If you’re one of the people that remain sceptical about Microsoft’s Kinect and whether it will crash and burn or finally have a triumphant victory in its use in games, then things are about to get interesting as Steel Battalion explodes into action.
I don’t know how many of you can remember the original game with the massive controller but it seems as though From Software have managed to drop that idea in Heavy Armor, instead swapping it for Kinect. At first, I couldn’t imagine how such a game can work with only Kinect, especially with the huge amount of buttons, levers and switches required in Mech games. The first surprise came even before I got to sit down to play. There’s a normal Xbox 360 controller involved, and it was here that I started to believe.
In Heavy Armor, you are one of the few people who can pilot these steel monsters of death with the help of your more or less trustworthy crew. You’re the captain in one of these mechs and your missions often leads you into the middle of the toughest situations, including heavy fire and sometimes – if you’re not fast enough – certain death.
There are two ways of looking at this game, you’re either one mech in a war, or you’re a squad; comrades within one mech working together to survive against all odds, trying to complete the missions. But to be perfectly honest, the best players will be the ones who can merge these two ideas into one, as the game will sometimes require the player to change between these two points of view in an instant. This means that the player will have to react in a matter of seconds from thinking about the battlefield and enemies to recognising threat within the mech itself.
The recommended move (after scanning yourself sitting and standing with the Kinect) you are encouraged to take is to play all of the tutorials first, obviously. The difficulty curve in the game is something that most people won’t have experienced before. It starts off very high because of the massive information overload, but in the tutorial and the first mission, you start getting the hang of it. As soon as you’re used to the controls, the difficulty curve resets and starts as normal, increasing the journey to the top which is present in most games.
I managed to play through the tutorial and about 2-3 level when – after restarting one of the later levels in the game – I realised that I was operating the VT and its basic functions almost perfectly. The seamless merge of the controller and Kinect is simply amazing. The split of usage is about 50/50 between both of the controlling methods, but by the time you get through a couple of levels, you don’t get mixed up about what controls what, you just do things. Again, for gamers sceptic about Kinect, there’s one thing of note: you never have to put the Xbox 360 controller down.
The developers even gave thought to making some actions flawlessly transist into one other, meaning that even though you have to raise your hand to pull down or push up the periscope, you don’t necessarily have to push it up and then do the movement that gets you to the front window. You can simply just push both hands forward which will push up the periscope quickly and get to the front window; just one simple gesture. In the heat of the battle these shortcuts will prove extremely useful. Some series veterans may see this as a dumbing down mechanic, but you don’t ever have to use them. At the end of my session, I was sweating moderately and felt that I had pulled a muscle in my right arm while trying to throw a grenade out of the bottom hatch that was thrown in by an enemy soldier through the hatch on the ceiling.
One more mention about the Kinect interaction that must be noted. I have obviously played a few Kinect games already and most of them made me feel like I’m just an idiot waving around in front of my TV after a drug-filled hippie night out. Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor on the other hand requires precise and swift movements, and waving around will only open the self destruction panel and cause you no end of troubles.
The interesting thing is that as much as one would think that Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is about blowing everything up, it is actually about much more than that. It’s about a group of soldiers who get to save lives in almost every mission. The character interaction is very nice. Combine the two and you get some hilarious and some scary moments that will make you smile or drop your jaw. Depending on your actions and skills, your relationship with your comrades and the outcome of each mission will change dramatically. On the first mission, I stood in such a way that the right side of the VT got hit really hard which meant that my right loader got pretty smashed-up and my loading time was extremely slow as the poor chap had to load with one hand while covered in blood. After meeting my inevitable death by a bullet through the broken front glass (failing to close the shutter after it broke can lead to this), I restarted the mission and did quite well which meant that my whole crew was well and ready for action.
Apparently there’s a slightly different ending if everyone survives, which is a pretty hard work but very satisfying. Having your wits about you and reacting properly to your comrade’s actions is crucial.
From my limited encounter with the game it felt like there was a deep story for every character behind the whole war setting, with some funny one-liners and almost constant swearing that is quite an important part of the game as it helps in setting the mood and the seriousness of the situation. Those of you with a love of multiplayer will pleased to hear that certain levels are 4-player co-op and there are a lot of customisation options for your trusty little mech in multiplayer.
Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor appears to be an incredibly satisfying and enjoyable experience which will certainly give a lot of value to potential players, as it’s one of a kind and yet another reason for people to consider Kinect. Gamers, hold on to your controllers, it looks like there’s a proper Kinect game on the way.
Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is out on July 22nd in Europe, June 21st in Japan, June 19th in North America and will require Microsoft Kinect.