I am sure you have heard the phrase “War is hell.” In Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor, I imagine the developers wanted us to experience firsthand just how loud, chaotic and intense life can be on the battlefield – and with the Kinect – also just how sensitive.
In Steel Battalion, developer From Software attempt to combine the tactile feel and accuracy of the controller along with the added experience and immersion of the Kinect. In some respects, they are successful in this approach. Setting up the Kinect for each play session is a breeze: you sit down with your arms out, the Kinect reads you, then you stand up with your arms out. Once the Kinect has you, you are ready to roll.
Unfortunately, that is where the ease of use ends. With the exception of firing your primary weapons and moving around the environment, all other cockpit duties (changing desired ammunition, using the radar, flipping switches) are done using the Kinect. From the sitting position inside the tank’s pilot seat, facing forward, you have many consoles facing you. There is the console you can pull out on the left for the cameras and radar. On the right is the switch for the headlights, the ventilation lever and the button for special ammo. Directly in front of you is the periscope above, the levers below to start the tank and force it into quick march, and the viewfinder in front of you to see out and drive the vertical tank.
Having all these options wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if the Kinect wasn’t quite so sensitive. This was most frustrating when I would try to pull up to the vertical tank’s viewfinder so that I could see out and drive the tank. According to the game, I simply needed to push my arms forward. While that accomplishes the task, now my arms are straight out into the air holding a controller – not the most comfortable playing position. So, I started leaning forward and that would work, unless I shifted in the chair, then the Kinect read that as me pulling back, which put me back in the cockpit. These situations happened most when I was taking fire. So, I spent valuable time trying to lean forward again, hoping the Kinect would put me back in the action before my crew and I were killed. I don’t entirely blame From Software for this as Microsoft hasn’t figured out this problem with their own software (Video Kinect).
Another place where From Software took a misstep was in the ambiance and mood created in the game. In war games, there is a line where realism begins to interfere with the fun the player has in the game. Think about if you actually were shot, you wouldn’t get up and keep fighting – at least I would not. In Steel Battalion, you are fighting on the side of the underdogs, and I can understand in my head that supplies are limited, but fix my tank in between missions, or at least in between chapters. By halfway through the game, all my armor indicators were red, as in serious, critical condition. No wonder I died all the time. I am sure many of you may criticize me and say to do better at evading, but I’m in a tank. Why shouldn’t I march forward and mow down my enemies? Besides, the vertical tank moves slower and clumsier than a drunken old man with a walker.
Overall, Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is a great attempt to utilize the controller with the Kinect…in theory. In practice, the game is unable to overcome many of technical difficulties presented. I was constantly frustrated by the controls; to the point of never being able to play for longer than 45 minutes at a time. I give From Software and Capcom a lot of credit for this endeavor, but ultimately must recommend you look to spend your time and money elsewhere.Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor was developed by From Software and published by Capcom. It is out now on the Xbox 360 and requires the Kinect to play.