By Leo Stevenson
Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is without doubt the worst game I have ever played.
Well, I say "played," but I can’t honestly call any of my time spent with the game as playing. There was flailing wildly in an attempt to get Kinect to respond. There were shouts of angry disbelief and exasperated sighs. There was many a curse word mumbled, then spoken and finally screamed at the television. And in the end, I was forced to relent and give up. I simply did not have the mental fortitude to continue “playing,” and if I didn’t stop there was a very real possibility that I would fly kick my television and stomp my Xbox into a fine white paste. So let it be known that I played about 1/7th of the game. If by some miracle after that point the game stops being broken then this review will stand as being incorrect, but I am fairly confident that there is no redemption at any point for Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor.
Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is set in 2082 after a silicon eating bacteria has destroyed all computer systems in the United States. Also, Korea has taken over the U.N. and turned it into an oppressive global force. And somehow, with all computers destroyed in the country destroyed, Americans have regressed to the cultural state of the 1930’s and ‘40’s. So far, the game is HIGHLY believable. That being said, the WWII era style and tone actually work well with the themes of the game and the combat, however the one dimensional stereotypes and the inane chatter they spew ruins any goodwill the setting might foster.
Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is the third game in the Steel Battalion series and the first to use Kinect rather than the rather large and expensive controller -- that had around 40 buttons and was useful only for Steel Battalion -- required to play the first game on the original Xbox. The decision to use Kinect rather than a tactile, responsive and tangible controller is quite simply baffling. The numerous fine movements required of you by the game are simply outside the realm of the Kinect’s motion capture capabilities. It may be argued that it was a cost saving measure for the consumer, however as Kinect is required to play the game, buying the game and a Kinect will set you back somewhere in the same region as the game and controller did on release. In addition to the cost, Kinect simply does not have the level of fidelity required to make the experience remotely playable, let alone smooth, streamlined and fun.
Steel Battalion has you seated in the pilot’s chair of a VT (Vertical Tank) so you are required to play the game while sitting upright in a chair in front of your television. Even at this point, when setting up the game and the play area for Kinect, I encountered issues. If I even slouched slightly, or shifted in my chair, Kinect would lose sight of me and go back into calibration mode. These constant interruptions severely compromised any small amount of rhythm I developed while playing. Even worse, the game requires you to occasionally go look out through the port hole in the top of the VT. To do this, you need to stand up and more often than not this caused Kinect to lose sight of me.
The game is played from a first person perspective and you switch between in-cockpit and first person VT views. Your default perspective is within the cockpit, and to change to the VT view you need to simply reach out with both arms. Sounds simple enough. In practise, this was possibly the most infuriating aspect of trying to play the game. More often than not I would stretch my arms out and only one arm would be recognized; my character would pull out a random instrument panel or would change ammunition. If I did manage to get both arms recognised, the game would simply refuse to let my character move forwards and look through the viewport. This is only one of probably a dozen or so different motions required to pilot the VT...and let me say that each and every one of them has the same issue. Kinect simply can’t translate your motions into the action you intend.
Did I mention that you also control the VT by using the gamepad? That’s right. The VT controls like any FPS with moving and looking controlled by the sticks and firing with the shoulder triggers. This would be fine except that combining the standard gamepad with Kinect proved immensely problematic. Kinect simply refused to recognise any movement I made if the gamepad was in my hand; because several of the motion controls require both hands, I had to put the gamepad on the floor. This doesn’t sound too bad except that in the heat of battle, you need to keep moving in order to avoid being destroyed. I found that in the time it took to put the gamepad down, fail 5 or 6 times to get Kinect to recognise what I wanted to do and then pick up the gamepad to continue, my VT was either on the verge of destruction or damaged so severely that it could no longer move. I don’t want to go on and on about the controls, but I am just absolutely astounded that a game so broken was passed by QA and released to the market. Imagine a game that required you to pummel your face over and over again into the Wii Balance Board as a means of control and you will begin to understand the level of pain the controls of Steel Battalion inflicted on me during my time with it.
Aside from broken controls, the gameplay itself is bland and uninspired. Missions include destroying a set number of objects, surviving a certain period of time or killing everything. From my experience the missions all seemed fairly short -- between 5-15 minutes -- but the controls made this short amount of time feel like an eternity. You can choose to play online with friends, but why you would want to inflict this pain on anyone else ? If you have any friends who you are considering dumping, I’d suggest inviting them over for a session of Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor. You won’t be friends afterwards. The graphics are serviceable but will dazzle nobody and while the characters are annoying the voice acting is decent enough. In fact the sound design is probably the only redeeming factor. Weapons sound meaty and the atmospheric sound design is solid.
Unfortunately, the wait for a true Hardcore Kinect game continues. Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is neither the hardcore Kinect saviour it promised to be, nor is it a game at all. It would be more accurately described as form of psychological torture. An exercise in exposing the deepest and darkest recesses of your soul, or most accurately, a war crime. I’m concerned that this review does not impress upon you, dear reader, just how terrible a game Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is. So let me just say that even if you see it in a bargain bin for less than $2, do not purchase it, even for curiosity's sake. Your mind, body and soul will be much worse off for just having experienced 10 minutes of its pure awfulness. To misappropriate a quote from The Simpsons: Worst game ever!