Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor – Two hours of hands-on

After spending 90-odd minutes destroying, evading, dying, and restarting, we love and hate Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor all at once. Perhaps calling it “the Marmite of Kinect gaming” is a tad self-serving, but it cuts to the core of its polarizing experience. At times, it feels deliberately obtuse in design, and overly fussy to control. Then, in other instances, the fluidity of movements suddenly lets you suspend disbelief, and in those moments, yes, you are commandeering a mecha-tank through war-torn Manhattan, smiting ground troops, and destroying their armaments. Those highs are enthralling. We got a chance to play a near-final version of it at Capcom USA’s headquarters, and we’re solidly convinced that if any game needs an in-depth demo and tutorial before launch, it’s this one.

We saw a long demo in March (opens in new tab), and we got hands-on with the game’s multiplayer at Captivate (opens in new tab), if you’re not up to speed with what Heavy Armor entails. The game starts off with you as a decorated high ranking army official whose family was slaughtered by enemy forces. Not unlike Fallout 3’s twisted 1950s schtick, Heavy Armor embraces the uniforms and aesthetic of Americans in World War II, from the helmets and outfits to the color styles. The result is a goofy funhouse mirror take that weds that look to sci-fi.

The key to Heavy Armor is that it’s designed for the Kinect to be very, very exacting in how you move. If you tilt your wrist to pull open a latch when you’re supposed to keep it straight, the game won’t respond. If your gestures are sloppy, the game will pick up on something you don’t want it to do. In the middle of a firefight, that’s the difference between surviving and restarting. You’ll need some sound strategies to overcome the challenges the game throws at you, because losing your cool within your tank will allow outside forces to turn it into a burned-out husk.

We asked Capcom if they’re planning an Xbox Live demo prior to its June 19 bow, and while the publisher and From Software are hammering out the final details, it sounds like it’s being strongly considered. We’ve seen and played the beginning of the game – learning how the inner trappings of the tank work – in both prior events. Now we feel like we have a better grasp on the proceedings.

After the initial tutorial, we drove the tank through a shoreside battle that led into Manhattan. We learned how important strafing is –though not too much; the game seems to punish you for straying outside of the rails of its warzone—It’s a short section that allows you to practice the numerous movements, from leaning forward to use the tank cannons to blast on gun nests to smiting ground troops.

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