While traditionally hardcore gamers have been slow to accept Kinect as a mainstay feature of the Xbox 360, the thought from developers and publishers has been that a blockbuster Kinect title is all that would be needed to get that audience on board. While they might be right, Capcom's Steel Battalion Heavy Armor is definitely not that title.
Developed by From Software, which has a good track record of producing quality hardcore-style titles, Steel Battalion Heavy Armor is a perfect example of how a potentially good game can fall short due to poor implementation of its control structure. Utilizing a combination of the Xbox 360 gamepad and Kinect, SBHA attempts to simulate the kind of gameplay found in the 2002 original and its very involved twin-joystick controller. Due to the limitations of Kinect technology (especially when compared to the instant input of a 40-plus button mock cockpit), SBHA is rendered almost unplayable.
Simply put, there is too much going on and too much for the player to control for Kinect to be able to satisfactorily keep up -- even with the added inputs from the gamepad. The many movements and gestures the player makes in order to control his Vertical Tank (VT) must often times be performed simultaneously. At times this will confuse Kinect -- especially when they're done too quickly. Players who do give this title a go will find that it's not unheard of to accidentally self-destruct one's VT when all one wanted to do was turn to the left. While mapping such game-ending features like self destruction would probably had been best assigned to a vocal command, From Software failed to take advantage of Kinect's microphone and, thus, left out an entire control input mechanic that could have at least partially salvaged things.
Those who do have the patience to suffer through the game's problematic gameplay interface will find that SBHA's presentation is actually rather good. The VT cockpit is well-detailed, gritty, and visually immersive. Crew members, though, don't quite hit the same mark and find themselves just outside of the eerie valley. Battle sounds are good and loud -- so loud, in fact, that they often times will drown-out dialogue from one's crew members (which is both realistic and annoying). Then again, drowning out an absurd amount of cussing from NPCs could be considered a good thing.
Near-unplayability aside, missions and level design can best be described as average. Nothing will really blow anyone away (pun not intended), but players won't find too much to complain about either. The action itself may be good, but after a few missions (and kudos to players of SBHA who continue after the first mission) it becomes quite clear that the overall feel alters little from mission to mission -- not that players really needed another reason to set this game down for good.
While Steel Battalion Heavy Armor stays very true to its hardcore roots from a decade ago, interface issues get in the way and make the game just short of being literally impossible to play.
Final Game Guys grade: D
(A copy of this game was provided by Capcom for the purpose of review.)