This is supposed to be a thorough review of Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor, as seen through the eyes of someone who completed the original Steel Battalion several times with the gigantic mech controller.
In a perfect world, this would be an article about how the creators of SB:HA rose to the occasion, embraced the Kinect motion controller, and made the mech battle game even more intense and immersive. A game that used modern technology to bypass the need for a very expensive controller that you can only use with this one game in order to fully appreciate it. Instead, I’m going to tell you about a horribly executed opening sequence that ended in my inability to complete the mandatory tutorial after over an hour of trying.
SB:HA is set in a future where some virus had dissolved all of the silicon in the world and made it so we couldn’t have computers. The first video you get to watch is really vague, with chips dissolving and some guy in a control center somewhere opening the game by dropping an F-Bomb. I also had to contend with the notion that the game developers were unaware scientists have been discovering successful silicon replacements like Graphene.
As a result of the lack of silicon in this world, all of the machines in the game are manually controlled, and everything you do in the game is manual. There’s no radar, no viewscreen, nothing. You look out a porthole, and occasionally a periscope, to see where the baddies are. There are great big levers and buttons for when you want to accelerate your vehicle, but if you abuse it you run the risk of overheating your VT. Everything is done by reaching your hands out and interacting with the virtual VT you are sitting in, and this is where we run into problems.
During the tutorial, one of the guys in your VT starts smoking and you decide to vent the cockpit instead of just throwing him out of the mech. In order to vent the cockpit, you need to pull out a stowaway panel and pull down a lever. Unfortunately, every time I reached my hand out to pull down the lever, the game would immediately put the panel back where I got it from. Mind you, I can see the lever I need to pull without pulling out the panel. It would be nothing for me to just lean over and pull this lever–the panel never needed to move.
In order to complete the tutorial you have to vent the cockpit. If you don’t know how to vent the cockpit, you might asphyxiate the crew when your engine overloads in combat, and you’ll all die. After an hour of attempts, and resetting the tutorial three different times, I was never able to vent to cockpit.
Unfortunately, that’s the moral of the story here. SB:HA could have been a really fantastic game for anyone who was interested in the genre. The first game was built for a niche market, and the problem with being a video game designer for a niche market is that you have to also make money, and that gets more difficult the more you shrink your audience.
SB:HA lacks the one critical thing that the original game had, which was the ability to turn off the complicated gameplay and just run around and blow up other mechs. At least with that, part of the game would have appealed to a larger audience.
This latest entry in the series will forever be known as the game that could have been really great if the Kinect hadn’t been so ill-equipped to handle the kind of gameplay they were trying to create.
For anyone still interested in giving this game a go, check out how it should control according to Capcom and From Software:
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