Game Review

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor (Xbox 360) Review

Europe Tue, 19 Jun 2012 by Damien McFerran

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor Screenshot

Wreck warrior

On paper, it seemed like a recipe for disaster. How could Capcom possibly take the Steel Battalion series — famed for its and unwavering adherence to hardcore, hard-as-nails gameplay — and condense it into a motion-controlled game on a platform that is beloved by casual players and loathed by ‘proper’ gamers? When Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor was confirmed for Kinect, you could almost hear the collective sound of millions of mech-loving fanboys spitting out their coffees in shock.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor Screenshot

This negative reaction slowly cooled as more news trickled through, however; FromSoftware — the creators of the popular Armored Core series of mech titles and Dark Souls, the hardcore gamer’s title of choice in 2011 - would be handling programming duties. The first trailers showed a gritty and mature setting packed with death, destruction and massive robots — an arrangement that was no doubt concocted to draw in the hardcore faithful. Could Capcom and FromSoftware achieve the impossible and create Kinect’s first truly hardcore gaming experience? The time has come to address that question, although we’re not entirely sure the answer is going to surprise many people.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor isn’t a direct sequel to the unashamedly impenetrable Xbox original; it’s still primarily concerned with hulking bipedal robots, but this time around you’re thrust into a world where the microchip has become extinct. Thanks to an unfortunate tech-plague computers have been rendered useless, thrusting mankind back into a pre-WW2 landscape. This catastrophic event coincides with an unexpected invasion of mainland America by a new and malevolent version of the United Nations, headed largely by Asian warmongers. You assume the role of a legendary Vertical Tank — or ‘VT’ — pilot who rejoins the American army just as it is about to reclaim its homeland, striking out from hot and humid bases in Mexico. After a brief and often hilarious training session, you’re thrust into the action as US forces land in a battle-ravaged New York, opening up a beachhead to strike deeper into the mainland.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor Screenshot

Although Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is billed as a Kinect exclusive, it’s not entirely motion-controlled. Movement and weapons are mapped to the Xbox control pad, while Kinect-based gestures effectively take the place of that massive, three-stage controller which shipped with the Xbox prequel. Using various gestures you can interact with control panels inside the VT’s cockpit. For example, you pull out a console and activate the mech’s headlights to illuminate dark passageways, or tug on a cord to trigger a mechanism which clears out the smoke from inside the machine following a direct hit.

When Heavy Armor’s hybrid control system comes together, it feels great. The developer has clearly tried to make the experience as immersive as possible, and the additional layer of gesture-based control really helps to achieve that — to a certain degree, at least. Some gestures feel out of place, such as swiping with your left and right arms to turn to face members of the crew, but others are more logical. For example, to open up the top hatch and have a look outside your mech, you just stand up from the couch. Once you’ve done this, putting your hand to your brow triggers your binoculars, allowing you to spot distant targets.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor Screenshot

Sadly, these moments are few and far between, and usually only occur at points where there is a lull in the action. For the most part, you’ll be wrestling and cursing the Kinect controls, usually during moments of intense combat. The problem here is the same one that's dogged Microsoft’s motion-based control system since day one: accuracy. Kinect still isn’t capable of faithfully tracking every single movement you make, and in a game like this, where gestures are quite small, rather than deliberately exaggerated, this shortcoming causes fatal, game-breaking problems.

Subtle gestures are commonplace, and are required to perform activities such as switching ammo type or starting the VT’s engines. These slights of hand are often completely missed or misinterpreted by Kinect. During play, a wireframe guide is displayed in the top-left corner of the screen which allows you to see if your entire body is being ‘seen’ by Kinect. On more than one occasion, we noticed that the wireframe model became hopelessly entangled as Kinect pitifully attempted to keep track of which limb was where. Part of the problem may be because you’re remaining static for most of the time, and Kinect therefore has trouble reading the position of your body — with games like Dance Central, your body is constantly in motion and therefore Kinect has more information to interpret, and consequently more opportunities to recalibrate its fix on your limbs.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor Screenshot

Another annoyance is the way in which you shift viewpoints; your default perspective shows the entire bank of controls in front of you, but it’s impossible to drive the VT from this position. To see what’s ahead and aim your guns you need to pull yourself forward to the viewfinder by pushing forward with both arms. However, once you’ve executed this manoeuvre, your natural reaction is to move your arms back into a comfortable position, at which point the game usually thinks you wish to switch back to the main cockpit view. This doesn’t occur every single time you make the switch, but it happens enough for frustration to creep in.

Naturally, being a Kinect-focused site, we’re aware that environmental lighting and your relative distance from the Kinect sensor can play a huge role in how a game copes. However, no matter what lighting we played in or how far we were away from the TV, the results were the same. In fact, in the case of distance, we found that the sit down/stand up mechanic forced us to stay well back, which can only have a negative impact on Kinect’s ability to accurately register slight movements. You have to sit a certain distance away from the sensor because when you stand up, Kinect needs to see all of your body.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor Screenshot

What makes Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor's control woes even more distressing is that there’s a genuinely good game buried beneath the rubble. Form Software and Capcom have captured the claustrophobic nature of armoured warfare perfectly, and during intense gun battles you’ll find your senses being assaulted not only by the external din, but by the shouts and screams of your crew as they desperately try to maintain their resolve. At times, their willpower crumbles, and they attempt to extract themselves from the relative safety of the VT in a momentary lapse of sanity. These scripted moments — which also include interacting with objects outside of the VT or dealing with attacks from enemy infantry — require you to utilise wild, sweeping motions which Kinect mercifully has little trouble in recognising. The biggest issue here is that these events are not random, and if you’re constantly having to restart a mission, they soon outstay their welcome.

It’s also worth mentioning that the developers have done a largely respectable job of giving your fellow soldiers a bit of humanity and character; in an attempt to raise spirits they often exchange foul-mouthed banter as you stomp precariously through the warzone, and the ability to constantly refer to a squad photo — taken at the very start of the game — shows in no uncertain terms the real cost of war. Fallen comrades are crossed off one by one, the cause of their untimely deaths often directly related to your in-game ineptitude.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor Screenshot

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor’s interface issues ultimately suck a lot of the entertainment from this otherwise gripping action title. When you can’t rely on Kinect to accurately convey your movements then no matter how polished the presentation or how engaging the storyline, the end product is doomed to failure. We lost count of the number of times we fervently wished that an alternative, all-pad control option — such as that seen in Child of Eden — were available; even a system where you could use a joystick-controlled pointer to access panels with the VT would have been a million times better than the gesture-based interface, even if it would mean losing the immersive element on which the game is being sold.


Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is a glorious failure, a noble attempt to reconcile the previously disconnected casual and hardcore camps. The game’s mature subject matter, stern difficulty level and high degree of profanity and graphic violence will ensure that the Kinectimals crowd gives it a wide berth, and the casual stigma of Kinect means that those individuals who rearranged their living rooms to accommodate that infamously massive Steel Battalion controller back in 2002 will turn their noses up at this well-intentioned but ultimately flawed effort.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor Screenshot


Scoring Policy
Review copy provided by Capcom

User Comments


1. Dave123 United Kingdom 19 Jun 2012, 19:14 BST

Another disappointment to add to the list.


2. teamdoa United Kingdom 19 Jun 2012, 20:33 BST

Yep, one last game worth holding out for, Crimson Dragon, then that is it as far as I can see.

Oh, and good review by the way.


3. Slapshot United States 19 Jun 2012, 22:30 BST

Dang! :(


4. BIGBUTTER Canada 22 Jun 2012, 11:24 BST

Oh well.....I guess its to be expected now considering the track record that Kinect has for games.


5. dirtyvu United States 26 Jun 2012, 03:28 BST

here's my tips on getting the controls rock solid:

I will say that some of the motions in the tutorial instructions are wrong or a little misleading.

You have to be very regimented in your technique and what hand to use. For example, all the instructions for the right hand have to be used with the right hand. All the instructions for the left hand have to be used for the left hand.

For example, to select what type of ammo you're going to use, you can only use your right hand. To pull the left instrument pod, you have to use your left hand.

I'll start off with the wrong information. In the tutorial, it says to select the heat rounds, you put your hand over the heat rounds button and then press downward. In the viewport viewing screen where the viewport takes up nearly the whole screen, this doesn't work. To select the heat rounds button, you put your right hand over the button and then push the hand forward. Pushing down on the button doesn't work except when you are in the cockpit view where the viewport is far away. The regular ammo button requires that you take your right hand across your body and then you move your right hand downward to press the button. Now, you can push the ammo buttons while in cockpit mode instead of viewport mode. I actually think it's easier to select the ammo buttons in cockpit mode but of course, that means switching from viewport mode to cockpit mode, then selecting ammo, then selecting viewport mode again. So there's the debate between the more imprecise shorter method or the more-steps-but-easier-to-do method.

The instrument pods on the right and left are probably the trickiest controls. To pull the right pod out toward you, you reach out at 2 o'clock (imagine that 12 o'clock is straight in front of you) and then you swing your arm out wide toward 3 o'clock. To push the pod back, if your arm is in the 3 o'clock position, you can swing it back toward the 2 o'clock position. If your arm is lying down, you can just raise your hand back to the 2 o'clock for it to swing back. If you're having problems with pulling the pod out and then having it automatically being pushed back and you're lowering your right arm, you can minimize this problem by dropping your right hand from the 3 o'clock position to down and out of view instead of just dropping your hand.

With the pod pull toward you, you can activate the light but raising your right hand to the switch as if you're doing a "hail, Hitler" pose and then drop your arm. To turn off the light, raise your arm back to the "hail, Hitler pose. To vent the cockpit, you reach toward the handle, grab it and then put your hand straight down. To activate the self-destruct, take your right hand and cross over your body to get to the self-destruct switch and push forward.

The pod on the left is just the mirror of the pod on the right. So to pull it out, put your left hand out to about 10 o'clock and then pull your left hand outward toward 9 o'clock. To push the pod back, if your arm is in the 9 o'clock position, you can swing it back toward the 10 o'clock position. If your arm is lying down, you can just raise your hand back to the 10 o'clock for it to swing back. If you're having problems with pulling the pod out and then having it automatically being pushed back, you can minimize this problem by dropping your right hand from the 9 o'clock position to down and out of view instead of just dropping your hand.

For the periscope, raise your right hand straight up as if you want to answer a question in school. Don't be swinging your arm forward as you're raising your hand as a forward motion can be interpreted as you wanting to adjust the viewport screen.

To open the viewport, you hold your right arm horizontally forward, wait until the hand grabs the hand and then raise it to open or lower it to close it. This is why the periscope motion can be confused if you push your arm forward as you're raising your hand as the forward motion is for the viewport.

You can go from the periscope mode directly to the viewport mode. So if you're in periscope mode, just push both arms forward to switch to viewport mode. Similarly, to go from viewport mode to periscope mode, raise your right hand straight up. You do not have to go from viewport to cockpit to periscope nor do you have to go from periscope to cockpit to viewport.

When you start a mission, you're in the cockpit mode. To be able to see where you're going to go, you have to switch to viewport mode by pushing both arms forward. If your hand is automatically on the grab handle for the viewport, raise it up to take it off the handle. If you pull it down, you'll close the viewport which is a problem I notice a lot of reviewers having.

The thing with the controls is that you can't be sloppy with your arm motions and you have to use the correct hand for the correct motion.


6. szchifo United Kingdom 26 Jun 2012, 12:27 BST

Wow this game is REALLY bad....

The controls are total arse man...i found myself getting really angry.

What a pile of dump...

Im sorry but Kinect is crap. Ive waited 2 years for a decent game and apart from dance central (which is boring now) and kinect sports (which doesnt have enough content) kinect games are all shite.

This steaming pile of horse poo of a 'game' just goes to prove that Kinect is an ill thought out experimental gimmick that was hyped up too much.

Find kinect in your local junk store soon


7. teamdoa United Kingdom 27 Jun 2012, 16:50 BST

Yep, totally agree with above. Mine is going back in its box after I see what Crimson Dragon turns out like. The device promissed so much but pretty much failed due to poor hardware.


8. dirtyvu United States 28 Jun 2012, 20:38 BST

one other thing I noticed in the controls. if holding your arms forward causes you to go to viewport view and close the viewport shutter, you're holding your arms too high. if you hold your arms forward at less than horizontal, that should solve that problem.

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