Steel Battalion: Heavy Armour is the spiritual successor/sequel to Steel Battalion on the original Xbox; this time around it is developed by From Software and published by Capcom for the Kinect and Xbox 360. The game is a mech simulator and the first Kinect game that also requires the use of a controller for gameplay.
The premise is that in 2020 a silicon eating bacteria wiped almost all electronics from the earth; quickly destroying computer based infrastructure and causing mass chaos. During this chaos an “Asian Empire” sweeps across Europe and takes control; setting up a new UN made up of select Western countries.
Many years later America gets invaded by this Asian Empire and as they sweep across the coasts, the Americans retreat to Mexico. You play as Winfield Powers an ex-pilot who comes out of retirement after his family is murdered during the invasion. Most of the gameplay will see you in the pilot’s seat of your Vertical Tank or Veet, with the occasional jump into the field with some Kinect movement controls.
The game starts out with basic training; you get to meet your squad and get to grips with the controls. You learn all the different motions and how to use the different equipment to hand, you even get to use the basic gestures for interacting with your crew; such as shaking a hand and catching an apple. The major problem with the tutorial is how smoothly everything goes by comparison to the rest of the game.
The Kinect and controller are both used and this isn’t so much of a problem for games that use the voice commands as the “Kinectivity” but this game uses the controller so sparingly that it makes things difficult to do precisely and quickly. The game shouldn’t be sluggish but having to do multiple Kinect movements in quick succession while under fire is almost impossible to do either correctly or with any speed.
The controller uses precisely two analogue sticks and four buttons; this is frustratingly few when there are so many Kinect controls that are hard to reach. Buttons could easily have been used to navigate the cockpit or issue small commands; such as changing from Armour Piercing shells to Heat rounds (anti-personnel) or turning the lights on. The two shoulder buttons go almost always unused as it is only used for the difficult to unlock, rear mounted weapons.
The Kinect requires you to have good posture and be a certain distance from the screen for the sensor to pick you up. There are few motions that will execute perfectly and those are limited to standing up, sitting down and bring up binoculars when you are standing. Controls within the mech are distributed to different areas so that it isn’t too cluttered. The major problem with this is it takes too long to access certain functions that require immediate attention like the ventilation or map.
Controls are difficult to pull off more often than not as certain motions you don’t want to perform will leave you with your hand glued to them. This leaves you needing to either fulfil the motion it requires or hope you can remove your hand to get on with what you want to. Moving close to the front panel occasionally moves back as soon as you move in or vice versa and you’ll frequently close the front panel while accessing the periscope.
Playing missions is not quite what you’d expect; they range in objectives, scope and length. There are missions that last as little as three minutes, ones where you never even use your mech and ones where you are given false or frustratingly unclear objectives. Most people will probably give up within the first five missions, one of which tasks you with waiting in a powered-down mech waiting for a lone enemy mech to pass through. The problem is that to get your engine started you have to either “signal” your squad mate to start the engine or wait until they are on you and firing at your flank. The mission has you waiting about 2-3 unskippable minutes each time as you wait for the enemy to arrive.
Co-op missions occur about once in every chapter and these are where you can earn upgrades for your mech and play with others online after its initial completion. In substitution for the human allies you will always have three other computer players aid you on the mission. The problem arises that not only are the missions inherently difficult but the AI tend to die quite easily which detracts from your overall score. The higher the score the better the rewards but if you only get D’s then it seems that you don’t unlock any new armaments or miscellaneous items for your cockpit.
Enemies range from almost pathetic to deadly. There are various soldiers roaming the field and they carry either rifles or RPG’s. Needless to say RPG’s are the only threat and it is made more so by the fact that humans are very small in comparison to other vehicles and other mechs; making them incredibly difficult to spot. Other vehicles beside mechs are usually not too much of a problem but they too, differ in weaponry. There are also bombers and battleships to destroy but most are out of reach and just damage you regardless of what you try to do.
Enemy mechs are normally referred to as “Uncles” and have their larger counterparts, “Grandpas”, both have less armour than you but Uncles have the least. Just like your own mech, they can take damage to their legs; which hampers or stops movement. They also seemingly can be knocked into a stunned state if you hit them hard enough, allowing you to get an extra shot off before they have recovered. Hitting them on the rear armour should be in instant kill in most cases but it will always do sufficient damage.
Your mech can survive a reasonable amount of punishment but certain things do much more damage than others. Your front panel will crack and shatter quite easily, leaving you either unable to see or vulnerable to bullets coming in your viewport (Though my viewport broke frequently I never got killed because of it). Your crew members are at a risk to being killed, frequently if they are one of the loaders but the sub-com next to you can die via scripted or ambush events. Your legs can be disabled, preventing you from walking properly or even halting you completely but by the time that’s happened you are more often than not dead.
While the overall story isn’t too bad; the dialogue is badly written and full of stereotypes from a WW2 era. Your crewmembers are a mix of all the characters that you’d find in a war film and they are really unlikeable. The cutscenes are the more interesting parts as they tell some actual story while anything else that you get outside of the missions is just briefing slides with cheesy dialogue.
Presentation and Audio
Your crew will talk loudly over the top of any orders you get so unless you have subtitles on you won’t always hear what’s going on in the heat of battle. The game looks like an alternate history WW2 rather than the future and all the stereotyped dialogue hammers that in place. The soldiers easily blend into backgrounds too easily making lone RPG’s a problem as you can’t find them. It’s just too murky for a game which allows no zoom; as you are required to sit far enough away from the screen to use the Kinect.
When the Kinect controls work they work well but unfortunately they don’t work well in combat and even when it does the combat is frustrating and difficult. Trial and error is one way of looking at the mission designs but it is more a flaw with the controls and combat that hampers the missions themselves.
The biggest battle the game fights is with your patience. The Kinect has too much responsibility and it can’t handle that and whether the game would be any better with just a controller is debateable. The game not only doesn’t work all the time but it has a high difficulty curve and most missions are trial and error.
The game has some ideas that I really like and some individual elements are quite good but it is just too frustrating to play. I ended up giving up playing multiple times due to the lack of instruction, frustrating gameplay and poor controls on a number of occasions. Way too much of the development was forced into using Kinect and it left voice commands out. Voice commands or a little more controller functionality would have streamlined the controls and made it much easier to play.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.