Before I get started with this review, I just want to thank Charlie for the invite to review this game for Gaming Nexus. It’ll be nice to write this review for much more of a hardcore audience than the typical folks over at Cinescape.
Ever since E3, Steel Battalion
has been the source of much debate. Those who managed to fight their way through the hordes of onlookers (this correspondent did just that with the help of Capcom PR) and play the game were rewarded with an experience second only to the Doom III
trailer. But there was an incredulous air surrounding the game, “could it be worth the likely $200 price tag?” “Is it anything more than a controller demo?” The answer to those questions are yes and yes, as Steel Battalion is the best Xbox title to date.
For four times the cost of a normal Xbox game, I’m sure some gamers out there are expecting the best game for their money. The reason for this high cost is the proprietary controller that you must have to play the game. If you consider the fact that Capcom is releasing more games to support the controller, it effectively reduces the overall price. Still, even for just this game, the $200 is well worth it.
In Steel Battalion, gamers pilot a giant Vertical Tank (VT), the initial sequence is somewhat corny, and has you, an untrained rookie, taking the controls of a VT in a last-ditch attempt to save the base. There is no tutorial; you just have to go based on the giant instruction manual that Capcom provides. That’s somewhat of a negative when you first begin as figuring out how to control the VT can be quite a chore.
The controller consists of three panels that you connect (screws and driver provided) and foot pedals for the floor. It’s all very sturdy and the foot pedals even have full metal for the perfect feel. The game uses just one standard controller port which was a bit of a surprise, but ultimately user-friendly.
You have two joysticks; the one on the right has weapon control and lock on functions. Moving it around moves your aiming crosshairs and allows you to target things. The left joystick is used for turning the VT and on it is a thumbstick that allows you to move your torso. Moving is handled by the three foot-pedals, one for acceleration, one for brake, and one for side jumping. You also have a 5-speed transmission, an eject button (with plastic flip-up cover), a radio dial, metal toggle switches, and buttons for washing your windshield, night vision and many many more functions.
The control is pretty tricky. Given that your torso, guns and body can all do different things, you will have to adjust frequently. Some weird orientations can come up and the two status monitors (besides your viewport) come in handy when trying to figure out where the hell you are. Part of this complaint is related a bit to the viewport, it is somewhat small, but at the same time, gives the nice cozy feeling of being inside a tank. This might not be the best game to play on a small TV, of course, if that’s all you have, you probably don’t have the budget to buy this game anyway.
The gameplay is pretty typical team-based mech battles. You’ll have the normal set of missions to complete, and you are able to request new VTs by spending supply points that you gain in battle. Learning to work with your teammates effectively is critical to success, especially in the later levels. This means you’ll be flipping your radio dial all while trying to move your VT around and blow shit up.
As you move on, things get more complicated with teammates to lead, as well as supply ships to refresh you. The later missions can be infuriatingly difficult, which adds an element of replay value to the game.
The game is realistic from beginning to end. Obviously the first aspect of this is the mega controller that the game comes with. But from there you’ll find many more things. If you are going to fast and you try to turn, your VT will tip over and fall and slide for hundreds of feet. Ejecting is a rather important aspect of the game (dying can be painful). You even have a washer for your windshield!
To extend the replay value beyond the 23 missions, there are multiple difficulty levels and you can get different types of VTs as well. Another surprising aspect was all of the attention to details. To the way a radio tower is destroyed, to the fact if you were born on a leap year you can set your birthdate to February 29th. Lots of little things help make Steel Battalion stand out. But mostly, it’s the big thing, the controller.
The realism is continued by the graphics. Steel Battalion has a grainy look to the video feed that you receive inside your cockpit. It’s unlike any other graphical style I’ve seen before and it’s very impressive. A lot of the time it reminds of the war videos you see shot from airplanes. It’s very striking. You’ll see heaps of dirt that get kicked up and lots of cool atmospheric effects. There are a couple of times you might see some weird draw-in effects, but as a whole, it’s a pretty gorgeous game. One of the early levels is a beach invasion the reminds me a lot of the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan
I can’t say enough about the look of the game. From shadows of bombers flying overhead, to collapsing buildings, to fires, to smoke and dust, it’s all a very beautiful war simulation.
The sound also plays a major role. Besides all of the sound effects and radio chatter the game does have some music and it’s very nice. You can buy a boombox to put in your VT and listen to certain songs. I’ll admit, the voice acting is pretty crappy, but it’s sort of the whole anime mech movie feel. The sound effects when experienced on a full 5.1 system are something to hear. The musical score after your VT is destroyed (especially the death music) is quite good as well.
While the technical specs of the game will be best appreciated by someone with a large TV and nice sound system, that’s not to say that the more run of the mill gamer won’t enjoy it, just maybe not as much. Given that the viewport is probably less than half the screen, having a small TV might be a hindrance.
So where does this compare to the average mediocrity released on a regular basis for the Xbox? Heads and shoulders above everything released so far, including Halo (same corridors, same enemies, different day). It is the first truly unique experience for the Xbox, one that the hardcore gamers can’t afford to miss.
Quite frankly, Steel Battalion is the best Xbox game yet, a contender for Game of the Year, and an instant classic. If you have any interest in mech games, simulators, or good games in general, you owe it to yourself to find a copy.
Not feeling quite so manly after the last massive beatdown? Gaming Nexus recommends you pick up Brady Games' excellent strategy guide to help bring you back up to manly status.