Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor Preview



It’s a well known fact that there are very few Kinect titles out there at the moment that cater for the hardcore crowd. The majority of the releases taking advantage of Microsoft’s motion sensing device are either dance titles or a collection of mini-games. Sure, the likes of Mass Effect 3 and the soon-to-be-released Ghost Recon: Future Soldier also use the device, but they aren’t exactly built around it. That’s where Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor comes in, attempting to deliver Kinect’s first true hardcore experience. Developed by From Software, the team behind Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, it’s hard to imagine anyone better qualified, and playing the game only strengthens that belief.

If you were one of the few people in the world that owned and played the original Steel Battalion on the Xbox, you’ll remember it fondly because of the massive controller that came with it. Whilst it wasn’t exactly practical, the controller highlighted the game’s desire to be a simulation, a style that had its positives and negatives. In the original it took quite a while to even get into the vertical tank, again highlighting the realistic nature of the title. With Heavy Armor, the focus is entirely different, a point which producer Kenji Kataoka made during our recent chat with him. “In the original Steel Battalion, the focus was the vertical tank itself,” stated Kataoka. “It was almost like a simulation, whereas in Heavy Armor it’s more about what happens after that”.

Spend some time with the game, and you’ll come to agree with Kataoka’s statement. Heavy Armor is all about what happens when you’re in the vertical tank, and that’s when the game gets really interesting. You see, contrary to some reports, Heavy Armor uses the Xbox 360 controller in conjunction with Kinect to deliver its gameplay experience. The controller is used to move your vertical tank around and fire weapons, whereas you perform gestures with your arms to change viewpoint, movement speed or even fist bump members of your squad. For instance, move your arm up and you’ll bring down your scope, allowing you to target enemies with more precision. Move your arm up again, and you’ll put the scope back in its original position. You’re introduced to the basic mechanics via a lengthy tutorial, but it can take a while for you to take everything in and get used to the Kinect implementation. Quick, sharp movements are the order of the day, something which most Kinect titles do not require, so the experience can be a little frustrating during your first hour or so with the game. Unlike most Kinect titles, you can even play the majority of the game sitting down, as only certain parts of missions require you to stand up.

Even when you’re used to the mechanics, in true From Software fashion, Heavy Armor doesn’t make things easy for you. It’s a brutal experience from very first mission, as you’re mech is bombarded with enemy ammunition from all angles. You’ll feel a little overwhelmed, like you’ve been thrown into the deep end, but the key is to stay calm and remember what you learned during the tutorial. When you do that and start blowing opposition forces up like it’s second nature, you’ll realise that the Kinect-Xbox 360 controller combination works surprisingly well. Rather than taking the controller out of the equation entirely, using it in conjunction with Kinect could well be the answer to better titles, giving you some much needed feedback from the game in the process.

With the controller being a key part of the experience, you might think that Kinect was pushed into the Heavy Armor at some random point during development, but that’s not the case at all. Kataoka told us “the conception of the title was based on Kinect” and there was never a plan in place for a “massive controller”. He also stated this is the Kinect title “seasoned” Xbox 360 owners have been waiting for and the he hopes the market “flourishes” following its release.

“All sorts of gamers are important, but fundamentally if you’re a Xbox 360 owner, you’re bound to be a seasoned gamer,” Kataoka told NGB. “For those people, I think Steel Battalion is something they’ve been waiting for, especially with Kinect. We do hope that the Kinect market flourishes after this.”

Kinect is obviously a nice way for Heavy Armor to differentiate it from other mech related titles currently available, but story and character interaction is another area From Software seem to be focusing on. This is most apparent during the impressive looking cutscenes, featuring chatter from your character as well as the rest of your squad. There’s a real sense of camaraderie between you and your squad, with members looking up to you as the leader. This adds some weight to decisions you make during missions, as one wrong one could be the difference between life or death for a squad member. That’s permanent death by the way, so you won’t see that particular character ever again. On the flip side, perform well during a mission, treat you squad well and they’ll be raring put their lives on the line for you during the next one. It’s point Kataoka is keen to stress to us, something that he thinks make the game unique.

“Heavy Armor is very unique in that sense. Other games you’ve mentioned [Armored Core] you probably become a nobody inside a mech or robot, whereas in this you’re a soldier,” explains Kataoka. “As our tag goes ‘war inside and out’. You’re in the cockpit, you look around and there are other people with you, so there’s a certain world there. Also, there’s a story going on outside the tank, so you really experience the war as one soldier rather than as the mech itself or as a third person entity that doesn’t really exist.”

That’s not all Heavy Armor has up it’s sleeve, as certain missions will support four player co-op, allowing to compete in terms of score with friends. Whilst we didn’t get any hands-on with that side of the game, but we did ask Kataoka about the challenge his team faced when developing a Kinect based online game. Amazingly, he stated they wanted to the online side of the game to support up to 32 players, but certain obstacles meant they had to scale back to four player co-op.

“Initially we wanted to get 32 players online, or maybe 16, but then we had to make the graphics better and Kinect itself eats up memory as well,” said Kataoka. “There had to be some compromise, so four player online co-op was the last line of defense.”

With the Kinect library severely lacking a hardcore title with some substance, Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is shaping up to be the game owners of Microsoft’s device have been craving for since its release. Some of the Kinect implementation could do with some work, so it’s more accurate and responsive, but (once you get used to it) the combination with the Xbox 360 controller works very well. It actually makes you wonder why other developers haven’t thought of doing the same, and delivering a decent hardcore Kinect title sooner than a year or so after the device was released. If you like a bit of a challenge and already own Kinect, you might just want to pull down your scope and keen a keen eye on Heavy Armor. Yet to own Kinect? From Software’s effort might well be the reason to pick one up.


Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is set to be released for the Xbox 360 in North America on June 19th and in Europe on June 22nd.

Joint Editor-in-Chief of this wonderful place. Over 10 years of games industry experience on all sides of the fence and more! Huge Metal Gear fan and all-round geek.


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