Hands-On With The Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor Demo

Recently, Capcom released a playable demo for Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor.  This mech-based shooter is the first game to truly use and require both the Kinect motion sensor and the Xbox 360 controller for input.  While some controller based games have the option of using the motion controller, this one demands it.  So jump into our Vertical Tank for a ride to see how it’s shaping up.  Once again I warn you though, there will be spoilers within.  If you wish to try the demo fresh before reading, go ahead, I’ll keep the engine running – but hurry, fuel is limited!

It should be noted before we go any further that though Kinect is a core aspect to gameplay, the title is mostly played while sitting down.  Players only need to stand up for only one or two mechanics of gameplay, which is sure to please many core gamers.  After a quick calibration for both sitting and standing, to ensure you’re in the optimal play space, you will be brought to the main menu.

At this menu, you have the option to undergo the tutorial or jump straight into a mission.  I know a few people like to jump right into a game, but I cannot stress enough how important the training level is in Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor.  There is an overwhelming amount of controls to learn and you will be destroyed very quickly if you’re not prepared.

Assuming you’ve heeded my warning, you’ll be loading up the tutorial.  Here, you not only learn the ins, outs, ups, and downs of piloting a Vertical Tank, but will be introduced to your co-pilots as well.  It takes four people to man a VT efficiently: a main pilot, communications expert, and two loaders for left and right mounted weapons.  You, the player, take the main pilot seat.

Before getting into your VT, you meet the rest of your crew.  In this short scene, gamers are presented with a few one-time actions, such as shaking a character’s hand or repairing part of a VT.  These actions are handled by the Kinect sensor.  While only the initial action is needed to continue the scene (such as reaching down to pick up a part), players may find themselves completing the full motion anyway (like placing said part back into place).  Although the actions may be small, they suck the player into the game, placing them directly into the shoes of the protagonist; instead of just slapping them straight into the fray, there are a few minutes of actual role-playing which is rare in this kind of game.  If these immersive actions occur often in the full release, then SB:HA will go above and beyond being just another mech-combat title.

Once in the pilot seat of your VT, the game gets truly exciting.  Controls for the title are actually very well balanced.  Movement, aiming, and firing are all handled by the 360 controller, with a series of additional tasks covered by Kinect.  Motion controls have multiple uses, including starting your engine, lowering a periscope, flicking on headlights, switching on air-vents, changing ammo, and checking radars… just to name a few.  Both controller and Kinect inputs are very accurate, with no jittery motions or missed actions; actual care appears to have been put into this title.

The most common use of Kinect will be to pull yourself up to the front window to aim, and pushing yourself back into your seat to use other controls.  If hit hard enough, the player will be thrown back into their chair while aiming, having to pull himself back up again to see.  This system creates a very interesting feel: instead of looking constantly from a third-person view (like the majority of mech games), you’ll actually feel like you’ve been placed in a real pilot seat.  Should this feeling carry over to the main game, Capcom will have a winner on their hands for sure.

After the usual “go here and blow up this fake target” objectives in the training round, players get the chance to play through a short mission.  You and your VT crew are taking part in an initial beach assault, and are tasked with guarding infantry as they breach-and-clear key bunker structures.

Upon landing on the sandy shorefront, all hell breaks loose with several enemy VTs, armored personnel carriers (APCs), and fortified infantry positions opening up on you with everything they’ve got.  A friendly VT moves forward only to meet its doom in a minefield.  Quickly, your squad recommends flanking to the right, behind some rubble.

From here, players will be presented with some highlighted targets to blast away at, eventually destroying the entire enemy defense force.  What is quickly apparent, however, is how vulnerable you actually are.  If players haven’t memorized and mastered what every little switch does, and fumble around looking for the smoke vent, then their tank is going to blow up fairly fast.

While this steep learning curve might dissuade some of the more casual gamers, it is a humbling experience overall.  Gamers are not some high-powered super soldier who can take on three-million enemies at once and come out clean.  They are instead an average Joe in a massive war, and are just as vulnerable as the pilot who blew up in the minefield just seconds before.  This is a very welcome feeling as it makes Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor feel more real, and many players will be sucked in because of this.

However, I’d like to take the time to note that this is not a game you want your kids playing, or even watching for that matter, as SB:HA pulls no punches in both the language or gore departments.  The F-word will be heard on more than one occasion, and cutscenes detail a fantastic amount of graphic deaths.  Characters can be seen being ripped to shreds by large caliber weapons fire, with internal organs flying about.  While it’s a gruesome sight, this amount of detail is something missing from most titles, and greatly adds to the realism of the war.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is so far shaping up to be an amazing title.  The amount of immersion present is incredible, dragging players right into the pilot seat.  Add in complex yet interesting gameplay, accurate controls, some great looking, violent graphics and this is one game you’re going to need to watch out for.  I, for one, cannot wait to get my hands on it!

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor launches on June 19th, 2012.

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May 29, 2012 - 8:00 am