Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor Review for Xbox 360

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor Review for Xbox 360

This Game Has Tanks And ….

The Steel Battalion series has something of a history when it comes to unusual input methods – the original shipped with a $200 controller peripheral designed to imitate the cockpit of a mech – so in some ways it seems totally natural that a modern-day version would utilize what in many ways is the most advanced control method ever created: Kinect.

But then again, “advanced” might not exactly be the correct word to describe Kinect, which for the most part lacks any shred of subtlety in detecting player movements. That and a seemingly never-ending series of boneheaded design choices combine to make Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor all but unplayable.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor Screenshot

Heavy Armor pits you as a veteran pilot of “veets”, or vertical tanks, in a futuristic war scenario that eerily echoes World War II. But instead of the beaches of Europe and Asia, this war is being fought on the US’s home turf – or what’s left of it. Facing a truly evil version of the UN colloquially referred to as “Uncle”, you and your squad battle through settings like a ruined and smoldering New York City as you take on overwhelming odds.

For an embattled group of rebels, the members of your squad seem to take most situations pretty lightly. Some might consider their idiosyncracies (your African-American underling’s constant referral to you as “podna”, spelled exactly thus, for example) charming, though it doesn’t help that a moment doesn’t go by that your entire squad isn’t packed like sardines inside your own personal walking, metal, four-person coffin.

And what a coffin it is. Herein lies one of the game’s many unforgivable flaws, and it’s something that was no doubt considered a virtue in past games: there’s a lot going on in that cockpit. These are just the actions that you’ll need to perform regularly, to survive in any given battle: looking out the viewport, looking out the periscope, switching ammo types, closing and opening the steel viewport shutter, venting the veet’s interior.

Those actions are accomplished with a variety of gestures, including pulling two hands toward yourself horizontally, raising one arm in the air, rapidly extending and retracting your right arm, extending your right arm at a less rapid speed and raising it up and down, and extending your right arm out and slightly to the side, pulling, and lowering your arm slightly. And that’s not counting the dozen-plus other actions you’re meant to be capable of, like looking around the cockpit, switching between movement types, turning headlights on, avoiding the self-destruct button, starting the veet’s engine, examining a monitor, and even loading various ammo types in between shots when your squad members are incapacitated.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor Screenshot

And all the while, you’re meant to be paying as much attention to what’s on the battlefield as what’s in your vehicle. You’ll be assaulted on all sides and given minuscule targets far in the distance or obscure orders whose meanings become clear only through trial and error, like the objective to “signal” when an unseen enemy becomes visible. How do you “signal”? I still have no idea.

All of this could have been manageable if the controls had worked. Heavy Armor has at least one truly great idea: it attempts to combine the “fun” of Kinect gestures with the accuracy that only a traditional controller can provide. Your hands will snap back to the controller after each flailing motion, as movement and aiming are handled by the left and right control sticks, just like in a normal shooter, and the triggers are used to fire your weapons (machine gun, large tank shells, occasionally mortars, etc.).

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor Screenshot

Unfortunately, what could have been the first great Kinect game for hardcore gamers is instead a complete mess. I moved the peripheral to various spots around the room, tried a dozen combinations of natural and artificial lighting, and re-calibrated Kinect dozens of times. But no matter what I did, the damn thing would not consistently recognize even the simplest of gestures. I’m talking about maybe a 50 percent success rate for basic things like extending your arms out to look out the viewport, which you’ll have to do literally all the time.

Other actions, like switching ammo types, which requires a precise and minute movement with your right hand toward tiny, adjacent buttons, I could only perform a handful of times out of literally hundreds of tries. No matter what I did, the game interpreted my motions wrong. The controller in one hand often caused Kinect to fail to recognize that hand, and even when both hands were gripping the controller in my lap it often thought I was performing complicated gestures.

Far too many of the veet’s functions require bafflingly precise movements, and the game simply is not advanced enough to interpret these things in the heat of battle. Even when the veet was at rest, though, and no enemies were around to get my adrenaline pumping and make my movements more frenzied, it simply would not do what I wanted it to do.

Heavy Armor has co-op multiplayer on certain levels, which would be fun, although competitive deathmatches would have been better. It allows some modicum of vehicle customization, though not nearly as much as I’d have liked. And the story is brutal and at least fundamentally interesting – I wanted to know more about “Uncle” and how he/they came into power.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor Screenshot

Unfortunately (and I’m loathe to admit this), I did not get very far in Heavy Armor, despite hours of attempts. Normally I’d finish a game before subjecting the internet to my opinion, but I’m making an exception this time, because whatever else Heavy Armor has to offer could not possibly offset the deeply, horribly flawed concepts at the very core of its design. I don’t want to belittle the enormous amount of work that clearly went into creating this game, but those involved had to know that what they ultimately produced is broken.

Gesture controls aren’t automatically preferable to traditional input methods simply based on the fact that the real life motion a player is performing is more-or-less analogous to the action of their avatar in the game. In other words: just because you’re pulling a lever in the game doesn’t mean it’s more fun to pretend you’re pulling a lever in real life, especially when the simple press of a button could produce the same effect with far more consistency and less frustration. And Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is particularly guilty of this regrettable conceit of motion game design.

It literally doesn’t work about 80 percent of the time. It either fails to recognize that you’ve made any motion at all or simply interprets your gestures incorrectly. How a game could have shipped in this state is a complete mystery to me, but unless they’ve got a game-changing patch waiting in the wings that will make this game playable, I can’t recommend it to anyone at all. And that’s a shame, because there’s a great idea at its core. It’s just everything surrounding that core that makes it unbearable.

The game is gritty and realistic, and the inside of your cockpit is very detailed, but environments are often muddy and of low quality. 0.0 Control
The combination of Kinect and controller could have been a revelation, but instead it makes Heavy Armor an unplayable train wreck. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
There’s plenty of dialogue, though squad members often repeated themselves, and the sounds of battle ring in your ears as you attempt to play. 3.0 Play Value
If you can continue to progress through the campaign there’s plenty of single-player content to traverse, though the lack of deathmatch multiplayer is surprising. 1.5 Overall Rating – Avoid
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • War, inside and out – Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor provides a combination of first-person shooter (FPS) controller gameplay with immersive gameplay elements that only Kinect can provide.
  • Take to the battlefield – Instill fear in the enemy as the pilot of a Vertical Tank (VT), but feel fear of death as you and your crew become the focus of the enemy’s attacks.
  • Brothers in arms – Utilize Kinect to engage with fellow VT crew members as you share the emotional highs and lows of the battlefield.
  • Unique universe – Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is set in a world where the balance of power has been dramatically changed following a technology meltdown and once-mighty nations are reliant on human skill and courage to regain justice and freedom.

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