Kinect has been a surprisingly successful venture for Microsoft. After seeing Nintendo set the world on fire with the Wii's motion-based gameplay, Microsoft offered its own take with its controller-less peripheral. While this generation of consoles has been getting a bit long in the tooth, Kinect's introduction has extended the life of the seven-year-old console and it has proven incredibly capable of evolving certain genres naturally, as seen with the breakout success of Harmonix's Dance Central. However, it has still had problems being incorporated into so-called "hardcore" games, among others (ie. shooters). Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor attempts to rectify this.
There is no shortage of action in the presentation. Other than the mildly amusing prologue that also serves as a tutorial section to get you accustomed to the motion control gestures, each of the game's chapters plops you in the middle of some busy action set pieces. Each chapter is relatively short in order to accommodate for the lack of ability to save during them. Mixing frantic situations with a blend of motion and controller-based input sounds like a recipe for immersive and intense gameplay. Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor does not achieve those lofty goals, however.
Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor's new developers, From Software, are experts at making frustratingly difficult games, as evidenced by their Demon's Souls and Dark Souls games. The key difference between Heavy Armor and the aforementioned games is that the Souls games' mechanics work perfectly well on their own, and those expected frustrations are balanced incredibly well with rewarding gameplay when you actually succeed. Such is not the case with Heavy Armor (although I will commend the developers for utilizing the concept of permanent character death to enhance each battle's stakes and offer a bit of emotional resonance). The irritation here stems from the inability to consistently use the intended mechanics.
Go ahead and take some time to Google dedicated "Steel Battalion controllers" if you have not seen one before. In order to replicate the complicated controls of giant robotic vehicles, these controller designs are understandably large, practically cumbersome in intricacy, and blessed with dozens of functional buttons. It could seem natural, that with Kinect's motion-based interfacing, you could do away with such a complex controller and interact with a virtual facsimile of it on screen. However, with latency and lighting issues and all-around lack of recognizing any small gestures (a requisite for this type of game), it is not difficult to see how the series' multifaceted gameplay could not be feasibly adapted to Kinect. The technology just is not there yet.
Due to Kinect's lack of tactile controls, navigating about your mech's cabin in the heat of battle can easily lead to aggravating errors that can cause you to start the entire stage over again. When the gameplay relies on quick and appropriate response, Kinect's technologies setbacks rear their head. While basic movement and shooting are reliable thanks to the Xbox 360 contoller, anything Kinect-based is a mess.
Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor features a war story that is set decades into the future, with technological weaponry to appropriately match. Unfortunately, today's Kinect technology is unprepared to replicate it. Moreover, it is not even equipped to properly replace the Steel Battalion series' controller standard. There is a solid concept here, and in the perfect setting (ie. when its Kinect functionality actually works), it could perhaps be a greatly enjoyable game in its own right. Kinect is a refreshing product that certainly breathes new life in the correct genres. This is not yet one of them. As it stands, its poor execution still leaves us waiting for the game that will deftly blend traditional shooter gameplay with the benefits of Kinect's controller-free input. Others might have more success in getting the game to recognize the motion controls, but this wild unreliability makes it difficult to universally recommend the game.
GameDynamo's Score for Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor (X360)
Writes for a few media outlets, does graphic design work for a few clients, as well as production work for a few studios (all poorly). Believes the best correlation between the words "twilight" and "sparkle" has less to do with vampires and more to do with a sarcastic pony.
[View Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor images / screenshots +]
[Watch Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor videos / trailers +]
[View more Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor articles (news, previews, reviews) +]
[View Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor cheats / guides +]
More from GameDynamo