When I took the plunge and bought a Kinect sensor over a year ago I was initially impressed with the clever little piece of kit and must have played Kinect Adventures non-stop for a couple of days, which led to some of the funniest moments I've ever had whilst playing video games. Then the novelty factor started to wear off, it began to collect dust, and I'd almost completely forgotten about it until Child Of Eden came out which whilst good was disappointingly short. Since then none of the games that have been released for Kinect have really utilised it's full potential, instead the developers seem to just want to dumb things down and play on the motion controls gimmick. As a result I'd pretty much given up on Kinect and a few months ago I sold my sensor because I really didn't see the point in holding on to it anymore. That is until curiosity got the better of me as to what exactly was being shown in the Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor booth at MCM and I ventured to say. Needless to say that my faith has at least been partially restored.
As you may well have guessed by now this instalment of Steel Battalion incorporates Kinect controls into the mix and it's taken a while to develop. These controls were a primary concern during development and they've replace the giant controller that was a unique selling point of the previous games. However, the developers didn't want to force people to solely use Kinect as it wouldn't have worked, which is why the regular 360 controller plays a part in the proceedings too. The game's quite experimental and utilises the best aspects of Kinect, although not all of the possibilities the clever piece of kit has to offer have been fully included. For example, the game recognises your gestures, rather than just tracking your hand movements, so you have to be quite precise with the controls rather than throwing your hands all over the place. Unlike most Kinect games you'll spend the majority of the game sat down with a controller in your hands, seeing as that's the main position your character takes when they're inside the vertical tank. The controls take a little while to get used to, but once you do you have to admire what Capcom are trying to do with this one. Also, for a Kinect game the visuals are very impressive.
But how exactly do these dual controls work? Well, the left and right thumbsticks on the 360 pad control movement and the camera, the trigger buttons control the tank's weapons, and the Kinect controls allow you to interact with your environment including the various levers, switches, and buttons in the cockpit of the tank as well as your team mates. What this means is that if there's a lever in front of you that needs pulling you'll be reaching out to grab it, or if one of your team mates wants a high five you you'll be reaching out to do that, then again you could always leave them hanging at which point they'll make an amusing comment about how you've let them down and there morale'll go down. Be careful when it comes to accepting food items from some people though, one character offers you an apple straight after reliving himself at a latrine! Another great moment that'll bring a smile to your face occurs during the tutorial if you attempt to hit the self destruct button, at which point most of your team'll grab you and pull you away from the controls, although this won't happen during the game but at least if you do have to blow yourself up you won't lose your save data this time around. You're not confined to the cockpit of the tank either, if you stand up from your sofa you'll open the top hatch to take a look outside, at which point raising a hand to your eyes'll bring up a pair of binoculars so you can peer off into the distance, although if you do this during the middle of a battle it's a good way of losing your head.
The game's been designed for a western market, the story's been written by an American with a military background, and the the developers want you to be completely immersed in the drama of the battlefield situations you'll find yourself in. This one takes place in 2082 in a world where America is no longer a superpower and certain bits of technology have been lost, so humanity has had to rely on old mechanics, which accounts for the way the vertical tank looks and functions as you set about supporting other tanks and ground troops alike. You'll be setting about reinvading the US after it was occupied by an enemy force following a previous conflict and you've got 30 people on your team who should all be important to you, after all if any of them die during the single player campaign they're gone for good and if this happens in the middle of a mission you'll have to take over their job too. You'd think that losing people wouldn't exactly be a problem when you're sat safely in the belly of a metal beast, but it does have weaknesses; if the front windscreen smashes a single stray bullet can kill you. Also, the difficulty spike in the game goes up and down, the first level is very hard but don't let that put you off because you'll come across other missions later on that are ridiculously easy.
A competitive multiplayer wasn't included in this one because the developers wanted to unite people agains the enemy faction featured in the game, as a result there is an online multiplayer co-op mode with up to four players, although it's no different from the single player but it might not be as easy as you think when you're replaying the missions. One of the incentives of the co-op mode are the rewards, which allow you to customise your tank. Lastly, it's possible that there'll be some DLC for this one in the future, but the developers are keeping a lid on that for the moment.
I think it's impressive that a game could even slightly change my stance on Kinect and motion controls, and I'd strongly urge you to check out the demo which takes place during a beach landing and is currently available to download on Xbox Live. Now for some brutal honesty; whilst I was playing this one the controls didn't always respond perfectly, at times the character I was controlling would do the wrong thing despite the gesture I was very clearly making, which I found incredibly frustrating because had it worked as it should have done, I probably would have run out to buy a Kinect sensor as soon as I'd left the Expo. I still respect what the developers are trying to do with this one though and I'd love to play a bit more of it when it comes out on 22nd June 2012.