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.