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Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor

Neal Molyneaux reviews Steel Battalion…

Released by: Capcom

Developed by: From Software

Price: £39.95

Available: Out Now

Format: Xbox 360

You know a game is going to be difficult when the press notes warn you that the controls will take at least an hour to master… You know a game is going to be difficult when it comes from a pedigree which boasted a £130 controller, sporting 40 buttons, two joysticks and a throttle. Make no mistake, From Software’s sequel to the legendary, limited edition Steel Battalion saga takes the word ‘difficult’ – tears it up, spits on it and rewrites it to read ‘near-impossible.’

Steel Battalion has always been a hardcore franchise, aimed at the kind of gamer prepared to shell out big bucks for a custom controller, just to stomp around in Vertical Tanks [VTs] like someone out of a sci-fi movie. With this latest iteration, From Software have decided to ditch the custom controller in favour of a system that is already sat under many gamers plasma screens, but which has seldom seen use outside of child-friendly dance games and fitness programs – the Kinect. On the face of it, the decision to utilise Microsoft’s motion sensor to replicate the complex actions required to pilot a VT makes perfect sense…The reality, however, is something else.

Set in a near future in which a silicon eating microbe called ‘datacide’ has destroyed our current technology and thrown the world’s super-powers back to Vietnam era fighting equipment, Vertical Tanks are clunky, slow moving behemoths that fight on the frontline of a war between America and China. Imagine a Sherman tank on mechanical legs, and you’re halfway there… As commander of a platoon of 32 men, it is your job to pilot one of these steel coffins in a range of missions to reclaim occupied US soil. Controlling the VT and its skittish crew demands that you sit bolt upright in front of your TV and execute an impossibly precise series of gestures – a frustrating ask in training mode, that rapidly becomes infuriating as soon as you come under fire in a live mission.

From Software have taken a brave step in adopting Kinect technology to create a ‘hardcore’ game for the platform, but one has to wonder whether the technology is up to the job… You will spend so much time dying as result of a wrongly interpreted gesture, or standing still for a millisecond too long, or the mine warning going off just that moment too late that, after a while, the gestures you direct at the screen will be of an entirely different nature. It’s a shame, because the storyline and setting are both wonderfully realised and compelling – they just needed the gameplay to be a little less overbearing for this to be a challenging action sim – rather than an exercise in masochism…