Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor Demo Impressions

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is an ambitious Kinect exclusive brought to you by developer From Software and Capcom. Looking to be a sort of quasi-reboot of an old series of military shooter, the game takes place in 2082, when computers and modern technology has been lost, and the nations of the world wage a war for total domination. Players take control of Winfield Powers, a legendary pilot of a mech-like machine called a Vertical Tank that sports heavy artillery and armor.

Motion controls are introduced in the demo’s tutorial with mundane tasks like shaking crew member’s hands and catching an apple. After getting oriented with the controls and the Kinect sensor, you then are moved into the cockpit of your VT, along with the three other men in your squad. They introduce themselves, and you learn to swipe your hand across the screen to move your view around and get a look at them. A voice on the outside gives you commands, and your crewmate Natch helps direct you to the controls on the screen.

Before you lies a wide range of buttons, displays, and levers, all of which serve different functions. The gameplay uses a controller/motion control integration to allow you to move the mech and fire at targets, and a number of levers and display monitors positioned around you are Kinect-enabled and perform a number of tasks, be it zooming in on enemies, firing up the mech, engaging high speed, and even self-destruct, if necessary.

It all sounds interesting, and at a first glance it seems like it could work very well. Unfortunately, the control’s ambitious nature falls prey to the typical ills of the Kinect. With a confusing and unnecessarily large array of levers and buttons, even lowering your hand down the screen will cause you to pull an unwanted lever or lower a display. I found myself growling at the TV in frustration when the commander was screaming at me to move and all I could do was open and close the shutter on the mech’s viewport as I tried to zoom in. Couple confusing and frustrating controls with the cringeworthy dialogue of the crew members around you, and the game’s tutorial was nothing short of painful.

The demo offers players a sample mission after the tutorial to test their skill in real time on the battlefield. After a brief cutscene, you find yourself on the shores of Manhattan inside the mech’s cockpit, flanked by the same crew members from the demo as you begin walking through a frantic battlefield littered with gunfire. Once again, I started grabbing unnecessary levers and flipping switches as I tried to zoom in and start moving. Objectives felt unclear, the visual presentation was reminiscent of an original Xbox game, and combat felt slow and clunky, even for a heavy mech.

In short, Steel Battalion is an ambitious title with a unique approach to Kinect/controller integration. Unfortunately, with an unnecessarily confusing control scheme further marred by the infuriating response of the Kinect, it falls short of being the next step forward in motion control-based games. Could the same controller/Kinect integration work with better gameplay mechanics? Possibly. And maybe this will be the title that will inspire someone to finally make the Kinect game hardcore gamers can really get into. As for now, Steel Battalion feels like another wonky Kinect title that will leave you waving your arms aimlessly in front of the TV for minutes as you try to accomplish something a controller could manage in seconds.