Holy crap, this tank is taking fire from all sides, I can't see anything, I need to vent out the smoke but one of my crew members just got shot and we can't stay still for too long or enemy soldiers will climb in and kill us. I can't reach the vent button, and the window just cracked, so now I'm flying blind, OK up periscope, woah holy crap I blew away a tank, awesome, oh wait OK there are bullets pouring in from all sides and what the hell am I supposed to do now oh OK I died.
So, that's basically Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor. Developed Dark Souls masterminds From Software and published by Capcom, this game layers complex, immersive Kinect motion controls on top of an Xbox 360 controller to create one mother of a hardcore motion-controlled game.
It seems clear that Microsoft is wrestling with ways to make the Kinect motion-sensor appeal to the hardcore. Despite the "Kinect for Core" campaign, the device still has The Taint of the Casual about it — even ambitious, "core" Kinect games like Dance Central, Child of Eden and The Gunstringer don't quite sit in a space occupied by heavy metal, nuts-and-bolts gamers.
Enter Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor. Heavy Armor was among the buzziest games on display at Microsoft's Spring Showcase, and that buzz was based mainly on audacity. This game may not have the massive physical controller of its predecessor, but this game is still plenty bonkers.
In the Steel Battalion fiction, all of the world's microprocessors have been destroyed, leaving wars to be fought with nothing but World War II-era tech. Well, there are some modern touches. In particular, the VTs — Vertical Tanks — that players command are basically combat mechs.
Is it a change for the better? Unfortunately, I've never played the first Steel Battalion, so I can't say for sure. But I can say that while I never quite adjusted to the Kinect controls of the new game, I was impressed with how deep, chaotic, immersive, and downright funny the entire thing was.
Heavy Armor is a disorienting, stressful game. I made it through the tutorial just fine, but boy did I ever get my arse handed to me once I started a combat mission. You take your place in the cockpit, and by moving your arms, head, and legs are able to look around, grab levers, and operate the chunky levers and switches of your VT. If you stand up, your pilot opens the hatch and looks around. Put your fingers next to your brow and he'll raise his binoculars to check out distant targets. In addition to all that, your Xbox controller commands the VT's basic movement, aiming, and firing.
It's a lot to get your head around, and was more than I could handle in my 20-or-so minute demo. I could see this going either way — it could well be that it's all too ungainly to ever feel comfortable or precise. It certainly seemed to suffer from that particular brand of "Kinect-approximation" that other Kinect games do, where my on-screen hands don't line up with my real ones fast enough to feel natural. But I could also see players getting used to it, and the whole thing becoming organic and natural. I died time and again, but by my fourth or fifth time through, I was much more acclimated to the motions required to pull down my periscope, vent smoke, lean forward to aim, and keep track of things on the map. It certainly never felt comfortable, but it felt like it might be eventually.
The non-VT-related Kinect motions are fun and funny. At various points, you'll get the chance to shake other characters' hands, fist-bump in celebration, pull back a crew-member who is panicking, and fight off enemies who make their way into your VT (this happens if you stand still too long). Your VT is staffed by three other soldiers, all three of whom make your job much easier by calling out targets and reloading the VTs weapons. They can all be killed at any point in the mission, at which point you'll have to take over their job. Or, you know, die trying, which seems much more likely. I they do die, they're replaced by other characters on future missions.
Everything I saw was singleplayer; while the Capcom producers I spoke with weren't divulging any specifics, they did say that they would be delivering something in line with what fans of the first game would expect, which sounds like there'll be some multiplayer component.
I'll have more detailed thoughts on Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor a bit later on, but for the time being, check out the gameplay footage above to get a feel for this game.
Grab the periscope didn't mean to raise my hand OK bro; high five