13 Reviews

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor

Capcom rules Kinect with an iron fist

If you're unable to travel ten metres in a Battlefield 3 tank without taking a C4 sucker punch to the treads, you'll want to stay away from the brilliant, broken, utterly infuriating Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor. Care of an irony-conscious computer-eating virus, From Software's pitch to the motion-controlled future is, in fact, a return to the "glory days" of motorised warfare, when tanks weren't so much weapons as a suicidal alloy of barricade and battering ram.

The results are fascinatingly perverse and, in all probability, doomed. This isn't anything as pedestrian as a "hardcore Kinect game". It's a Kinect game that takes one of gaming's battle-proven devices and loads the idea down with interfacial fuss - loads it down to the point that simply identifying what you're supposed to be shooting at is six-tenths of the challenge.

I've never managed to complete a Heavy Armor mission first go, and every first go seems to end the same way: in a nightmare of ripped metal, shattered glass, burnt rubber, blood and screaming. Your bipedal Vertical Tank's left knee is gone, leaving you canted over like a sickly horse. The front view port has been kicked in by RPG fire. The periscope is a kaleidoscope of mud and flames.

You can customise your dash with photos, to the pleasure/displeasure of crewmates.

You're out of machine gun ammo, and your left-hand loader is a sack of mincemeat. There are shells to spare, but your right-hand loader is too busy yanking shrapnel out of his chest to top up the main gun. Your comms officer is engaged in a death struggle with an enemy infantryman, who's popped a knife-wielding arm through a gap in the hull.

Everybody screams at you to do something, anything, but all you can do is watch through the ruined port as another VT clumps into position, settles its aim and floods your expiring gaze with fiery backwash. Where other games gloss over defeat, hurrying players back to action before their attention wanes, Steel Battalion makes "game over" an experience. Not even Dark Souls takes quite such a malevolent interest in the process by which we depart this mortal coil.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the screen, another kind of nightmare is unfolding. You'll scream. You'll stamp and wave your hands in the air. You'll move the chair around, pile cushions, open and close curtains. You'll stack books under the Kinect sensor, balance it precariously above the TV, fiddle with the angle. You'll shove your face up against the device and bellow tearfully, then seize it in your hands and squeeze, imagining it to be Kudo Tsunoda's smiling, accessorised face. Steel Battalion's motion controls are staggeringly ambitious and, once you've found the sweet spot, workable. But the first hour or so is a real journey, and there are hiccups all the way to the finish.

They look powerless, but infantry can be a real nuisance.

The analogue sticks and triggers are used to move, aim and fire, but the rest of the mech's workings are controlled with gestures. Cycling between viewpoints is simultaneously From Software's best-implemented and, when the implementation fails, most irritating trick, as spotting the enemy first is generally key to victory. Push both hands forward to move your head close to the viewport. Extend one hand upward to pull down your periscope, for long range shots. Stand to release the controls, pop the hatch and get a clear view, risking instant death at the hands of an unsuspected sniper.

Resist the urge to hunch forward or slouch, keep one eye on the body map in top left, and all this just about comes together. The mech's subsidiary functions are harder to unpick. On a pull-out panel to the right, there's a switch which toggles the headlights (or an IR periscope if you've got one equipped), a chain which activates the ventilators in the event of fire, and a self-destruct switch which is thankfully protected by a flip cover. When the shells are hitting, the instinct is to pull the panel out and fiddle with it in one movement, but delicacy is required: you'll need to drop your arm to "reset" the recognition between gestures.

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