Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor Hands-On Preview – Getting The Best Out of Kinect
Written Thursday, March 22, 2012 By Dan WebbView author's profile
It seems as if we’ve spent the last few days expressing our concern with Kinect-only titles, coming up with the conclusion that both Kinect Star Wars and Fable: The Journey in aiming to create deep, core-orientated experiences are attempting the impossible. Star Wars might appeal to a much wider crowd than Fable, but still, both titles seem to be held back due to the limitations of the device. That’s not to say that Kinect is dead in the water though. Hell, no. But in its current state, Kinect-only titles aren’t going to offer you the same experience or depth as a game with a controller. What happens when you combine the two though? Well, Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor happens and surprisingly, its controls are intuitive, responsive and it’s a hell of a lot of fun to play to boot. Ladies and gents, this is the future of Kinect.
Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor takes place in 2082, in a world without the advancements of technology due to a microprocessor-munching virus that hit the world in 2020. To call it a futuristic warfare title then is a bit of a misnomer as the technology present is very much of the current day, but in war, there have been huge advancements, such as the bipedal mechs known as Vertical Tanks – or VTs, for short. You jump into the shoes of the brilliantly named Winfield Powers, a celebrated bipedal tank pilot, who’s been called into action again when a global conflict spills over onto US soil.
We pick up with Winfield and meet his three co-pilots at the very beginning of the game, on the training field, teaching you the ropes of the game and trying to ease you in to the complexity that is Steel Battalion. In the fairly lengthy tutorial you’re given a guided tour of the internal aspects of the tank, then you'll learn how to sprint, learn how to change firing mode, fire the cannons, navigate the cockpit and acquire knowledge of everything else you need to know to get to grips with the game.
In terms of controls, everything works as it should. You move the bipedal tank, aim and fire with the controller, meaning that you don’t have to sacrifice accuracy in a game that relies on it. Your hand gestures tend to navigate the interior of the tank: pushing both hands forward allows you to zoom in for superior aim, you can hit buttons that change ammo type, use swipes to access other aspects of the VT – buttons to use cameras, buttons to vent the chamber should it fill with smoke, and so on – and standing up allows you to open the tank hatch and get a better view of the landscape – here you can put your hand above your eyes to use the binoculars for instance. There are about 20 basic controls and contextual actions in all, so it’s not exactly a 'pick-up-and-play' experience. After 10 to 15 minutes though, you should be plain sailing. The wonderful thing about Steel Battalion is that it all works and very rarely does it let you down.
Having become accustomed with the controls fairly easily - which is surprising considering the complexity and amount of them - we were thrust straight into action, going hands-on with the mission we went eyes on with in Tokyo. In the build up to our hands-on we’d seen many journalists step up to the oche and fail dismally, so we feared the worst. Surprisingly, being able to stay on the move, aim, fire and navigate the cockpit was rather manageable and it wasn’t long before we were engaged in long-distance combat with enemy VTs and infantry emplacements. Staying on the move and firing was essential, especially against the enemy VTs, who can be taken down with a few carefully placed shots to its legs. We managed to get through the first real mission fairly unscathed, but have no illusions that Heavy Armor is shaping up to be pretty damn tough.
Last time we banged on about morale and it’s not until you go hands-on that you appreciate how much of an integral part of the game this is. In the hands-on session we were giving fist bumps to keep up morale and even more amusingly, we saw one journalist fail to pull back his co-pilot in time – who was bailing out the nearest exit through sheer panic – and ended up pulling in the remains of his blown up corpse instead. It was at that moment that we realised Steel Battalion could well be a game for us.
Furthermore, in the hands-off aspect of the demo we were able to see Powers pick up a grenade that got into the tank and throw it out of a hatch, we saw the main man dish out water to his fellow soldiers – something you don’t have to do if you don’t want to – while in the Moroccan desert, and we saw the pilot leave the cockpit to administer first aid to assist a wounded soldier. It should be noted that there will be more chances to leave the VT too, as we saw Powers exit to rummage through wreckage for water for his squad.
Not keeping up morale does have serious consequences though, as you’ll probably see from the mutilated corpse anecdote above. Heck, even something like refusing to give a soldier some of your water will get an amusing smart-Alec response. If you mistreat them, they’ll want to get the hell out of Dodge and when they see an opportunity to run, chances are they’ll take it. If you lose them or they get injured, it will impact their job and thus, make your life harder. In short, it’s essential that you keep your platoon sweet otherwise you’ll be fighting a war alone… and no-one wants that!
The two hands-off missions we were able to check out at the showcase as well had a vastly different feel to them than we’d seen in the rather open battlefield of New York’s beach storming. In the first of the two, Powers and co. were fighting under the night sky against foreign invaders in tight streets, while in Morocco, the map opened up even more than New York as Powers and co. ventured into the desert to assault a small town overflowing with enemy VTs. The action in the streets, for instance, was a lot faster paced than New York, while in Morocco the focus was a lot more on exploration and tactical combat instead.
Since the last time we saw Heavy Armor at last year’s Tokyo Games Show, the title has come on leaps and bounds, especially from a visual perspective. I know the word 'polished' has become a cliché these days in terms of games writing and to call this polished would only do it a disservice. It’s essentially had an entire facelift since TGS. Combine that with intuitive controls that very rarely failed on us, and what you have here is a pretty damn beautiful game, with a unique and responsive control method, offering something entirely different to all the other games on the market. This is what Kinect was designed for. This is how Kinect should be approached by developers in the future. This is shaping up to be the future of Kinect. Keep an eye on Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor folks. You owe it to yourself.
Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is scheduled for a June 19th and June 22nd release in North America and Europe respectively.