Announced last year at Tokyo Game Show before Kinect hit
stores, the idea of a new Steel Battalion game for a controller-free hardware
d-on seemed almost comical. The original Steel Battalion is remembered by hardcore
collectors for being packed in with one of the most complicated console
controllers of all time. Now the series is back with Steel Battalion: Heavy
Armor as Capcom gives development responsibilities to From Software, and in the
place of two control sticks, three pedals, and 40 buttons, you’re left with
motion controls to fill the gap. Could that possibly work? After seeing it in
action, we think it just might.
During our hands-off, developer controlled demo, we quickly understood
that Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor’s greatest strength is its use of Kinect and
the standard controller in unison. The fact that a controller is involved came
as a relief to us, since a mech combat game like this one demands precision
that waving your arms about can’t really do on its own. For the core mechanic
of pointing you weapons at stuff and blowing it to smithereens, it’s all on the
controller, but there’s a myriad of things happening around that central experience
that can only be done with Kinect.
Taking place in a future where a virus caused technology to
basically be set back to the 1920s, humanity has had to to quickly get back in
the swing of things now that computers are gone. In that turmoil America was
invaded by a country that sounds like some sort of Communist conglomeration,
and in 2082 America is slowly taking back their states, one bloody, mech-filled
battle at a time. In this war you pilot a VT or Vertical Tank, the walking war
machines central to the conflict.
From inside the VT a team of soldiers run the contraption,
with you manning the main controls. In the background your support team is
reloading the canons, checking diagnostics, and talking plainly yet poetically
about the nature of war. From standard view inside the cockpit, which is seen
when sitting and having the controller in a resting position on your lap, you
can turn around and check on your squad mates with a quick sweep of your hand
in the direction of the corner of the tank you want to check.
As we were introduced to the motion controls they came off
as a mix of useful and gimmicky. Pratical tricks included turning a knob to
switch your main weapon, pulling down your camera array to view the battlefield
from different angles, and standing up to exit the top of the tank to get an
unobstructed view of the battlefield. The more gimmicky uses included shaking a
squad member’s hand, putting your hands up to your eyes to use binoculars while
standing, and in one of the funnier moments of the demo, punching a hysterical teammate.
As the battle gets too intense for one member of the support team, he tries to
run out of the tank and, after pulling him back in with a quick overhead grab
with your right hand, you then punch him in the face multiple times to get him
to calm down, which works for some reason.
That brief exchange of therapeutic punches was peppered with obscenities highlights another important thing about the game:
it seems heavily aimed at the western, mature market. The battles are
incredibly bloody, with VT machinegun fire hitting human infantry and exploding
them into bloody messes on impact. Additionally, the soldiers have swear-heavy
conversations about how effed up a particular battle is, and how they don’t
need this shit. The overall look also seems more Western, with character
designs and settings taking a much more American flavor.
Though the start of the demo was frontloaded with
Kinect-based actions, the deeper we got in, the more the controller took center
stage. With a quick push forward of both hands and the controller, the pilot
enters the standard action view, as the VT slowly walked forward, blasting
enemies both human and mech to bits. While standard munitions just bounce off
the exterior, heavy blasts from opposing VTs cast about the cockpit and its
inhabitants violently. After taking down a particularly heavily armored VT and
some guard towers, the day was won and the soldiers had taken back Manhattan.
After the brief demo we were impressed with how the
controller and Kinect were able to work together for a richer-looking
experience that could be something special when its 2012 release rolls around.
Though we don’t think all the Kinect uses we saw were wholly necessary, Steel
Battalion: Heavy Armor could be the first Kinect game that successfully caters
to hardcore players instead of dancing grandmas and excitable children.
However, with all the different ways you use Kinect controls in the cockpit, we
bet this will have one hell of a tutorial.