Preview: Steel Battalion Heavy Armor

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You know you’re in for something different when Kinect has you standing up, sitting down and stretching your arms out, all in a bid to correctly calibrate its sensor.

 

For: Xbox 360 Kinect
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Capcom
When? 22 June 2012

What’s it all about? Stomping across war-ravaged landscapes in bipedal tanks is only half the story in From Software’s follow up to the original Xbox games, as famous for their bespoke joystick as their punishing action. And like its predecessors, SBHA’s control scheme is a little bit special too.

You know you’re in for something different when Kinect has you standing up, sitting down and stretching your arms out, all in a bid to correctly calibrate its sensor for the carnage ahead. The game without doubt the most demanding and fully functional Kinect release we’ve yet seen, demanding as much of the peripheral as it does the player.

Arguably it’s the first ‘core’ gamer title for Kinect too, being at heart an action game in which gesture controls act as an extension of input rather than the extent – joypad and Kinect combining to offer a uniquely encompassing experience.

Before having even stepped into your walking death machine you’re introduced to your crew, shaking hands with one and catching an apple tossed by another. Rather then press a button to interact, you do so via Kinect, either extending your hand to shake or positioning it in the right direction to catch.

Of course, that’s small potatoes compared to how you pilot your walker, its cockpit full of buttons, levers and switches; all with their particular uses when the going gets tough and all utilised via gesture controls – daunting at first, but, as with learning to drive any vehicle, becoming second nature with practice (we hope).

You see during our hands-on with the game we died, and died badly, however rather than feeling discouraged we were left elated, convinced that practice – practice which we anticipate with a kind of giddy excitement – will prove the difference.

Indeed, having witnessed one of the official demonstrators putting the game through its paces we know that controlling the interior of the craft, while responding to incoming fire from outside, is an attainable goal.

With such focus on the never-before-seen depth of Kinect control, it’s easy to forget that first, this is still a MechWarrior-like first-person shooter – complete with control pad control – and second, there’s a host of opposing walking tanks out there, all only too happy to tear your steel armour into tiny pieces.

Apple catching tutorial over with, we were plunged straight into a beach landing level, at a point in the story in which US troops are attempting to take back New York from fortified Chinese armed forces.

Any effort to head straight up the beach was met with instant death, the area peppered with enough mines to tear a sizable chunk in the planet. To the right we went then, cranking our walker into sprint mode and chugging through a cacophony of machinegun and rocket fire, eventually hooking up with a unit of friendly troops – not that they lasted very long.

The warzone is chaos personified and its capacity for instant death as real as we might imagine it is on a real battlefield – what else would you expect from the software house that brought us the magnificent but deadly Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls?

You see Heavy Armor at this stage in its development is tough. It’s tough because you must control both walker interior and warzone exterior, and it’s tough because your walker can lose crew, limbs and even have it’s small windshield cracked, so obscuring your view still further.

The fact that it’s an experiment in Kinect controls adds a further twist still, the very set-up causing you to hit wrong buttons as your disembodied virtual hands flail around the cockpit. Something we hope further refinement of code (and player practice) will fix.

Worth the wait? Without a second’s hesitation: yes. To say we’re excited to experience Heavy Armor in the comfort of our own home is an understatement. Our only concern lies with its difficulty, as a new breed of control combines with a good, old fashioned challenge to create an experience perhaps too intense for most tastes.

If From Software can temper that challenge so that it slowly builds up the player for what lies ahead, then the studio will not only have another winner on their hands, but also the first must own Kinect title.

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