TGS 2011: Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor (Kinect) preview

Announced last year at Tokyo Game Show before Kinect hit stores, the idea of a new Steel Battalion game for a controller-free hardware d-on seemed almost comical. The original Steel Battalion is remembered by hardcore collectors for being packed in with one of the most complicated console controllers of all time. Now the series is back with Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor as Capcom gives development responsibilities to From Software, and in the place of two control sticks, three pedals, and 40 buttons, you’re left with motion controls to fill the gap. Could that possibly work? After seeing it in action, we think it just might.

During our hands-off, developer controlled demo, we quickly understood that Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor’s greatest strength is its use of Kinect and the standard controller in unison. The fact that a controller is involved came as a relief to us, since a mech combat game like this one demands precision that waving your arms about can’t really do on its own. For the core mechanic of pointing you weapons at stuff and blowing it to smithereens, it’s all on the controller, but there’s a myriad of things happening around that central experience that can only be done with Kinect.

Taking place in a future where a virus caused technology to basically be set back to the 1920s, humanity has had to to quickly get back in the swing of things now that computers are gone. In that turmoil America was invaded by a country that sounds like some sort of Communist conglomeration, and in 2082 America is slowly taking back their states, one bloody, mech-filled battle at a time. In this war you pilot a VT or Vertical Tank, the walking war machines central to the conflict.

From inside the VT a team of soldiers run the contraption, with you manning the main controls. In the background your support team is reloading the canons, checking diagnostics, and talking plainly yet poetically about the nature of war. From standard view inside the cockpit, which is seen when sitting and having the controller in a resting position on your lap, you can turn around and check on your squad mates with a quick sweep of your hand in the direction of the corner of the tank you want to check.

As we were introduced to the motion controls they came off as a mix of useful and gimmicky. Pratical tricks included turning a knob to switch your main weapon, pulling down your camera array to view the battlefield from different angles, and standing up to exit the top of the tank to get an unobstructed view of the battlefield. The more gimmicky uses included shaking a squad member’s hand, putting your hands up to your eyes to use binoculars while standing, and in one of the funnier moments of the demo, punching a hysterical teammate. As the battle gets too intense for one member of the support team, he tries to run out of the tank and, after pulling him back in with a quick overhead grab with your right hand, you then punch him in the face multiple times to get him to calm down, which works for some reason.

That brief exchange of therapeutic punches was peppered with obscenities highlights another important thing about the game: it seems heavily aimed at the western, mature market. The battles are incredibly bloody, with VT machinegun fire hitting human infantry and exploding them into bloody messes on impact. Additionally, the soldiers have swear-heavy conversations about how effed up a particular battle is, and how they don’t need this shit. The overall look also seems more Western, with character designs and settings taking a much more American flavor.

Though the start of the demo was frontloaded with Kinect-based actions, the deeper we got in, the more the controller took center stage. With a quick push forward of both hands and the controller, the pilot enters the standard action view, as the VT slowly walked forward, blasting enemies both human and mech to bits. While standard munitions just bounce off the exterior, heavy blasts from opposing VTs cast about the cockpit and its inhabitants violently. After taking down a particularly heavily armored VT and some guard towers, the day was won and the soldiers had taken back Manhattan.

After the brief demo we were impressed with how the controller and Kinect were able to work together for a richer-looking experience that could be something special when its 2012 release rolls around. Though we don’t think all the Kinect uses we saw were wholly necessary, Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor could be the first Kinect game that successfully caters to hardcore players instead of dancing grandmas and excitable children. However, with all the different ways you use Kinect controls in the cockpit, we bet this will have one hell of a tutorial.

Sep 18, 2011

Henry Gilbert

Henry Gilbert is a former GamesRadar+ Editor, having spent seven years at the site helping to navigate our readers through the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation. Henry is now following another passion of his besides video games, working as the producer and podcast cohost of the popular Talking Simpsons and What a Cartoon podcasts.