Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor Hands-on Preview -- Armored to the CoreBy Miguel Concepcion - Posted Mar 06, 2012
What We Know:
The famous controller from the original Steel Battalion isn't getting an Xbox 360 update, so you can instead spend that $200 on Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor and your overdue purchase of the Kinect. Capcom’s dormant mech series is back in a big way and still manages to give players more buttons than they’ll know what to do with. As a play on the Kinect adage of you being the controller, Heavy Armor makes the game itself the controller.
Picture the cockpit setting still retaining the first-person perspective but now the majority of the controls are in the game; much of your work is in moving your arms and hands to activate the in-game switches and levers. There’s added practicality in that some of the commands will be issued by the Xbox 360 controller.
With the new set-up comes a reboot to the Steel Battalion story. There’s a bit of both old and new in Heavy Armor; a virus destroyed semi-conductor technology, giving the mechs and the game’s overall look something out of the Korean War. This actually reminded me of Konami’s PlayStation 2 SRPG mech game, Ring of Red and its alternate 1950’s history.
The supporting cast of soldiers of Heavy Armor even sound like they were taken straight from an old-time war movie from the 50’s or 60’s; no modern warfare ‘hoo-rah’s to be found. The game is actually based in the future where the UN has essentially evolved into a China-governed entity and is in direct opposition with the United States, not the least of which includes a occupation of the U.S. itself.
The fact that this is being developed by From Software only makes Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor all the more promising. The studio is best known for the Armored Core series, and while Heavy Armor’s mechs probably won’t be moving with the same speed and agility of AC’s Ravens, this does seem like a very promising collaboration with Capcom.
What We’re Seeing Now:
We have previously reported on the game’s control responsiveness and how the battles will play out back at GamesCom 2011. At last week’s Microsoft Spring Showcase, Capcom gave us another go, and who were we to refuse? The innovative control set up came with a very thorough tutorial set in a non-hostile desert setting. Many of the squad mates revere your protagonist as a war hero; they keep you on your Kinect toes even before you set foot in the vertical walking tank as handshakes and catching objects ensues.
Once inside the mech, you immediately see how this isn’t the same Steel Battalion of 10 years ago. The most obvious change is that you’re now sharing the cockpit with a squad. This really hones in on the game’s tank design where each crew member is assigned a specific task. It’s too bad the Kinect has a tricky time recognizing head turns; you instead have to swipe with your hand left or right in order to turn the main character’s head while in the mech. You also get a profound feel of the retro design of the tank; no electronics means levers are pulled and cranks are wound.
This is clearly a multitasker’s paradise; when you’re not busy changing gears, you’re looking through the front cockpit window aiming for a clear shot. You’ll also have to be mindful of what hits that window, as impressive as the cracks in the glass are. You even need to be aware of what kinds of rounds hit your tank. Having the canopy open or closed after an incendiary round hits will mean the difference between life and death. And much like the limb-specific damage that can be inflicted on your mech in the original Steel Battalion, injuries to your squad mates will also impair your tank’s performance.
We also got to revisit the New York beach landing from the GamesCom demo. This includes some Saving Private Ryan-influenced gore, except soldiers where now being mowed down by heavy mech ordinance. With an action game this complex, immersive, and from the same developer that made the infamously hard Demon Souls and Dark Souls, it was almost pleasing that I didn’t last five minutes in this mission, nor did the Capcom demo representative who played after me.
Much like the original Steel Battalion, the learning curve might be tough, but learning to make the most of all the gears and switches (at the expense of multiple retries) might very well make the experience worth it.