Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor Preview
When the demo of Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor was showcased at GamesCom, there were a lot of glasses-wearing journalists that were confused, captivated, and a bit more confused. The source of the confusion was not the presentation of the demo, but what it had to offer. The excessive use of Kinect in the game was obviously a bold step, one that many developers have decided not to take with such a large magnitude.
Nevertheless the result is both a little overwhelming and quite mesmerizing, like moth to flames. Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor’s use of Kinect has come in to heavy criticism by some, and praise by others. What knowledge many people are missing though, is that the game is a hybrid; it takes use of both the Kinect and the conventional controller – though the use of the former is more than in any previous game. But what SB: Heavy Armor does is making the Kinect a compulsion; without it, you can’t play the game.
Being a game focusing around war in a future-based United States, you’d expect it to go a little wild with the ‘what sci-fi complex stuff we can add’ formula, but no, it doesn’t do that. In fact it puts you in a thing that awfully resembles a tank from inside, a looks like a rusted, steam-punk mech from the outside. One can’t decide whether to call it a futuristic machine, a thing of the past, or an alternative to the present heavy armored tanks.
There’s reason for this deviation from conventional means of depicting future warfare of course. The game is set in 2020, and on 1st September of the year a silicon-devouring microbe is somehow unleashed, destroying all the computers of the world, technologically crippling entire nations. In the wake of this event, the US is invaded by hostile forces, and a war breaks out. The result is a hell lot of fighting in depressing-looking tank-type mechs (the series’ trademark Vertical Tanks), operated by three to four men, out of which you’re one of them.
You use the Xbox 360 controller for shooting and walking, but the rest of everything is done through Kinect. Controlling the VTs can become a daunting task, but with a bit of practice, it becomes a good exercise –a fun one too.
You’ll find yourself horizontally swiping your hands to control the camera, making a lever pull motion to control the ventilation system, focusing on the many buttons (out of which one is a self-destruct button) by pointing at them, operating them with your hand outstretched, bringing your left hand to your eyes to use the binoculars, and performing many more gestures.
But the experience is not of how the tanks are operated – or how the war is fought, but is of being a soldier and being with soldiers. The war-torn island of Manhattan has a pain-staking similarity to the harsh shores of Stalingrad in World War II, with on-foot soldiers desperately trying to make a push, but still being gunned down by the dozens of mounted machine guns. The game doesn’t hold back on gore either, as soldiers are graphically cut into pieces, hideously dismembered, with limbs flying in all directions.
Even inside the mechs you’ll feel the terror and fear of the claustrophobic environment of a tank. Soldiers around you will swear and yell, and at times even try scramble out of the cab while shouting “We’re gonna die! We’re gonna die!” You then have the option of physically pulling them back, smacking them in the face, and telling them to pull themselves together, or just letting them flee. If you choose the latter, then you’ll be responsible for taking over the guy’s job, while doing yours simultaneously. For example, if the navigator behind you fled, you’ll have to do switch between the navigating seat and your plot position, making things quite difficult (both physically and in-game).
The entire experience is very harrowing, built around morbidity and the brutality of war, but it is quite realistic and emotional. If it does become a bit too overwhelming, you could always consider using the self-destruct button (why else would it be there?).
If the control scheme is more than just tolerable when the game is released, then we could say that Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor would be one of the most interesting war games of this generation.