Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor – Review

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Ambitious but ultimately flawed, the wait for the first great Kinect game continues.

In a war-torn world where dilapidated superpowers, China and the US, vie for control of the planet’s dwindling supplies of silicon it seems rather ironic that you need so many silicon chips to play it in the first place, with Xbox 360, Kinect and control pad all required (not to mention your TV).

Of course Steel Battalion was originally as famed for its bundled mammoth control console; so how do you take a series previously bundled with its own 40 button controller and replicate the experience for a peripheral that has none? The answer: by going against the Xbox 360 Kinect’s mantra of ‘You are the controller’ by making ‘you’ a part of the control system, in conjunction with the usual buttons of the control pad.

In theory it’s a spectacular compromise, with Steel Battalion’s walking “vertical tanks” (VTs) manoeuvred via the pad’s analogue sticks, but their more nuanced functions – ammo selection, ventilation, gear changes, periscope raising, etc. – all achievable solely through gestures tracked by Kinect and translated directly into the onscreen combat.

It sounds stunning, the perfect harmony of control to surely draw the player into a uniquely interactive world and, upon occasion, it truly is. Problems however detract at every turn, and it’s these which plunge Heavy Armor from must buy territory into sideshow.

It’s interesting actually that developer, From Software, decided to display a representation of you as seen by Kinect in the top-right of the screen. With my set-up, and it’s a set-up which seems to handle other less demanding Kinect games fine, you can instantly see the problem: Kinect thinks I’m constantly moving, even when I’m stock still. It might only be fractions but it’s constant, the line Kinect draws between traceable points across my avatar constantly juddering and therefore destroying any chance of accurately interacting with the levers and buttons of my virtual cockpit.

Technology, software or locality issue? I’ve no idea, but I’d be very interested to learn how other brave first-day purchasers got on within the confines of their own VT – Kinect set-up tricks and tips appreciated.

Next is the issue of difficulty. From Software’s Dark Souls might be bringing difficulty back (in the style the Justin Timberlake brought back sexy) but where deaths in Dark Souls felt like a harsh but fair learning curve, here they’re simply frustrating.

Not being able to select “Heat” ammo due to control issues, and so being subjected to easily avoidable death (again) just isn’t cricket, especially when it means restarting the current mission from scratch. It’s a real shame as Heavy Armor provides one of the most unique Kinect experiences out there and but for a couple of easily avoidable design issues, and increased Kinect stability (if that’s even possible), could (and probably would) have been a classic.

Missions can be a tad random too with odd amounts of waiting around before the bad guys show-up (slightly reminiscent of how in X-Wing say, you sometimes had to patrol friendly craft for 5 minutes before the Empire’s lot turned up). Personally I like the sense of reality that such development decisions provide but a many will be perplexed.

Elsewhere, there’s no denying that managing your cockpit before peering through your small window into the outside world as you exchange fire with a rival VT is brilliant when all works well. Go to change ammo types (a simple cockpit button push) though and suddenly you’re brought back to earth with a bang, as rather than selecting high speed you find yourself dragging the video monitor out from its berth.

Other ambitious turns – the addition of four-player co-op on specific missions – is even more cause to feel disappointment as once more the game vies for greatness but, sadly, it just isn’t enough to get over the fact that at times the game is unplayable.

Can patches overcome such issues, or software updates? I hope so, but for now all I can do is review what's in front of me and, as it stands, Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor for all its potential brilliance is ultimately broken.

Score: 2/5

Format: Xbox 360 Kinect
Price: £49.99
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Capcom

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