Review: Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor
For all the hardcore gamers among us, warming to the Kinect has been a huge mountain to climb, with almost all of the offerings being aimed at the family market in a bid to share a stake in what Nintendo started, there has been almost nothing for us to sink our teeth into. That is until Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor, or at least that was the plan.
With early screens and previews Steel Battalion left myself and I’m sure many others salivating at the thought of a hardcore Kinect game that puts you in the driving seat of your very own Vertical Tank or VT, and considering the cult success of its predecessor then surely Capcom were on to a winner.
The story sets us on a fairly cliché post war setting with Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor taking place in 2082, the world’s computers have almost all been destroyed by a silicon-eating microbe known as Datacide that has gnawed its way through modern civilization. As a result of this death of technology, a superpower called Uncle, a twisted tyrannical version of the United Nations ruled by a Chinese dictator, seize this opportunity to attack America on their own soil. Luckily for America help is at hand, you’re cast as Sergeant Powers a former tank pilot and hero who re-enlists to fight off Uncle after his family are shot and burnt to the ground at their hands.
This for me was where the problems started, the story is so hollow that it completely fails to draw you in or feel anything for this “great” war. Right from the get go a lot of trite is thrown at you, with your crew mates being a perfect example of this terrible cliché ridden concept. You have the joy of sharing your VT with Rainer, who does nothing but swear leaving us to learn little else about him, Natch who worships the ground Powers walks on and is the greenest of the grass which leaves us finally with Parker your stereotypical ultra cool black guy (Capcom clearly watched Tropic Thunder and took that as the template for all war titles)
Many times throughout the game you’ll have moments in which to act and save your team mates but trust me you’ll rarely want to. I don’t just say this from the lack of emotion you’ll feel for your crew, it’s also hugely to do with just how difficult it will be to act anyway with the terrible broken controls Steel Battalion leaves you to deal with.
While in your VT the game runs on a dual control system, requiring you to use both the Kinect and your Control Pad, which works on an entirely hit or miss process leaving you to command an annoying array of different levers, buttons and handlebars while begging you to buy into the fantasy that all of these maneuvers are essential to the survival of you and your crew. While all a very nice idea, bad design makes it impossible to complete these actions accurately or at any kind of speed, venting the VT of smoke for example was the first and one of the most heinous tasks offered to you, asking you to pull a panel out with your right hand followed by flicking a switch with the same hand. A simple task I hear you say but no not with Kinect as it often seemed to only register your hand on the same one handle, leaving you in a loop of pulling your panel forwards and backwards.
Even basic commands are a coin toss, when your ready to “play” you will need to grab a set of bars pulling you forward to look through a letterbox sized gap in order to aim and just see where your VT is heading but again there is a huge mechanical flaw, often when you pick up your control pad the game will assume you have pushed your hands out to exit the screen and once again enter the VT cockpit with its numerous levers and switches. And so this is what the main mechanics are boiled down to, because of Capcom’s choice to cram a lot of controls into one tiny space your left trying to close iron shutters in an attempt to save your windshield from being blasted away and stopping bullets from tearing through and killing the crew, all the while leaving you to somehow think about moving your VT so it isn’t torn to shreds on the battlefield. You’re constantly triggering things that you don’t want to or are left unable to push the buttons, or pull the switches that you need. A better design could have trimmed some of these obviously silly gimmicks out or at least mapped some functions to different sections of the control pad. All of this is without even yet touching the fighting controls.
You have your typical machine gun on the left trigger and missiles on the right but choosing how to aim is the big problem, looking through your letterbox view is wholly inaccurate, leaving you to waste round after round while hitting nothing but air. The best option was always to use the periscope but this was eventually also futile as nine times out of ten after a few seconds your VT would be hit leaving your periscope cracked and completely unusable.
As I mentioned earlier, there will be times when you’ll need to act quickly in order to save your crew. Quite often an enemy would reach in and try to slit the throat of the co-pilot. In that moment, I’d need to swipe to turn my head and change my view while then quickly trying to hold my arm out and aim a sidearm at the enemy. This worked, for me at least, only about half of the time which meant the rest of my time was spent staring at one of my crew mates as he died a gruesome bloody death.
To be fair to Steel Battalion, this is one of its only successes, as graphically the game stands up pretty well, it can look a bit washed out and sometimes far too dark in places, but overall carries a very World War 2 esque feel and leaves you suitably disgusted when you see your crew mates torn to shreds in the VT cockpit. On one such occasion while trying to drag my co-pilot back into the VT after fleeing in fear, A mine tore him to shreds leaving only his torso to reside in his seat on my right. Gruesome. The character design isn’t the only success, as the levels do look interesting I wanted so much to explore the landscape but unfortunately this success just leads to more of Steel Battalion’s failures.
All of its levels are actually closed off, leaving you with only mere sections to travel through and no freedom of choice whatsoever while the actual missions themselves are boring and either last far too long and are so difficult you’ll be sent into fits of rage or are absurdly short and so easy a toddler would laugh at the screen. One such mission required me to literally walk three meters forward before then firing on a single enemy VT which went down in a matter of seconds, while other missions would leave me massively outgunned and due to the awful controls unable to react in any manner of speed to fight back. This rinse and repeat process of level design is just one more reason why Steel Battalion falls at the first hurdle.
With such an awful title, the fact that the soundtrack is fairly decent isn’t enough to be any kind of saving grace, especially when you consider that the gameplay audio is sub-par. The sounds from each of your weapons and the war zone around you aren’t very realistic and cause a lot of popping and crackling amongst your speakers. I tested the audio through both my TV and a pair of studio monitors which both suffered with popping and again just went to prove the sound is just one more oversight from Capcom’s development team.
All in all, I was disappointed with Steel Battalion. I had such high hopes that it could bring Kinect forward into the lives of the hardcore gamer, finally living up to its lofty promises however, I pretty much challenge anyone to play Steel Battalion for longer than twenty minutes. With horrific controls, a sub standard plot and absolutely no fun to be had during the game your left with nothing more than a small burst of joy from the novelty which is quickly washed away by rage and a complete lack of understanding at just how could Capcom spend so much time and money on what is essentially a broken game.
If you really must play Steel Battalion, then rent it at your peril, but insure your TV lest you throw your controller out of anger from this disappointing title.
Review: Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor Results
What we liked:
Visually some nice settings and character design
Watching my awful stereotypical squad die
The chance to control a VT
What we disliked:
Awful re-hashed story
Awful Gameplay lacking in any fun
Broken and shocking controls ruin the dream of using a VT