Let’s face it. The Kinect is hurting for some strong titles. For the last two years we’ve been assaulted with gimmicky dance games and a plethora of sub-par sports games. I’ll admit, I was incredibly excited about the concept of controller-free gameplay. I imagined myself fending off waves of ruthless enemies with my awesome stylized martial arts skills and navigating futuristic menus with the wave of my hand. Unfortunately my expectations were crushed. There have been a few gleaming beacons of hope for Kinect however and I still have hopes for the future. Capcom’s latest entry renews my faith in Microsoft’s motion camera. While there are numerous problems with this game and overall it’s a pretty painful experience, I still found myself having fun.
To truly enjoy Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor, you must completely ignore the story and most of the dialogue. (Try not to tune it out too much though, occasionally there are crucial mission hints filtered into moments of painful dialogue.) You play the role of a Veteran pilot who is thrown into a mech with some of the most generic stereotypes in military storytelling. You have the spunky asshole, the nervous rookie, and the wise-craking African-American fellow. Some of the dialogue between your comrades is just plain awful. Whatever military you are fighting for is in the middle of a war with the corporation called “Uncle.” I’m pretty certain the entire campaign is anti-American military propaganda. Even though your main character is serving the US, you are fighting a Japanese military force named “Uncle” in an alternate World War 2 timeline. Uncle uses “unnecessary military force” and their military tactics have caused “countless civilian casualties…” Yeah, I’m pretty sure they are referring to certain US military tactics during WW2. There is a graphic cutscene towards the beginning of the game where your character is forced to watch as his wife and daughter are blasted with assaulted rifles and then set afire. You lay on the ground and watch them burn…. The tone of the story is portrayed in a completely serious light, but I could not take it seriously in the slightest.
Despite what I’ve read in many, many, many reviews, I still thought the integration of the Kinect and Xbox 360 controller worked fairly well. Using the controller to controller the direction of the vehicle and the aiming of the primary weapons was incredibly easy to pickup on and considering these were the primary controls for the game, I didn’t have as many complaints as most reviewers. The idea of a full interactive console with the Kinect sounded awesome, but the execution, due to the limitations of the Kinect could be very frustrating at times. Sometimes I would be flawlessly operating my console and switching between the various commands with little restriction, other times I would spend 30 seconds or more just trying to rotate my character to the right. The game doesn’t work very well on a couch. I essentially had to move a chair straight in front of my TV to play the game. I appreciated the number of commands included with Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor and the integration they tried to incorporate with the Kinect could have been amazing if it was more responsive. When the game was working properly, it was really fun and there were some genuine moments where I felt the stress of piloting a mech. Actually some of the coolest moments in the game involve watching your crew fail. When your make gets damaged, crew members may try and bail. You frantically try and grab their leg as they are trying to flee the mech and as you pull them in you discover their arm has been blown off by enemy fire. A rather well done moment of immersion.
I think the most upsetting thing about this game was seeing all the fantastic potential fall short. There were so many interesting elements to Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor and you have to appreciate studios attempting to push new technologies forward, even if it was considered a “failure.” Hopefully after seeing some of the promise introduced with this game other developers will try and improve upon the Kinect formula. Please no more Dance Central… I want something new and exciting. If you are a die-hard mech fan, who can’t wait for Mech Warrior Online, it may be worth the $60 price tag, but unfortunately for the average person, I wouldn’t recommend paying full price.