Back in 2002, Capcom produced a mech game for the Xbox1 that partnered with a massive forty button controller. It was called Steel Battalion and although it came at a weighty price, the pundits held it aloft and declared it a triumph of a game. Now, ten years later, Capcom have decided to re-ignite the flame with Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor, only this time the hardware needed for the game is Kinect. A hardcore game and casual kit – can it ever work?
Heavy Armor starts well enough, the CGI looks great, with a story that begins in an occupied New York City in 2082. You’re brought on board as an expert Vertical Tank pilot and commander, thrust into battle in an amphibious beach head landing. The sounds of battle are intoxicating on a surround sound system, with gun fire and explosions all around; it’s a very immersive experience. It also feels claustrophobic sat within the vehicle, but all too soon you are pulled out of the world, because as soon as you try to control the tank with Kinect, it all starts to fall to pieces.
For this particular Kinect experience, you play sat down (for the most part). The virtual cockpit sits around you and you must reach out for the different controls that helpfully glow if they’re usable. The problem is the accuracy of Kinect (or rather the lack of it) means that you end up attaching to controls you don’t mean too and as a result, the tank ends up performing unintended actions. It’s particularly frustrating as trying to free yourself from the wrongly grabbed control is neigh on impossible.
Fortunately you don’t have to use your legs to make the tanks move around, this is done via the Xbox360 pad, and once you’re on the move the controls work fine, manoeuvring, shooting and destroying buildings, tanks and soldiers is enthralling and entertaining, leaving you wondering how much better the game would have been using a physical pad alone.
The game’s missions are a little inconsistent, sometimes with obscure objectives (and very little to guide you where to go) and often unbelievably short. The second mission sees you standing guard at a bridge and were it not for the extended dialogue between you and your squad (and many deaths until you figure out what it is you need to do to complete it), it would only last thirty seconds.
At times the game throws up a curl ball in terms of difficulty, especially when the objectives are combined with a time limit. The frustrations of trying to control the game with Kinect amplify this, losing precious seconds grappling with getting the tank to do what you want, as opposed to getting going and blasting things out of existence. This is particularly emphasised when the tank starts filling with toxic smoke. From looking out of the cockpit, you must go back in, grab the venting panel, swing it open and get rid of the fumes – but by the time you’ve managed to get Kinect to do as it’s told, you and your crew has died a horrible death from the burning lungs that have now filled with fluid and your closed oesophagus that has suffocated you.
As the levels progress, different armours and weapons are procured to alter the mech. In order to fit these bits and pieces, there is a need to quit to the main menu and select the modifications option. It a bit of a strange arrangement that again pulls the player out of the game.
Multiplayer is similarly odd. There is no actual game mode for player verses player combat (or any other multiplayer options) on the main menu, which is a bit of a shame, but occasionally a level is presented that allows the player to invite a friend or three in for some co-op shenanigans. It’s a strange set up, because as soon as the mission is completed, the co-op is over.
When it is working, Steel Battalion Heavy Armor is an exciting, engaging and immersive game – but to get to the end of the campaign you’re going to need to love mechs and Kinect. A lot. The problem is the Kinect experience is a significant detractor to the point of annoyance. If you could just use the control pad it would have been a far better game, even more so if an adapter could have been provided to use the impressive controller from the first game. From the point of view of being a hardcore Kinect game, yes that has been achieved, but despite an interesting story and glorious environmental soundscape, the game is ultimately too frustrating to recommend.
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