In the year 2020, a microorganism sweeps across the planet, destroying computer technology and starting a war. Now, in the year 2082, the conflict rages on, fought with the most advanced weapon remaining, the vertical tank (VT). Using Kinect and your controller it’s up to you to pilot the tank and lead the charge to save America. Unfortunately, it seems that motion sensing hardware was among the technology to be damaged in the initial attack, so America is pretty much screwed.
Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor has the distinction of being the first Kinect game that also uses a controller. Past games have used the Kinect in addition to the controller, but this is the first one that is designed for Kinect and requires more than just your body. The controller is used for moving your VT and firing your weapons, everything else is handled by the Kinect. You’ll use gestures to look around the cockpit, change weapon types and perform other activities.
At least, that’s the idea. The problem is that none of it works very well, when it works at all. The game has two main views: sitting in the cockpit, where you have access to all of your controls, and leaning forward looking through the view window, where you can drive and fire your weapons. Moving quickly between the cockpit and view window is essential to success, and that’s where the problems begin.
To move from cockpit to view window (or back) you need to hold both hands out in front of you. Often this didn’t work, and I was frantically waving my arms in front of me trying to get the view to change. Other times it was far too sensitive, putting my hands forward moved me to the view window, but then moving my hands back (which isn’t a defined action in the game) pulled me back to the cockpit. More than once I was stuck in a loop for about 15 seconds where anything I did was interpreted as that movement, so my character just moved back and forth constantly.
The game design doesn’t help any, because your VT is structured in a way that requires you to switch between views often. While you have to be at the window to move and fire, switching to high speed mode or changing your ammo type both require you to pull back into cockpit view. In addition to being annoying that while you’re driving you can’t change speeds, and while you’re firing you can’t change ammo type, the control issues generally made me avoid doing those things, which put me at a significant disadvantage at times. This would have been a perfect place for voice support, since asking my gunner to change the ammo type would have fit in perfectly and been easier, but the game misses the opportunity and doesn’t support any voice commands.
The movement controls even managed to be an issue when I wasn’t moving. Occasionally while firing my weapon I would be randomly pulled back into cockpit view even though I hadn’t moved. In the second mission, there is a sequence where your character is crawling on the ground towards an explosive detonator. As I waited for the gunfire to die down, my character took it upon himself to start crawling again, instantly dying. Steel Battalion is littered with moments like these, and they make it impossible to enjoy the game.
The core of these issues is the Kinect sensor, more specifically the game’s use of it. It never really seemed to know where I was at, and would occasionally get my arms mixed up or lose one of them entirely. That’s ironic, because Steel Battalion seemed to constantly need reconfiguration any time I even changed how I was sitting. I haven’t had near this level of problems with other Kinect games, so this was just a very poor application of the technology.
In addition to you, the VT has a crew of three other people; two guys loading ammunition and one whose job function appears to be just acting like a dick. In missions, they seemed as confused as I was – as the guy to the left of me was screaming that we were seconds from death the guy on my right was celebrating how well we were doing. During times when I was desperately wrestling with the controls, one of them was always right there yelling at me to hurry, and the most fun I had in the game was hitting the self-destruct button and blowing them all up.
Heavy Armor looks better than it plays. The cockpit has a nice, immersive feel, and environments have a gritty, war-torn look to them. The crew has an odd look-they’re not quite realistic, not quite fake, just kind of odd and shiny. It’s hard to describe accurately, but they kind of creeped me out.
The battle sounds are good, but they tend to completely drown out the dialog of your crew members. While this may be realistic, it’s not very practical, since occasionally you get information from them on what to do next. Important dialog is highlighted on the screen, but that can be easy to miss when you’re flailing your arms trying to get Kinect to recognize you. The game attempts to convince you that this is an intense conflict by loading up with profanity, including a lot that doesn’t show up in the subtitles. It’s as though someone looked at the script at some point and said “This doesn’t sound like a bad enough war, drop more F bombs!” I don’t have a problem with profanity in games but this one uses it as a crutch.
When I first heard about Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor I was intrigued. As the first Kinect game that required a controller as well, it had the potential to provide the fun of motion controls while maintaining the prevision of a controller. Unfortunately the motion controls, especially the one most basic to the game, simply do not work. After about 15 tries I was able to successfully complete the first mission, although at that point it seemed like more random chance than anything I had done differently or better.
I eventually did make it through a few more missions, so the game is technically playable if you’re willing to put in the time and have infinite amounts of patience. The problem is that it’s not a matter of learning exactly how to do the gestures – the same thing can and will be interpreted in several different ways, so spending more time with the game doesn’t make you any better at it. Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor was supposed to be the Kinect game for the hardcore gamer, but this isn’t a game as much as it is an exercise in frustration and futility. While playing the game I spent so much time yelling at it that my dog hid behind the couch. It’s not a good mech game, a good Kinect game or a good game of any sort, and I can’t recommend it to anyone.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.