When we last saw Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor, it was at Microsoft’s recent media event in San Francisco. It was an exceptionally long
demo, and we understood why within a few minutes. This is a game with a rather
steep learning curve. Capcom debuted Heavy Armor’s co-op mode during its annual
Captivate event. We sat down to play and found that after a day of playing it
and feeling unsure about it, we came back the next day, dug deeper, and started
to understand what Capcom’s going for…
What is it? Steel Battalion: Heavy
Armor is the update to 2003’s obscure Xbox title and 2004 online-centric sequel.
The first Steel Battalion boasted a 30 button controller and a $200 pricetag.
If you already have a Kinect, your biggest barrier to entry has already been
eliminated. In this game, you will drive a giant tank around a post-apocalyptic
environment that apes WWII’s aesthetic motif.
Who is the developer? From Software
is working with Capcom on this, which is a first for the series, which was
largely done in-house during the Xbox era. From also worked on mech-driven
titles such as Chromehounds and the Armored Core series.
How does it look? Heavy Armor
isn’t really a game you’ll focus on because of how it looks, but the in-tank
details look rather impressive, and your squadmates look rather detailed. The
game is far more focused on giving you glowing items to pantomime using Kinect.
In that sense, it’s a good-looking enough game.
How does it play? Remember what
we just said about that barrier to entry? Okay, we left out an important
detail: Heavy Armor takes Kinect’s slogan (“Your Body Is the Controller”) and
takes it to what is, to date, the most logical extreme possible. We genuinely,
sincerely, hope that Capcom has a detailed and user-friendly demo set to come
prior to launch. It took us three sessions to get used to the controls. Frankly,
that’s just starting to scratch the surface of its details. This is an
unmistakably hardcore game.
The nuance in how you tilt your
wrist can make the difference between pulling out a panel to ventilate your
smoke-filled tank (and possibly saving everyone inside) and putzing around with
the speed throttle (which would do you no good in that case). What seems
initially clunky and unintuitive is actually hyper-focused and detail-oriented
gameplay. Keep that in mind.
Our session at Captivate was the
first with the game’s co-op. While we’re not totally unconvinced that the mode
can work, we’d compare the experience to a three-legged race. It’s fun if you’re
in synch with your team. If you’re not, you’ll be doing your best not to break
your nose during the fall. The mode is all about racking up points in unison
with your other tank-driving squadmates. There’s a time limit, so you’ll need
to choose your positioning and weapons very judiciously. If you’re the squad
leader, that last sentence is even more crucial; the game host’s tank decides
the course of the game; that is, if the leader dies, the game ends. In a group
of inexperienced players, it’s akin to winning the lucky number in Shirley
Jackson’s “The Lottery.”
In our mission, we coordinated with
other media –some who’d had a few spins in the tank and others playing as
though they were patting their heads, rubbing their bellies, and walking while
chewing gum at the same time—to take on a series of rival mechs and big
mortars. Coordinating will be key, since one person’s vantage point for a
sniper-like periscope shot can very well create bottlenecks that no one else
can pass through.
In the right hands, however, the
mode could rival Armored Core V’s guild-based online as the most intense method
of embodying the cockpit of a gigantic war machine. But you’ll need to put your
time in on practice, absolutely no doubt about it. The immense pressure of
managing a tank, plus the threat of mortars and online friends pipping your
score will scare off many people.
When is it out? Look for it on June 19.