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Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor review

AT A GLANCE
  • Audio truly accentuates tension of battles
  • The bond that comes from trying to keep your Platoon alive
  • The quieter, more considered stages
  • Complicated controls + hard setpieces = disaster
  • Gesture-based quick time events destroy immersion
  • Mech is a slow, vulnerable piece of junk

The wonderful thing about mecha is their transformative power. It's a dream embodied by the 'falling into the cockpit' trope introduced back in the heyday of '70 giant robot anime. In an instant, you go from regular teen to a hero capable of crushing whole city blocks. And you do it all with style.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor subverts that dream by putting you in an ugly, wobbly mech that is neither very giant nor very powerful. The main virtue of the Vertical Tank is... we’re not sure exactly. Certainly there are times — like when your legs are suddenly shot out from underneath you – that you’ll wish that you could skip all the fanfare and drive around on regular tank treads. And rest assured, that's not the illusion that anyone wants in their giant robot games.

But as it turns out, breaking the illusion is what Steel Battalion does best. It takes the glorious controller of the first game – a behemoth that infamously included an eject button that had to be used lest your saved game be erased – and crams it into an awkward mixture of controller-driven action and hands-free flailing. What starts as a potentially gimmick soon becomes tiresome, and not long after that, a genuine burden.

Part of the problem is the rather granular motions it demands. One tiny control surface that must be navigated on a regular basis includes a vent, an extra weapons button, the headlights switch, and the self-destruct button (watch out for that one) – a ludicrous proposition in the heat of battle. In the tense moments in which you are venting smoke out of your cockpit to head off asphyxiation, you are much more apt to hit the headlights or look over at your weapons officer, and then choke to death. Or get blown up.

Such control issues could have been alleviated with some very careful level design, but that goes out the window in a hurry. In the very first level, you're faced with a Normandy-style beach head loaded with enemy tanks and bunkers. It's massive, it's confusing, and it's absolutely the wrong note for an intricate action game like this to start on. In fact, impressive as Steel Battalion could be with waves of frantic radio chatter and booming explosions, you’ll often found yourself dreading the large setpiece scenarios. Having to fight large numbers of enemy mechs on a chaotic battlefield with a big, slow, lumbering VT and ponderous controls is just about the most frustrating thing in the world.

Even more frustrating, though, is that Steel Battalion isn't the sort of game that anyone can just laugh off. It really does capture the sense of being stuck in a smelly tin can with a bunch of other soldiers, and it does actually have some genuinely cool moments. One highlight comes early on, when a dark tunnel leading to Norfolk is suddenly illuminated by a pair of headlights as an enemy VT rounds the corner. Everyone in the cockpit starts screaming at once to fire, heightening the tension, which is followed by a wave of relief after lighting up the enemy vehicle. Another particularly intense moment involves an enemy soldier somehow sneaking into the cockpit and attacking the radio operator. If the attacker succeeds, the moans of horror from the crew mingles with the shock of losing a comrade – one of the goals is to make it through the war without losing anyone – to produce genuine regret.

The problem is that moments like the one that just described are wrapped up in some genuinely horrible controls. The first time the aforementioned crew member died, it was because we had no idea what gesture to perform in the midst of a tense quicktime event. We flailed around trying to find the right action, and in the next moment, the radio operator was spurting blood from a wound in her neck. It was at that point that Steel Battalion crossed point of no return. Cool ideas and neat moments can only take you so far – sooner or later you have to execute.

Probably the most unpardonable sin here is that there is nothing in Steel Battalion that can't be pulled off a hundred times better with a controller. We mentally mapped out the control scheme – lowering the periscope, looking around the cockpit, standing up and looking out the hatch – and ended up with a couple of buttons to spare. So it’s worth then asking, what’s the point of the Kinect controls? If it was to create the sensation of operating a mech cockpit, one can argue that Steel Battalion accomplished that goal just fine without the Kinect interactivity. If anything, the Kinect controls combine with some very questionable design decisions only serve to break the illusion that Steel Battalion is trying to create. And that is the very definition of a game that has failed.

More Info

Release date: Jun 19 2012 - Xbox 360 (US)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360
Published by: Capcom
Developed by: Capcom
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language

26 comments

  • chriszewski - June 20, 2012 2:18 p.m.

    So can i just have Chromehounds 2 now, From?
  • DoctorCrazy - June 20, 2012 11:21 a.m.

    There was no mention of the story in the review, but isn't that terrible as well? From what it looks like, it's basically just America vs. The rest of the world. Can't really see anyone outside of the US caring about that.
  • TheVoid - June 19, 2012 11:35 p.m.

    As I am reading this the site is absolutely PLASTERED in Steel Battalion advertising. Let anyone who thinks for a second that these guys are ever on the "take" for favorable reviews for advertisers remember this review always. And too bad, really. I don't even own a XB360 but I still feel the pain from the...well, everything else side of the fence. Personally I think this is why I own a PS3, PC and Wii but NOT an XB360. And I'm seriously not trying to start a flame war here. The problem for me has always been that XB360 games either play it totally safe, or fail miserably. And the few "off the beaten path" games that actually got it right either found their way to PC anyway or went for a multiplat sequel that usually topped the original (Dead Rising). And if Wii was frowned upon in the end for untapped potential - I think we all expected more ultimately - then Kinect is a fucking disgrace. The one shot Kinect had at winning the hearts/minds of the hardcore and proving that it does what Nintendon't ends up walking onto the field in a sluggish unintuitive mess of a machine that quickly gets gunned down by everything around it. Fitting. I was actually watching this one with some interest. Maybe not "gonna buy an XB360 and Kinect if it's awesome" interest, but interest just the same. Eagerness to see if Microsoft - who clearly opted to give their beloved XB360 another year in the field before threading the next-gen noose - could actually prop it's machine up with something truly unique and special. Something that would look directly at the competition and say "you like that shit, don't you". But no. Just more Halo and Gears. And football. Maybe they should have saved this for SmartGlass. Maybe that could have helped...somehow. Yeah, and maybe I'm a chinese jet pilot.
  • Tjwoods18 - June 19, 2012 9:19 p.m.

    What do you know, it is not really better with kinect after all.
  • mbavalo - June 19, 2012 3:45 p.m.

    What you get from Capcom. Resident Evil 5 also had crappy controls
  • TheVoid - June 20, 2012 12:02 a.m.

    Yeah, because Street Fighter and Mega Man have always been known for their horrific control issues. Dude, seriously? "What you get from Capcom"? Are you even familiar with their catalog (other than RE5, RE in general being the Achilles Heel of Capcom control issues (until this I suppose))? Although I would say that is part of the burn here. Not only is it an utter failure on Kinect's part, but Capcom's as well. And Capcom should know better. Few others could have instilled anticipation enough to consider that maybe, just maybe, this might be great. Unless of course Capcom intentionally produced a shit game in an effort to make Kinect fail that much faster, allowing us to simply move on and go about gaming the way we FUCKING LIKE IT. WITH CONTROLLERS. YOU FUCKS. Not you, mbavalo. I got off track. Brush up on your Capcom, that's all. Everything else was aimed squarely at MICROSOFT AND SONY FOR THINKING THEY COULD BUILD ON WHAT NINTENDO HAD BUILT (AND CASHED IN HANDSOMELY AND EFFECTIVELY MOVED ON) WITH BARELY ANY FUCKING EFFORT IN A 2X PISS-POOR ATTEMPT TO CASH IN AS NINTENDO HAD. I respect Kinect for at least promising to "take it to the next level". The no controller gimmick showed SOME promise. But at the same time I respect Move's unapologetic "we're going to do nothing more than rip off the Wii gimmick completely with nary an improvement" approach, because ultimately they knew this was no longer something to invest a lot of time/effort into. Where was Move at E3? Mentioned? At best? Probably more of a reason folks felt Sony "won" E3 than realized. Hell, Sony basically ran back to the fucking EyeToy for shit's sake. Meanwhile Microsoft continues to SIMPLY NOT GET IT. Well it gets Football, I guess. I'll give it that.
  • CrashmanX - June 22, 2012 12:55 a.m.

    Yo bro, take some of that sand out of your vagina for a second. It's more of Capcom puts out a bad release in hopes the series will die anymore. Why? Because they're trying to cut back and rather than let things alone they're just killing them off. Why again? Fuck if I know, it's Capcom.
  • TheVoid - June 20, 2012 12:03 a.m.

    Yeah, because Street Fighter and Mega Man have always been known for their horrific control issues. Dude, seriously? "What you get from Capcom"? Are you even familiar with their catalog (other than RE5, RE in general being the Achilles Heel of Capcom control issues (until this I suppose))? Although I would say that is part of the burn here. Not only is it an utter failure on Kinect's part, but Capcom's as well. And Capcom should know better. Few others could have instilled anticipation enough to consider that maybe, just maybe, this might be great. Unless of course Capcom intentionally produced a shit game in an effort to make Kinect fail that much faster, allowing us to simply move on and go about gaming the way we FUCKING LIKE IT. WITH CONTROLLERS. YOU FUCKS. Not you, mbavalo. I got off track. Brush up on your Capcom, that's all. Everything else was aimed squarely at MICROSOFT AND SONY FOR THINKING THEY COULD BUILD ON WHAT NINTENDO HAD BUILT (AND CASHED IN HANDSOMELY AND EFFECTIVELY MOVED ON) WITH BARELY ANY FUCKING EFFORT IN A 2X PISS-POOR ATTEMPT TO CASH IN AS NINTENDO HAD. I respect Kinect for at least promising to "take it to the next level". The no controller gimmick showed SOME promise. But at the same time I respect Move's unapologetic "we're going to do nothing more than rip off the Wii gimmick completely with nary an improvement" approach, because ultimately they knew this was no longer something to invest a lot of time/effort into. Where was Move at E3? Mentioned? At best? Probably more of a reason folks felt Sony "won" E3 than realized. Hell, Sony basically ran back to the fucking EyeToy for shit's sake. Meanwhile Microsoft continues to SIMPLY NOT GET IT. Well it gets Football, I guess. I'll give it that.
  • TheVoid - June 20, 2012 12:08 a.m.

    Yeah, because Street Fighter and Mega Man have always been known for their horrific control issues. Dude, seriously? "What you get from Capcom"? Are you even familiar with their catalog (other than RE5, RE in general being the Achilles Heel of Capcom control issues (until this I suppose))? And the GOW icon ain't helping. Fucking please. Although I would say that is part of the burn here. Not only is it an utter failure on Kinect's part, but Capcom's as well. And Capcom should know better. Few others could have instilled anticipation enough to consider that maybe, just maybe, this might be great. Unless of course Capcom intentionally produced a shit game in an effort to make Kinect fail that much faster, allowing us to simply move on and go about gaming the way we FUCKING LIKE IT. WITH CONTROLLERS. YOU FUCKS. Not you, mbavalo. I got off track. Brush up on your Capcom, that's all. Everything else was aimed squarely at MICROSOFT AND SONY FOR THINKING THEY COULD BUILD ON WHAT NINTENDO HAD BUILT (AND CASHED IN HANDSOMELY AND EFFECTIVELY MOVED ON) WITH BARELY ANY FUCKING EFFORT IN A 2X PISS-POOR ATTEMPT TO CASH IN AS NINTENDO HAD. I respect Kinect for at least promising to "take it to the next level". The no controller gimmick showed SOME promise. But at the same time I respect Move's unapologetic "we're going to do nothing more than rip off the Wii gimmick completely with nary an improvement" approach, because ultimately they knew this was no longer something to invest a lot of time/effort into. Where was Move at E3? Mentioned? At best? Probably more of a reason folks felt Sony "won" E3 than realized. Hell, Sony basically ran back to the fucking EyeToy for shit's sake. Meanwhile Microsoft continues to SIMPLY NOT GET IT. Well it gets Football, I guess. I'll give it that.
  • TheVoid - June 20, 2012 12:12 a.m.

    Okay, so I hate those that resend their messages over and over and over and over and over again. In some (most) cases I would guess it to be intentional, but not here. In each case it appeared that my (copied) response didn't take, only for it to prove that it was working correctly and as intended, despite appearing to NOT WHATSOEVER from my end, until all 3 articles appeared. My apologies. I am truly, seriously and sincerely not one of those. Unless they all are the result of glitches, in which case I sympathize.
  • mbavalo - August 3, 2012 3:21 p.m.

    Dude, upto a month and 2 weeks now, I still find myself too lazy to read through all that you typed. I have no idea who's side you are on
  • TheVoid - August 21, 2012 9:16 p.m.

    Well if you are too lazy to read through all that I typed, and as a result you have no idea whose side I'm on, then it sounds like you largely have yourself to blame for any confusion.
  • mbavalo - August 25, 2012 5:13 a.m.

    Confusion? Who said I was confused? :D
  • TheVoid - August 25, 2012 12:07 p.m.

    Fair enough! ;)
  • Fuzunga - June 19, 2012 1:48 p.m.

    This: http://www.playhawken.com/ plus this: http://vrge.co/Mm9qeY
  • ObliqueZombie - June 19, 2012 12:39 p.m.

    Well... there goes any hope of "immersive mech games." Oh wait, they already had those with an ACTUAL mech simulating controller, albeit an expensive one? Now THAT sounds cool. Fuck off, Kinect, no one wants you.
  • Viron - June 19, 2012 11 a.m.

    You clearly have been watching too much anime if you think a mech is gonna be some speedy armor plated death machine.
  • archnite - June 19, 2012 10:40 a.m.

    But does the game still erase your save when you die?
  • SCW - June 19, 2012 10:02 a.m.

    Thanks for the review but your grammar errors and spelling issues are extremely unprofessional.
  • CrashmanX - June 19, 2012 10:25 a.m.

    Gonna have to agree on this one. Should've let at least two other buddies in the office read it over before posting it.

Showing 1-20 of 26 comments

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