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Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor preview: Hope everything works


The Kinect-based Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is a concept that has a lot going for it, with a combination of controller and Kinect input opening up a lot of gameplay options to immerse the player into feeling like they're actually piloting a giant "Vertical Tank" (VT) mech. The only thing that could break that immersion, which we saw occur several times when we checked out the pre-alpha build at Gamescom, should be obvious: Kinect not recognizing certain gestures. It's all good and fine for a Kinect hiccup when petting your Kinectimals, but this is war!

A small blessing of Steel Battalion is that it's played sitting down (for the most part). Stretching out your arms while maintaining good posture calibrates your pilot for the system. Movement, aiming and firing are handled by the controller, while the player's gestures are used to look out windows, check outside the tank by lifting the hatch (that's the standing part), look around the cockpit and to pull down or interact with several of the VT's controls.

Gallery: Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor (Gamescom 2011) | 13 Photos

The level we got to check out during the demonstration was the storming of what appeared to be a beach in Battery Park in lower Manhattan. Set in 2082, the game's world has no semiconductors, so wars are waged with what Capcom claims are "rudimentary weapons" -- you know, except for the giant mechs. Anyway, the United States has been broken, with only eight states remaining. Heavy Armor finds the protaganist, Lt. Powers, starting a campaign in the US that will eventually go global.

The beach scene is straight out of your standard World War II movie, with plenty of gore as infantry storm the beach and get torn to shreds by entrenched adversaries. The men are cut down, with heads popping like watermelons meeting the business end of a sledgehammer.

That's when the VT, powered by the player and his band of three gunners (right, left and cannon) in the cockpit, lands on the beach to lead the troops to victory. But not all is well in the cockpit. Swiping left reveals that one of the gunners is clearly in distress and having a panic attack. As the VT moves up the beach, he freaks out and tries to leave the vehicle, popping the hatch. The player is instructed by the other two men in the vehicle to grab him before he gets shot -- and he can get shot, we were told. Using your real-world hands to pull him down, the next step is knocking some sense into him, with the demonstrator making smacking motions, copied on screen. Sure enough, that got the soldier back in charge of his faculties.

Other Kinect controls included leaning forward to look through a peephole to the outside world, standing up to lift the hatch and get a full view (where the demonstrator got killed by a headshot) and putting one's hand to their face while standing to get a binocular view. Pulling down with your right hand will access the heat venting system and self-destruct button -- two things that immediately feel too close to each other with Kinect involved.

The beach battle got quite intense. With the enemy focusing on the VT, the pilot had to keep moving to avoid the cockpit flaming up when it was hit with explosives, and the sides from falling to pieces. For pre-alpha the game looked good enough as we watched infantry supported by the VT make it up the beach and into a fort established to protect the area. With victory came victorious yells and handshakes -- yes, actual handshakes, where you'll have to stretch out your hand to your VT crew and share in some war bonding.

From what I saw, Steel Battalion is compelling, even without the 200-button controller the series is famous for. Those interested in an immersive mech experience should keep the game on their radar. As with most Kinect games, our primary concern is input fidelity; we saw Kinect pick up seven or eight out of every 10 moves in Steel Battalion, but misinterpreting those two or three in the middle of battle can kill an action game.

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