I can still remember the first time I saw the ridiculous controller (and I use that term loosely) that came with the first Steel Battalion
game way back in 2002. I was intrimidated by the sheer size and complexity of it, to say the least. However, even with that gigantic controller that had a lot of over-the-top controls and the steep learning curve to get used to it, the game was solid. It was an impressive take on a military game that didn't involve a true FPS style. When Steel Battalion Heavy Armor
was announced some time ago, I was looking forward to seeing how the game would translate over to this generation. However, as I have found with the few Kinect games I have played, I left disappointed and incredibly frustrated.
The backstory of Heavy Armor
is pretty simple: All hell has broken loose after a microbe has devoured all of the silicon in the world, including every computer and electronic device there is. The year is 2082, and the United Nations has gone evil, taking over the world systematically and reducing other countries to rubble. The protagonist is an experience veritcal tank driver who works for what is left of the U.S Military. The goal is pretty simple: Take back the country. While the goal is fairly simple in itself, doing so with the controls is a major hurdle to overcome.
Steel Battalion Heavy Armor
utilitzes a mixture of Kinect controls and tradional controller use, basically requiring the player to do gestures to grip various things inside of the vertical tank in order to make sure the tank is working as it should. The vertical tanks are manned by four members, though the player only controls one of the four directly. Basically, the other three are there for commentary and little else, even though they are there to reload the guns and to call out problems as they come along. I was hoping that they would take over certain controls as I played through the first couple of missions, but that was wishful thinking.
Before hitting on the controls, I must say that the graphics in the game are very good. The inside of the tank's cabin is a pretty clean look, though it can be frustrating to remember what does what in regards to the Kinect controls. Outside of the viewport, the world around is a barren one, but done quite well. The first mission in New York certainly had me in a bit of awe as I tried to re-take the beach. Games that are set in a post-apocalyptic world should take a page out of Heavy Armors'
playbook, because the layout and scenery is very impressive.
The controller keeps things quite simple. The mech is controlled directly by the controller as well as firing capabilities, strafing, and viewing out the viewport in the front. Everything else is controlled by the Kinect, and therein lies the problem. To give you a direct idea of what I dealt with, in the first true mission, which is an assault on Manhattan to try and regain control of the immediate area, I was doing quite well until the vertical tank was hit by an attack, causing smoke to start to fill the tank. One of the crew members started to yell that the cabin needed to ventilated, so that requires actually putting the controller down (I had to or else the Kinect didn't like my motions), pushing away from the TV to push my character away from the viewport, and then to try and grab the panel that is off to the right. The panel is a control device that has three options: Ventilate the smoke, flip on the headlights, and then a self-destruct sequence. My first attempt to vent the smoke was basically me flipping my hand up and down in a wild fashion that ultimately resulted in nothing. The second attempt actually resulted in me flipping up the protective plastic on the self-destruct button and, when I panicked and pulled my hand down quickly to get it away, the Kinect thought I was in a suicidal mood and ended up hitting the button. Boom goes the vertical tank, end of the game.
The Kinect controls aren't just frustrating when it comes to having to do a very specific set of commands, either. Even the most basic of commands can drive a person nuts, such as just pushing away from the viewport and trying to protect the protagonist from damage. The simple command to the Kinect is just two hands pushing away from it, however the game can get confused and simply push you away and bring you back in, all in the span of a second or two. The controls are very tedious to deal with, especially since I feel it would have been a lot easier to do voice commands with the Kinect instead of making me put down the controller and do what was necessary. Voice commands could have made this game a heck of a lot easier to deal with, perhaps in the style of Tom Clancy's EndWar.
The difficulty of the game is hard to judge, given the issues that I experienced with the Kinect. It's really a shame, too, because once it came to just controlling the mech and blowing things up, I had a heck of a lot of fun. However, the game stresses that something has to be done when specific events occur, such as the smoke filling up the cabin. It's frustrating that a game that obviously had a lot of work put into it graphically had to deal with the Kinect as a required part of this game and not just an optional add-on. The controls are great with just the controller, but the Kinect is something I would have left out in a heartbeat.
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