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PREVIEW

STEEL BATTALION: HEAVY ARMOR

Every war has two sides.

One's on the battlefield, the other is internal. At least, that's the pitch for Heavy Armor, a game in which tensions of your tank crew may be more fatal than the bullet barrages hammering the outside like rain.

Introspection and comradeship seems at odds with a series more commonly associated with lone wolves strapped behind titanic gaming rigs, but is in keeping with the shift to Kinect, and an attempt by From Software to personalise a franchise usually reserved for the hardcore.

The year is 2082: a singular virus has propagated across the globe, destroying every single network in its path. Humanity is back to the technological Stone Age and, as much due to the lack of easily-accessible porn as the fact as country infrastructures has been destroyed world-wide, war breaks out.

All that's left for the war effort are Vertical tanks - more lumbering behemoths than sleek mobile Gundams - and its these that are brought to the frontline of a conflict that threatens to swallow the planet. But as this is a gaming take on the battlefield, and keeping in with war flicks across the decades, we start in recognisable territory: New York.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor

The city's half-destroyed, wrecks of skyscrapers shadowed in the clouds of smoke, landmarks like the Statue of Liberty spotted across the skyline. There's no fortune and glory, no freedom and justice: entry to the promised land has all the horror and oppression of the Normandy beach landings.

Ships, infantry, mechs - everything is blurred in explosions and blood. The haze and its lightning are eye-catching in their horrible beauty, though through the smoke the visuals don't stand muster for closer inspection.

We're strapped into the command centre in the mech's interior. The view's first-person, an a multitude of controls are mapped on the screen, which are controlled with gestures: levers and switches will move this and that, and so on.

Raise your hand and pull it down to move into a periscope view. You can even clamber out of the machine to take a better look at the battlefield; but you're a sitting duck for enemy snipers here. There's even a switch for toggling a light on and off during night missions and yes, a button to initiate a self-destruct sequence on the mech. In terms of anal attention to detail, this is truly in the spirit of its fore-bearers.

What is new is the fact you're not alone in the tank. Each mech has a crew of three, and so we're joined by a navigator, pinpointing dangers and plotting our course through the battlefield, and a machine gunner for taking care of infantry. With a hand wipe from left to right or vice versa, we switch back and forth between the crew, as well as communicate and motivate them.

It's more than a gimmick, and pays dividends into crafting the tension experienced on the battlefield. The navigator at one point decides to desert, forcing you to reach for him to haul him back into the interior and slap him about the chops to make him come to his senses. Alternatively you can let him run, leave him to his fate and simply dispense with his services and take over certain functions. Though navigating mine fields now becomes a lot tricker.

Steel Battalion: Heavy ArmorSteel Battalion: Heavy Armor

In any case, our conduct in the mech will affect the game. Is it worth continually having to sort out the crew while amid the battlefield, or simply, if more complex, to work the tank bereft of comrades? Its a level of cooperation that has much promise and digs a little deeper than just ordering NPCs in squad-based FPS titles. For even the use of weapons requires multiple steps, enough to make it entertainingly overwhelming than pure chore.

Kenji Inafuna compares the game with a FPS with a Steel Battalion feel, and only the blend of both controller and Kinect making it noticeably different. The series needs to be more accessible, easier to control, but not simpler to master.

Unlike the original, even when we self-destruct, we do not start from scratch, but from save points. We're faster on our metallic feet, but targeting is still an issue. What tactics we choose is entirely up to us. We must be aware though, that we can be attacked on the battlefield from anywhere. All guns are aimed at us - we're a walking armour-clad target.

Steel Battalion: Heavy ArmorSteel Battalion: Heavy Armor

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor certainly benefits from Kinect. Arguably you still need an extra bit of kit to play, but a gesture-based control system is much less off-putting than a multi-buttoned monster.

However, the demonstration also showed there's still some work needed on the tracking system, which occasionally had trouble registering gestures.
Neither these technical weaknesses or rather dull visuals do not ensure that the title stands out particularly well. Yet the interplay between outer and inner battles could create a tactical component that compensates for the issues.

At this point it is difficult to judge what will happen with the new Steel Battalion. At this stage it's easier to spot the weaknesses rather than get a gauge on its strengths. The concept sounds promising, and at the very least its great that Kinect is seeing an influx of new hardcore titles.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor
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