that it was hard to hear the commands or read them on the screen. Instead, we just blew up everything with a red arrow over its head, and that seemed to work.
The gameplay has two main elements: inside the cockpit, and looking through the viewing slot. Inside the cockpit is where most of the Kinect controls come into play. Here you pull the exhaust to clear the cockpit of smoke, check the video screens for targets, put the mech into overdrive, and press the self-destruct button (a control for which we could not figure out an in-game purpose). If you reach your hands forward, you will pull yourself close into the viewing slot. Here is where you will do all of your shooting and most of your movement.
It is hard to push this game into a genre, given that there are so many controls and it is the first game to ever combine the controller with the Kinect, but it is most like a tank simulator. Throughout the game, you are confined to the insides of your walking tank, with the exception of being able to peer out the top of the hatch by standing up.
There are side events that require you to manage the crew inside the cockpit. Every once in a while, our machine gun loader would try to escape out the hatch. We had to reach up, pull him back in, and then punch him in the face a bunch to get him to get back to work. We were told by the developers that if you don't pull him down in time, you pull down a dead body and no longer have access to your machine gun. Also, if you don't punch him in the face enough times, something bad happens. We definitely punched him in the face enough times though, that was never going to be a problem.
This unique interface does take some time to get used to. There is a lengthy, and rather dry, tutorial mode where users will look and feel stupid for a while. You will pull levers four or five times while you try to change your periscope view, not understanding why you can't stop playing with the same switches and just move to something else. Once your hands get in tempo with the animations of the game, you will understand how to work this heavy rig.
Once you have the hand motions down, it becomes surprising that this is the first game to integrate the controller and the Kinect into one game. It works so well. When you use your body for actions you would in real life, and buttons to control a machine, the experience feels more immersive than a normal game.
At this time, there does not seem to be multi-player support.
The game is set in the near distant future: USA 2082. In this age, a microbe that dines on silicon has eaten up all the computer chips in the world; goodbye digital age. The US military responds by creating vertical tanks, a machine we commonly know as a mech. There is a war, the US is fighting some sort of rebellion on it's own soil, the reason is quite unclear at the outset, the only part of the game we got to play.
When you arrive on the scene, people remember you as the legendary vertical tank pilot from the first game. They are honored to meet you and you get to shake their hands (or fist bump the one black guy in the game).
The writers do a good job of creating memorable characters immediately, from your super-confident artillery loader, to your nervous and often deserting machine gun loader. We would like to note that there is a hell of a lot of swearing going on here. It's F- this and F- that. It sounds like a barroom in South Boston when the Red Sox are losing. We think that, as the game progresses, the characters will develop nicely and the war effort will become more compelling. We were too busy learning how to control a vertical tank to take notice of who or why we were fighting.
We think the realistic style of these graphics lands in the middle of the road. The facial features were not so spectacular as to rival film, but they were more than passable as real people to the standard we have now become accustomed. The cockpit is appropriately greasy, dingy, and rusted, but none of it will be recommended for best animation this year. Through the viewing slot, the graphics seem a little chunky. You are shooting tanks and other vertical tanks, but environmental elements are sometimes clearly polygonal.
The soundscape is one of the best aspects of this game. There is so much going on, and they make sure to have a really intense sound for each element. The culmination of machine gun fire, explosions, so much yelling, and alarms in the cockpit, create a sense of panic that drives the game and keeps you fully engaged at all times.
We had a ton of panicky fun with the demo. Trying to keep track of all the controls, while things are exploding and people are constantly yelling, swearing, and abandoning ship was so intense that we may have some PTSD. We imagine that as you get used to the controls, the game will get harder, because by the end of the demo, blowing up a series of ground tanks and vertical tanks was no problem. We even took some time to look out the top of the hatch and enjoy the view of the recently decimated opposition.
Our biggest problem with the game is the same problem the first Steel Battalion game had. You have to own or buy an Xbox Kinect, which is an extra $150. Yes, the Kinect is more versatile than a $200 controller that only works for one game, but so far, the dancing and working out audience that buys the Kinect is very different than the technical, vehicle simulation, war game audience. The main marketing for the Kinect is for family-friendly games, and Steel Batallion: Heavy Armor is definitely not F-ing one of them. The overlap is unlikely, and thus will cause consumers to pay for the full price of the game (probably $59.99 MSRP) as well as a $149.99 MSRP Kinect, bringing the price right back up to $200, which was the limiting cost of the first title.
We saw a long line of excited gamers at PAX however, and these may be the same people willing to shell out the big bucks for some vertical tank action this summer.
Meet the tester
Christian Sherden is a valued contributor to the Reviewed.com family of sites.
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