Kinect has been screaming out for a true ‘core’ experience since the day it was released, and while Sega’s Rise of Nightmares did attempt to deliver a more traditional, adult gaming experience to the world of Kinect, due to its somewhat shocking lack of quality, was quickly dismissed by both the hardcore and the casual gamer alike. While Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is by no means perfect (far from it), it is a damn site better than Rise of Nightmares and, despite its technical hiccups, highlights the kind of unique gaming experience that can be delivered by Microsoft’s hands free controller.
Via an ingenious combination of traditional controls and Kinect based physical motions, Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor proves one of the most immersive gaming experiences of the generation……when it’s working that is. The problem is that, like so many other games utilizing the Kinect tech, while the core controls work most of the time, when they don’t, they have a tendency or ruining any sense of immersion you may have been enjoying up until that point (and in the case of Heavy Armor, will often see you killed……to death).
Replacing the infamous gazillion button behemoth that was required to play the previous two entries in the series (that may not be the exact number, but it’s definitely a ballpark figure), From Software, taking over duties from Nude Maker, has gone with a traditional control scheme for basic movement and weapon use, with Kinect used for interactions with squad-mates, context specific actions and numerous VT (Vertical Tank) based commands.
During the rather brilliant tutorial in which From gently ease you into the very believable near future world that they have created, you’ll start to ask what all the fuss is about. There are only a handful of motion controls to learn and they seem to work fine enough – yeah, that’s when you’ve got all the time in the world, something you are rarely afforded on Heavy Armor’s truly unforgiving battlefields. Once out on the field, the need for immediate accuracy becomes much greater, and as things begin to go wrong left, right and centre, it’s amazing how quickly you can forget all of those actions that seemed so rudimentary amidst the clear skies of the tutorial.
By a combination of human error and technical inaccuracy that has to be levied at least partially at the hardware rather than the software, Heavy Armor is a game that loves nothing more than to punish you for your mistakes, and with no checkpoint system, you’ll find yourself restarting missions more often than you would perhaps like.
With missions proving mercifully short though, a potential restart won’t be your primary concern. It may not be home to anything as harsh as the brutal save wipe mechanic of the original games, but From Software has included a crafty mechanic that will see you more than eager to keep yourself and your squad mates alive for as long as humanly possible. You see, in the world of Heavy Armor, if one of your team bites the farm, that’s it – they’re a goner…..for good. Essentially serving as gaming lives, your platoon has 30 odd potential comrades to work through before you are left with no one else to help run your VT…..and that’s essentially ‘GAME OVER’. Beyond this proving yet another fine example of From Software putting a clever twist on the concept of videogame lives, thanks to some surprisingly brilliant writing and consistently solid, if somewhat clichéd, performances from your supporting cast, you’ll find yourself genuinely eager to keep these virtual buddies of yours alive and well.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. With control issues that can, and will, lead to an array of insta-deaths, combined with a rather brutal level of difficulty that will see even the most skilled players punished time and again, Heavy Armor will likely prove an infinitely divisive experience. Some will be put off by the difficulty, while others will bemoan the lack of accuracy inherent within the Kinect-based actions. However, some (myself included), will find themselves able to overlook the game’s technical flaws and general linearity thanks to the simple fact that, when everything clicks into place, there is, simply put, nothing else quite like it.
From its brilliantly assured art design to its first rate production values and, of course, that unmatched sense of immersion, Heavy Armor is the kind of game that will most likely elicit just about every reaction possible from the gaming public. Whatever you may think of the final result, one would have to concede that it is at least born of a sound concept, one that, if implemented with a little more technical finesse in the future (perhaps Kinect 2 will provide the necessary accuracy to get the best from the concept), could provide the unequivocal success that the Kinect tech so sorely needs. As it stands, Heavy Armor proves a flawed but ultimately compelling experience.
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