As you know I’m catching up on previous games so I was eager to play this one and was very surprised to really enjoy it. For those that don’t know anything about it, (which should only be a handful), here’s the summary:

Step inside some Heavy Armor and command your own mech in a war where low-tech  weapons pack the highest amount of firepower. Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is  set in a war-torn future that’s been stripped of semiconductors. Without weapons  that use electricity, the war will be won by the machine you command: the  Vertical Tank. Use a combination of controller-based and Kinect motion controls  to pilot your mech, blast your enemies, and more on a mission that begins on  U.S. soil and takes you across the world. Coordinate maneuvers with your in-game  AI crew or team up with friends online as you destroy enemies, dominate maps,  and earn upgrades for your Vertical Tank.

Overview

I wasn’t sure what to expect to be honest, I know it’s a bad mouthed game so I always try to give games a chance even when they are down on the mat so to speak and I’m glad I did. I love this game but I’m going to throw it out there that this one is probably only for a few. It takes a while to get used to and as long as you have patience and understand you aren’t just using a controller pushing buttons, this is probably one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had so far with a Kinect title.

The Menu

Breaking it down like always, if you haven’t played the game before there’s not much to the menu, all you can do is Start A New Game or Load where you left off until you complete the campaign. I believe “Downloads” is also available before completing the campaign. Once you do complete the campaign however, you get some more options including a campaign option to view your platoon photo and modify your vertical tank, I’ll go more into detail about that stuff later on. The menu is completely navigated with the controller which is fine for this game.

Campaign

First, I’ll go into the campaign. This story is pretty good, although I won’t give anything away for those that haven’t played it. There’s a cut-scene typically before and after each mission so you get some breaks here and there. The campaign does consist of 7 tours each with 4-5 missions for a total of 32 missions which seems like a lot, but it’s not and expected for this kind of game. The campaign took me about 12 hours to complete, that was a straight play-through with a few breaks here and there, that’s how much I was into this game. As for the missions themselves, they are pretty standard. Most have certain objectives that you must complete in order to accomplish the mission, however the way the game is played is sometimes there is mass chaos and if you don’t pay attention to what’s being said on the radio you can miss your goal very easily. Typically I always play games on the hardest difficulty so I was surprised it didn’t ask for any difficulty level when starting until I played the first mission. This is a really hard game and if you don’t like a challenge you won’t like it. What makes it more difficult is you have to train your brain to use gestures instead of buttons so it takes a while to get used to it. Once you get it down though, it’s great and completely enhances the experience. As I trucked through the campaign, I started having my crew members die on me so I was like no big deal. I didn’t realize you only have so many people in your platoon then I started to get worried. Nevertheless, if its your first time through, you can revive your old crew members after you complete the campaign for some added replay value. I then encountered a mission that asked me if I wanted to play co-op with someone online, I was like wow this is pretty cool that you can just have people join in during your campaign, but I couldn’t find anyone so I did it by myself. I noticed on this particular mission it was ranked with letters, the better you did the higher grade you received so now I have a little competitiveness going on, so I go for the A grade. After I complete it, it tells me I unlocked 3 things for my vertical tank. So then I backed up to the menu and explored the upgrade option. I thought this was incredible that you can use new upgrades while you are still going through the campaign, genius idea in my opinion. I then encountered some of the other missions where you have to get out of your VT and do other stuff. I instantly had a little bit of fear of being outside as it really sucked me in and made me feel like I was protected to a point being in the mech. I also didn’t like it when one of the crew members say, “Did you hear that? There’s something outside.” and then its up to you to be bold and stick your head out. It’s a nice added touch to break up being cooped up in a tin can for the entire time. I also ran into the random enemies that would try to mess with you and drop grenades into the tank. I mention random because they are random, many times I would have to restart a mission and the enemy would not always show up topside of the mech. I also had one enemy drop a grenade that fell behind the cockpit and it was death not by choice, whereas most of the time you can get rid of the grenade. I also had one drop firecrackers and that was a mess, I completely missed my objectives because everyone was complaining about not being able to hear and it felt very realistic. As for the rest of the campaign, there are a couple of missions that I didn’t care for, particularly the two “weather” missions where you are able to just randomly go about, one has you looking for an oasis and the other is in a winter storm, except the winter storm was a little better than the oasis being that I followed some tire tracks in the snow since you can’t see anything and they ran off the cliff and I followed them since I was looking down, go figure. 🙂 The winter one also allowed you to wipe your viewport as it fogs up which was pretty realistic as well. Lastly, I do have to say I didn’t like the ending. After the last mission ended, the credits popped up and I said, “Seriously, that’s it?” Maybe that’s a good thing that I wanted more but it was just a stupid ending unless the next one continues where it leaves off.

Modify VT

This section I thought was very cool. As you progress you get to modify your VT on the special missions that are ranked only if you do well. Getting an A unlocks 3 modifications, B unlocks 2 and C unlocks 1 where a D gets you nothing. It does give you some motivation to try to do really well on those missions so you can unlock everything so those ones you will probably play more than others. There are some items I have no idea how to use such as a 20mm autocannon which says you can push RB/LB to fire it but I didn’t see any bullets shooting unless it shoots behind you or something which didn’t make any sense to me. The other one that raised an eyebrow was the Rear Mortar one. I guess it auto fires but I couldn’t tell. The pin-ups seem pretty useless as well but I guess you have to have both your good and bad unlocks as most games do.

Controls

I thought it was worth mentioning that the controls work pretty well. I was having issues at first because I was exaggerating my gestures until I realized the game just wants simple, subtle movements and once I learned that, it works really well. The problem I kept running into was remembering all of the gestures. Thankfully what you can interact with glows and then it triggered me to remember what gesture I needed to do and it also helps confirm what you really wanted to do. Inside the VT I had no issues, outside was a different story. For most of the interaction with characters and what not, it didn’t always work for me, maybe I wasn’t doing a correct gesture but it was just strange. For example, you are able to fist pump one of your crew mates and it didn’t work for me no matter what I did. I’m not sure if being peachy with your crew adds any brownie points or something, but I figured it didn’t so I was just like whatever and didn’t dwell on it. Now with the controls, I will point out if you aren’t a calm person under pressure, you will get frustrated very easily. For the most part, this is a slower game unless you throw yourself into a pressure situation. Once you do that, being frantic will only get you killed. I ran into this when my shell loader died and I had to load my own shells to shoot. This was the biggest pain in the butt, out of everything in my opinion, but only because it was realistic. It works but I kept forgetting to use my left hand to unload the expended shell and use the right to reload a new shell so I kept messing up and was getting irritated. Later on, you do get a mech with a gun mounted up top. I attempted to use this and it was also not very friendly to me at least. More than likely I wasn’t doing it right but even so, I guess this is an oxymoron, but being this is a realistic game, you can’t aim worth a damn without some type of reticule so I didn’t even bother to try to use that gun, but again, if it were real, you wouldn’t have a reticule floating around on an imaginary HUD anyway. 🙂

Conclusion

I do have to say this is the first real hybrid game I’ve played and it was most enjoyable. After playing for how many ever hours and I took a break, I really felt like I was inside of their vertical tank. I’ve never had that feeling with any game so I think the devs did a great job on mixing everything together. As for this being one of the hardcore titles, I would agree and say it is hardcore but hardcore is such a cliché nowadays as kids that are under 10 and play Call of Duty think they are hardcore. What defines it as hardcore is the sense of realism that is portrayed with the level of immersion with how involved you become and I can’t imagine any kid would enjoy this game. They would rather be running around on a Call of Duty map knifing people. It was the same situation with the strategic series “Battlestations”, kids hated it because it was too difficult for them to play, while most of us older people loved it.

Anyhow, the level of realism though just put me in awe, it was hard to believe it was a real Kinect title compared to everything else we’ve had out there so far. One quick note, typically I throw in videos but since one of our members, dirtyvu, happened to record every single mission, there is no need and thanks for saving me time 🙂 If you’d like to see some gameplay, you can view them here:  Bottom line is if you want to play a very realistic game (control wise if vertical tanks did exist) and have a completely different gaming experience that you’ve never had before, you will want this game. Again, you really need to have patience and understanding though with it.

Playing it for 15 minutes will immediately give you the “this game sucks” attitude, especially when you have to keep restarting the first mission over and over. Other than that, I enjoyed it and am glad the devs are releasing new content for it so we have something to do in the interim until the next one comes out. Even though this is one of the higher rated games, I still would have liked to see some more in-depth gameplay with it, possibly an experience system that enhances your mech or currency or more mech’s or something, which is why I didn’t give it a 10. Anyhow, test drive the demo and really spend some time with it, if you like it a little then you will love this game.


This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Steel Battalion Heavy Armor
Scoring policy: What do these game review scores actually mean?