I think there is a lot of fixation nowadays with getting your console to be motion sensitive – too much, in fact. I am a controller kind of gamer and that’s the way I like it. I won’t, however, cast dispersions on motion sensor consoles and add-ons such as the Kinect for the Xbox. I own a Kinect and my kids, aged five and four, love it. They are excellent at Star Wars and Kinect Adventures and can find their way around a golf course in Tiger Woods 13.
Even considering my proclivity for only moving my thumbs whilst playing games, however, I jumped at the chance to review Steel Battalion: Heavy Armour which is being touted as the most comprehensive synergy of Kinect technology and Xbox controller.
The story in Steel Battalion, is to be honest, a bit vague. From what I can tell, the world’s computers and technological superiority has been undermined by some sort of virus (organic and/or mechanical in nature) that began destroying the worldwide computing infrastructure in the year 2020. It’s now the year 2082 and the Americans are about to embark on a war to win back their country.
How the country was lost in the first place and how the United Nations (UN – known as ‘Uncle’ throughout the game) become the big evil enemy is a bit of a mystery. As a supporter of the fundamental premise behind the UN, I honestly find the storyline of Steel Battalion a bit insulting, especially when the enemy go on a rampage and kill innocents such as the family of Sergeant Winfield Powers (that’s you by the way), thereby giving him the push to rejoin active service. It is, however, all just part of a game so I don’t take it too seriously.
The technologically superior armaments in the low tech war of Steel Battalion are the vertical tanks (VT or ‘Veet’), and as Powers, you are an experienced and decorated VT pilot who has re-enlisted for the aforementioned personal reasons.
I love the mech fighting genre of games such as MechWarrior, BattleTech and Armoured Core and as I went through the opening tutorial of Steel Battalion, my excitement only increased – I was ready to invade New York. That is when the game took a dramatic, unfortunate and gut-wrenchingly frustrating nose dive. After the slow, measured build up and learning of motions (far too many) and button presses (not nearly enough) made available in the tutorial, all necessary to control my VT, the first mission – not at all slow and measured – made it abundantly clear that the Kinect is simply not ready for the complexity and, more importantly, accuracy of movement required by the game.
I tried the first mission of Steel Battalion for about half an hour before I finally got the general idea and throughout this time I was gesticulating and swearing at my television more than a grown man should be (unless he is watching rugby). The basic control of your VT is movement and firing. Fortunately both of these are controlled using the controller so you have some say in what actually happens during the mission. These controls work OK and you can quite happily stand still, assume periscope mode and blast away to your heart’s content. This, however, makes you a sitting duck and you die quite easily unless you are on the move.
The problem arrives within the cockpit of your VT. There are simply too many controls within the cockpit for the player to accurately master with the Kinect. The controls include shutting the view port, starting engines, changing gear, changing ammunition type, ventilating the cockpit, looking around the cockpit at your crew members and a few others.
The problem is, in the heat of battle you need to be able to move quickly and precisely and there are often times when you’re trying to start the engine, but instead you open and close the view port. This is only one of the examples of something that can go wrong within the cockpit and it is incredibly frustrating when you are being blown to bits and you simply cannot get your pilot to do what you need him to do.
Unfortunately for Steel Battalion, the problems are not only limited to the control. Throughout the mission I wasn’t particularly sure exactly what I had to do. I thought the mission briefing was quite vague and the internal mapping system within your VT is not very detailed at all. There are a few voice prompts from your crew and from command that help you get to where you need to go but I finished the mission by simply shooting anything that shot at me and generally blowing up any part of the area that looked menacing.
With reference to the voice prompts and interaction with your crew mates, I must make a point that there is simply too much foul language laced throughout Steel Battalion. I felt that there was swearing thrown in just for the sake of it and, whilst I understand that the script writers are trying to portray the high intensity of battle, there is just too much unnecessary bad language.
There is also a lot of violence in the cut-scenes, but there isn’t a lot of it during actual gameplay. Throughout Steel Battalion I felt that the developers were more concerned about producing a game that combined the Kinect controller with the standard controller and, unfortunately, not enough quality was imbued in the rest of the game.
So I finished ‘Mission 1’ and started on ‘Mission 2’ and, I must admit, at this point I was frustrated, annoyed and very disappointed. I simply could not believe that developers would allow an unplayable game to leave their studio so I decided to read up about Steel Battalion and discovered a few comments online that convinced me to approach it differently, specifically with regards to how this game is a simulator and it’s supposed to be difficult – the VT technology is rough and heavy and the game should reflect that.
I persevered into another play session and my second experience with Steel Battalion was better. While getting used to techniques necessary to continue, manoeuvrability and fighting greatly improved and I began to quite enjoyed the interaction between Kinect and controller. Some of the scenes in the game are a bit silly, such as fist bumping your sub commander and reaching out to take a chocolate, but I guess those movements are quite simple to get the Kinect to do successfully.
There are, however, still a lot of problems with Steel Battalion. I died of smoke inhalation a few times because I simply couldn’t get the darned Kinect to recognise that I was trying to reach out to the top right panel and switch on the ventilator. Additionally, the view port gets too damaged and you simply cannot see out of the little window because of the cracks in the glass and the dirt (thank goodness for periscope mode).
Following my experiences with Steel Battalion, I wouldn’t recommend buying it unless you’re interested in the evolution of motion sensor gaming (and, like it or not, this game will be a part of that evolution) or unless you like to work hard at games. Steel Battalion is just too much hard work to enjoy fully and the plot simply didn’t motivate me to work harder to see what happens.
If you do get Steel Battalion, take my advice and don’t give up. Playing the game is very much a growth exercise and it may be considered an acquired taste. Watch out for ridiculous amounts of swearing (which is gratuitous in my opinion) and get ready to feel a bit of frustration. Personally, though, I think I’ve overcome the initial hurdles of Steel Battalion and I’m quite interested to play it again.