So, you think the Kinect is for dancing games and voice control? Well, Capcom sure doesn’t! From the makers of Dark Souls and Chrome Hounds, From Software brings us Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor, a Kinect game that could have been a first step towards a new way of controlling hardcore video games…but for now, let me tell you about Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor.
In 2020, a “virus” containing a silicon-eating microbe sweeps across the planet destroying every semiconductor in comes in contact with. This event leaves the world in chaos. In the mists of this world wide catastrophe, the “Asian Empire” starts invading Western countries. This sparks off a global conflict, resulting in World War III. Moving on to 2045, the war is declared over and the Asian Empire chooses 16 countries to form the United Nations. Small scale disputes still break out from time to time, but a regime change in the Empire has much bigger plans. The “Battle for Unification” has begun.
The UN takes control of countries through out Europe and begins the invasion of America. By 2082, Uncle (UN) has America in its grips. In fact, the American army has fled to Mexico to regroup. You play as retired Vertical Tank Pilot Winfield Powers, a bit of a legend to the younger soldiers in your outfit. You have come out of retirement to avenge the death of your family at the hands of the UN and to take back the land you love. You just happen to exact this revenge by taking the helm of a Vertical Tank (VT, a giant mechanized robot) and mowing down anything that stands in your way.
The sound is really lifelike in my opinion. From the stomping of the VT marching across the landscape to the other crew members yelling over the sound of the gunfire and engine noise, it really immerses you in the experience. This must be what it sounded like in WWII for a tank crew to be in battle. The problem with it being so life like is the voices of team members can get lost in sound effects of the VT. In a few places, I wasn’t sure where to go or what to do because as I was trying to destroy an enemy VT, the subcom was yelling what they needed me to do. It was confusing at points, but I’m sure that’s how soldiers of WWII must have felt at times.
The cutscenes were okay, but the in game animations were middling. I was hoping for Capcom to wow me with amazing graphics in the VT and out, it just didn’t happen. The crew inside the VT looked more like G.I. Joes then “real” people. They all have a shinny plastic look to them much like Red Orchestra 2. The environments are okay as well, but nothing to write home about. Sadly, the more I played of Steel Battalion, the more the game’s graphics took me out of the experience. Don’t get me wrong, it looks better then a lot of games out there, but it just does have the look of a AAA title which is what I was hoping for.
This is where Capcom took some really good ideas but failed to connect properly with them. Using the control along with the Kinect is a great idea, but only using the two thumb sticks, the trigger buttons and the bumper buttons is a poor use of the controller. Due to the fact that only movement and firing are controlled by the standard control, this leaves a lot of stuff for the Kinect sensor to cover. Either this wasn’t the best approach in the first place, or the whole thing wasn’t thought out very well. Using the Kinect sounds like a really good idea. In fact, that is what drew me to the game in the first place. The issues I have with the game controls stem from what seems to be a need to recreate the massive, 80 button (that is just a rough estimate) control set up from the original Steel Battalion. If you don’t know what I am talking the original game had a massive control set up that you had to have to play the game. It a button for every action in the game (including activating the windshield wipers) and gave you a very tactile hands-on feel, but you needed a diner table to put it on.
The problem with this is Capcom placed the items you interact with way too close together. For example, the switch to turn the headlights on is right above the handle you pull to vent smoke out of the VT. Every time I went to vent smoke I turned the lights on and off. The same thing happened whenever I tried to switch between armor piercing and high explosive rounds. I would put my hand up to “press” the button and the game would think I was trying to close the view port. Stuff like this could have easily fixed by mapping controls like looking out the forward port (the main window out of the VT) to a button on the controller rather then making it a Kinect movement.
I guess the good thing about the poor control scheme is that it gives you a feeling of urgency. In the heat of a VT-on-VT firefight, you start to get that “Oh crap! I hope I hit the right thing” feeling. This feeling can quickly change to “Oh crap! Why did it think I was trying to hit X?” the that leads to “Noooooooooooo! What the ____ was that? Great, now I’m dead.” Which depending on what kind of gamer you are, either makes you so mad you stop playing or makes you so mad you have to beat the game by any means necessary. I think if they would have scaled back the amount of Kinect controlled features and had a better balance between the traditional controller and the Kinect the game play would have been a lot better.
The overall gameplay had a clunky feel, which isn’t a bad thing in this game. The clunky and heaviness of the VT makes it feel like a real life vehicle. It gives you an idea of what war might be like today if we never advanced technology after WWII. The screen moves and shacks with every step, every cannon shot and it even recoils when you fire the mini gun. This would be a good game without the Kinect controls and could have been great game with less Kinect controls.
I appreciate what Capcom was trying to do with Steel Battalion. They tried to make a hardcore game that really used the Kinect, but like a baby taking it’s first steps, they went a little far. Now this doesn’t mean they can’t regain their balance and learn from what they did. There is both good and bad to learn from here. If you read my preview article I did on Steel Battalion, you know I was really excited about what Capcom had in mind for the game. It’s just too bad they didn’t optimize the use of both the controller and the Kinect. In the end, I think that this balance between controller and Kinect controls will be the key to future hardcore games “making it” on the Kinect. Good try, Capcom- but in the end, the Kinect hardware was unable to properly execute the original concept you envisioned.