I want to start this review with a little explanation of my background. I was a big fan of the original Steel Battalion, along with its super expensive dedicated 40 button controller. While it was an expensive investment it was always responsive and it really helped you to get immersed in the experience Capcom had provided. With that being said, I jumped at the chance to review this game, but was left with a great deal of disappointment that this was not the game I had been hoping for.
Steel Battalion: Heavy Armour sees you become part of the crew piloting a VT (essentially a tank on legs) and trying to retake America in a future where a Silicon eating virus has destroyed all the worlds computers and advanced technology. The game is the first full hybrid game to require both the controller and Kinect sensor to be used at the same time, which is something we have been hearing about since Kinect was still called Project Natal.
My first experience with the game, Developed by From Software, was in a crowded demo booth at an event in London. Being led through the experience by one of the press team, I was assured that the technical issues I was experiencing with Kinect were down to the number of extra people in the room and that I would have a smoother experience if I tried the game in a home setting. Unfortunately, the game did not play more smoothly outside of that setting, and this is by far the games biggest problem.
The Gameplay can be split into two sections, Using the 360 controller to control the first person shooting aspects of the game and using the Kinect to look through your periscope, look through the viewing window on your tank, vent out any smoke that gets inside and speak to your crew mates just to give a few examples. While the first person shooting controls work well, the game constantly struggles to understand the most crucial of motion controls. I was constantly being asked to recalibrate the sensor for seemingly no reason, and when prompted it often took up to 10 minutes to get the system to work out where I was and calibrate itself. I had no problem calibrating Kinect on the 360′s System menu, just in game.
Once calibrated, the game constantly misreads your gestures. A mission that would have been easy to complete using just the controller ended up taking 4 or five attempts just due to dying because the motion sensor didn’t understand what I was trying to do. When this is combined with the fact that the games designers thought it would be a good idea to reset you to the cockpit view every time you are hit meaning you have to try and get the game to recognise your motion again and this game becomes far more difficult to play than it should have been. It’s not the good difficulty Where you die because you weren’t good enough, in this game you will die because the game didn’t know what you wanted. It just arbitrarily and infuriatingly impedes your progress.
That being said, during the thirty minutes where the game worked flawlessly for me, the motion controls felt fantastic. I really got drawn in for a while, but as soon as I couldn’t pull down the periscope I was back to wanting to throw the controller at the wall. Put simply, it’s great when it works.
As I alluded to before, the game also suffers from some more basic design issues that make the game difficult to play. The VT is designed to be a very enclosed box with small viewing holes, meaning that for any accuracy when shooting you will need to raise your right hand and bring down the periscope. This wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t for A) the game often refusing to bring down the periscope, B) you being kicked back to the cockpit every time you are hit leaving you to have to fight with kinect again and C) the periscope becoming cracked after just a couple of hits, leaving you unable to hit anything not directly in front of you.
That game also suffers from missions which are clearly designed to maximise your use of Kinect, but that ultimately make it feel like a huge gimmick and waste of time. Some missions require you to stand up without moving for several minutes waiting for your target to show up, or so use motion controls far quicker than would be possible even if Kinect integration worked properly. The missions are often either boring or unbelievably hard.
To move on from gameplay, the games setting and plot are interesting enough. The games presentation occasionally suffers from lip syncing that isn’t perfect or levels that feel a bit to dark and monotone but on the whole this is a good looking game. I want to make this clear, I don’t hate the game. I love its ambition, I love that they committed fully to making this a true hybrid Kinect game and when it works I love the motion controls. There is also an online multiplayer mode which is fun, but again only when Kinect is reading you correctly. The game just falls apart too often when the Kinect integration isn’t working.
Steel Battalion: Heavy Armour is available to buy now for XBox 360.