Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor Review

By Alex Rubens - Posted Jun 25, 2012

Aiming to be the first Kinect game for the hardcore audience, Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor fails miserably at the most fundamental necessity: motion controls that actually work. The story lacks any substance and can't make up for this horrid attempt at creating a follow-up to one of the most-revered mech-shooter series to date.

The Pros
  • Mech combat is still really cool
The Cons
  • Kinect recognition is abysmal and nonexistent
  • The story is shallow and lacks any real development

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor Review:

Continuing down the path of the non-traditional control scheme that it’s predecessors started, Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor utilizes a combination of traditional gamepad controls and motion controls with the Kinect. While this sounded like an interesting and unique take on the hardcore Kinect title, it doesn’t work as it should under everyday conditions and becomes one of the most frustrating Kinect experiences to date.



Kinect Can't Even Keep Up With The Slow-Moving Mechs

As one of the most ‘hardcore’ gamer focused franchises on the original Xbox, Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor needed to keep the things that made it great. It has done that to some extent, but the Kinect integration makes it so difficult that you won’t be able to experience the core combat that made Steel Battalion so great. It’s still extremely violent and has very simulation-style gameplay, steering clear of the fast moving mechs that have become popular in recent years. VTs move at a slow and methodical pace but once the action starts, things move at such a speed that I found the Kinect having trouble keeping up with even the most basic of actions, like pulling down the periscope to look for enemies at a longer range.

Basic combat in Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is serviceable. It’s somewhat exciting and mostly consists of shooting everything in sight, moving to a new area and doing that again. That may sound extremely simplistic, but it works in the context of the shallow and meaningless story. There isn’t a need for the gameplay to match the story’s depth, because there really isn’t anything to match it to.

There are several campaigns that span the course of an invasion on US soil against the UN. Yeah -- I know, it doesn’t make much sense, but then again, it does take place in 2082, so I guess anything is possible at this point. You play as Winfield Powers, a retired army-man who knows his way around the battlefield in a VT and has everything to gain by taking back the country from the UN after their invasion took the lives of his family. It is rather silly and only explained further during cutscenes between missions.

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No, Not That Button – Wait, What Are You Doing? I'm Not Even Moving My Hands Anymore

Shared controls between a gamepad and motion controller haven’t really been done successfully before, and this is no exception. Simple movement and firing actions are accomplished with the gamepad’s triggers and analog sticks, while everything else is handled by motion control. Everything that requires the use of the gamepad feels as it should, but as soon as you have to start waving your hands around a virtual VT cockpit, things start to break down. Every mission is started at a neutral position; it’s point zero for cockpit movement. From there, a forceful push towards the screen with both hands brings the character to the viewfinder -- or at least, it’s supposed to. Flipping switches and pulling open vents required me to slow down and act as if I was miming out the action to a child, multiple times even.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor

It just really doesn’t work as it should. I found myself constantly grabbing onto the wrong thing or hitting the wrong button, despite how great my lighting was. It is necessary to be able to switch between ammo types quickly as one is geared toward regular enemy vehicles and one toward their VTs. The two buttons in the cockpit used to switch ammo types are located right below the viewport in front of the player.

If I held out on hand and moved it slowly toward the button, it would occasionally hover over the button, but I couldn’t for the life of me actually push the button. Well, It was very easy to push the button, but only if I was trying to do something else in the cockpit. The buttons, switches, and levers are all placed so closely together that it was much too easy to be moving toward one lever but grab another by mistake. I don't know how many times I've reached for a button and ended up pulling down the periscope instead or somehow managed to fill the cockpit with smoke because it interpreted my movement incorrectly.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor

I'd Rather Use The Original Controller

For anyone who remembers the ridiculously complicated controller that was required for the two Steel Battalion games on the original Xbox, the announcement that the game was returning for a third time and would only require a Kinect was a welcome one. It sounded like it would finally be able to reach more mainstream recognition and become much more accessible to hardcore players who didn’t want to go out and purchase a separate controller to play the game with. Unfortunately for them, that’s exactly what the Kinect is. It’s a more unreliable version of the Steel Battalion controller. One that requires perfect lighting conditions to recognize even the most basic of inputs. It didn’t matter what I was trying to do, it just never really worked right; unless I was using the gamepad, then things worked perfectly as they should.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor

Perhaps the most frustrating part of Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is that the “here’s what the Kinect is seeing” box in the upper left-hand corner of the screen shows how the Kinect is understanding my body and it shows that everything is working just as it should. It isn’t though. It’s not clear whether there’s some loss of understanding between what the Kinect sees and how the game interprets that information, but I can’t seem to shake the feeling that the game doesn’t know what to do with the data once it receives it. It’s extremely sloppy and doesn’t leave me with much faith in what the Kinect can do for hardcore games.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor

Press Self-Destruct ASAP

As it is now, Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is completely broken and is so fundamentally flawed that it astounds me that it could have shipped like this in the first place. If something doesn’t work once or twice, that’s completely understandable, but that doesn’t hold true when it’s the other way around and things are only working correctly once out of every dozen attempts. That’s not a finished product. When a game makes a player feels dumb for not being able to manage the basic controls necessary to complete simple tasks, there’s no reason that the game should have been in their hands in the first place. My constant arm flailing left me feeling like a crazy person trying to activate my non-existent superpowers.