Gamescom 2011: First Look at Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor
Developer: From Software / Publisher: Capcom / Played on: Xbox 360 / ESRB: Rating Pending / Release Date: TBD
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The original Steel Battalion came with one of the most ridiculous controllers of all time. It was so ridiculous, my friend and radio co-host in college bought two copies of the game so he could have two controllers. This was a controller that had a joystick on top of a flight stick. It had a whole panel of switches dedicated to booting up your mech when you started the game. There was a single-purpose windshield-wiper button. When you took critical damage in the game, if you didn’t press the eject switch before your mech exploded, Steel Battalion would literally erase your save data.
So when I say I was shocked to see that Capcom had decided to bring the franchise back, it was because they announced Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor as a Kinect title. From close to a hundred buttons to almost none at all.
I got a chance to take a first look at the gameplay of Heavy Armor at this year’s Gamescom in Cologne, Germany; I can definitively say developers have pushed past the trial and error stage with Kinect and are now coming up with some truly original and creative gameplay ideas, and Heavy Armor is a shining example.
In the near future, a micro-organism has eaten all of the world’s silicon. With no computers left working, the United States is attacked by a coalition of nations called the UN. The UN wipe 42 of the 50 states from the map, and the eight remaining do what any country under assault in a computer-less world would do: jump into their giant walking mechs (called Vertical Tanks, or VTs for short).
Okay, so it’s not likely. But it is interesting that From have jettisoned the cyber-future warfare setting for something more akin to alternate historical steampunk. Imagine Saving Private Ryan meets Gundam. The demo mission was a Normandie-esque beach landing on the shores of New York City. Yeah.
So the gameplay, let’s talk about that. Heavy Armor actually requires you to use both the controller and the Kinect together. As lead VT pilot Winfield Powers, you’ll command a crew of four soldiers. The game is putting enhanced focus on the relationship with the crew, too. Each crew member serves a different purpose (like navigation or gunner, for example). During battle, crew members will call out info to you, and it will be your job to pilot and shoot based on their guidance. So when a mission goes successfully, and your navigator wants a handshake on a job well done, failing to gesture appropriately at the Kinect and return the favor will result in lower morale and less useful info during combat the next time out.
Crew members can also get rattled; in one moment in the demo level, heavy damage to the left side of the mech caused Powers’ gunner to spaz out and try to jump out the hatch. Gesturing wildly at the Kinect and grabbing him by the belt to pull him in and slap the silliness out of him a few times returned him to his post; failure to catch him, though, and he died in the heat of battle, meaning that the infinite ammo on your machine gun was gone.
Capcom promises there will be a multitude of crew members, each with their own specialties and attributes, as well as a variety of VTs to put them in.
Heavy Armor looks like a lot of fun; gesturing with your arms swings your view around the cockpit or lets you operate all the fun machinery, like the periscope, which grants you a zoomed view and access to a high powered cannon, or the self-destruct switch which, well… blows up your VT. Standing up from your chair makes Powers stand and look through the top hatch, and putting your hands up to your face gives binocular vision. It’s all very clever, and for the first time I can honestly confess that I’m really looking forward to a Kinect title.
Now just make sure there’s a button for the windshield wiper.