Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor

Tanks For Nothing

At least there are fewer buttons in Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor.

By Drew Toal • June 21, 2012

Listen, I love Red Dawn as much as the next Patrick Swayze enthusiast, but enough is enough. Homefront, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III, and now Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor all traffic in not-so-distant future American dystopias where hostile foreign powers invade the continental United States. This is what happens, apparently, when the government allocates funds once earmarked for defense and funnels it into non-exploding, un-stealthy fields like education or infrastructure. What, I ask you, is the point of building new roads, bridges, and train lines if the Russians, North Koreans, or the United Nations are just going to use them against… Wait, what the hell? We were invaded by the U.N.?

This seems to be the case in the first-person action game Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor. The U.N.—or “Uncle,” as it’s known to grunts on the ground—occupies large swaths of the country, and, far removed from the lethargic diplomacy of former Secretary Generals like Kofi Annan or Ban Ki-moon, this new U.N. seeks peace in a more aggressive fashion. These guys are bloodthirsty warmongers who have reached the conclusion that international peace will be easier to maintain if we’re all slaves.

You play the role of Sgt. Powers, a grizzled war vet pulled back into the fight to pilot a Vertical Tank, or “Veet.” Operated by four people, including yourself, the Veet is something of a proto-mech—an armored, walking tank. Operating the vehicle is no simple task, nor should it be. Fans of Steel Battalion may recall the outrageously sophisticated cockpit controller that went with the original game. Piloting a Predator drone is almost certainly less complicated than deciphering that game’s dense interface—the dozens (hundreds?) of switches and buttons corresponded to an unheard of level of battle minutiae. I think there was even a button for windshield wipers.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor

Heavy Armor retires the inscrutable gamepad interface in favor of the motion sensors of Kinect. In its short life, the Kinect hasn’t shown itself to be the most precise of instruments, but it can, in fact, competently handle general, sweeping gestures and deliberate directional movement. When I wrote that it worked well enough in Tiger Woods 13, some around here said I was “fooling myself,” but I stand by that assessment. However, shoehorned into a cockpit with three other sweaty dudes, with an array of confusing, tightly compressed controls, and under constant, withering fire from the screaming, relentless United Nations horde? Not so much. Operating the VT requires both Kinect and the Xbox controller, but using these in tandem presents tactical difficulties.

As enemies fire armor-piercing rounds into your already-weathered Veet, a lot of your efforts amount to damage control. Close the hatch, vent out the smoke, panic, and hit the self-destruct button. Oh lord, are they still shooting us? Raise the periscope! Fire! Run! What do you mean my ammo guy’s brains are splattered all over the interior? Don’t you die on me, ammo guy!

A part of me really loves the chaotic “verisimilitude” of battle in Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor. There’s another, larger part of me that feels like an ineffectual ass, crazily waving my hands around, picking up, then dropping the controller, and getting repeatedly blown to scrap.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor

The game starts out with an amphibious assault of Manhattan Beach. If you’re going to peddle blatant 9/11 imagery, at least do it right. Storming Wall Street in Modern Warfare III felt like a plausible assault on the Financial District, geographically and aesthetically. Popping your head out of the hatch to look around, putting your hand over your eyes to activate the binoculars, you see that the long-abandoned streets of Steel Battalion’s New York more closely resemble a desolate, bombed-out Hoboken. The missions range from head-scratchingly simple to teeth-grindingly difficult. Maybe they would be more consistent if every time I tried to switch heavy ordnance, I didn’t accidentally shut the hatch window and blindly walk into a landmine or five.

Completing missions unlocks upgrades for your Veet. Tricking out your whip with camo and assorted exploding doodads is probably the most satisfying aspect of the game. Your fellow soldiers are all, at best, bad caricatures, but the ridiculous story does contain a kernel of wisdom. The Steel Battalion mythology states that a nanovirus—a “datacide”—has destroyed computers everywhere. Technology has been reduced to a mid-20th-century level, which is why in the future, they’ve stuffed four guys into a walking metal death trap to solve a global dispute, instead of pitting robot knights with laser lances against one another in a harmless, pay-per-view proxy war. Gross technological deficiencies have sparked an unending, planet-wide conflagration. The fallout from Kinect’s tech failings may be more localized, but it’s no less depressing.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor
Developer: FromSoftware
Publisher: Capcom
Platform: Xbox 360
Price: $60
Rating: M

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873 Responses to “Tanks For Nothing”

  1. stakkalee says:

    A UN invasion!?  Glenn Beck was right!  I knew Agenda 21 was evil, but I had no idea!

    Also, you need to play with both the controller AND the Kinect?  That doesn’t sound fun at all.

    • HobbesMkii says:

       The United States also gets invaded in the Fallout series. The videogame US apparently sucks at international diplomacy.

      • stakkalee says:

        Well yes, but that’s by the wily and inscrutable Chi-Coms, a truly worthy video game adversary.  Who can say what they’ll do?  They’re inscrutable.

    • AHyperkineticLagomorph says:

       I’m willing to believe a lot of stupid bullshit in my video game plots. I mean, vampires, zombies, time travel, quantum space holes, rogue A.I. running rampant, mutants, and entire worlds where every girl has no less than a DD-cup. Okay. It’s silly, and as long as it’s fun, great.

      But some games try to be realistic and, as much as I hate the word, “relevant” to modern day situations. And then they expect me to believe that countries that can barely get a missile off the ground and world organizations that are mocked openly for their ineffectiveness somehow invade a major superpower?

      If you want a game to feel realistic, you better have an enemy the player can actually feel threatened by.

      • stakkalee says:

        And not just in video games, but real life, too.  I don’t understand the fear of an organization that has maybe 90,000 peacekeeping troops – and that’s if you include support personnel!  They wear powder-blue helmets people!  Powder-blue!  It’s like being savaged by rabbits.  No offense to you, of course.

  2. RidleyFGJ says:

    I wonder whose bright idea it was to keep the interface of the original game intact when faced with an, erm “inadequate” substitute.

    • GhaleonQ says:

      I really hope this doesn’t tarnish the reputation of the other games. 

      • RidleyFGJ says:

        Amusingly, a glitch in IGN’s system had temporarily dropped the review scores of the two Xbox games down to the same 3 they awarded this one.

  3. dreadguacamole says:

    I never got to play around with the original controller (I would have loved to!), but here’s a diagram:

    I’d guess the “wash” button is for the windshield wipers.

     Oh, and the game had permadeath – it deleted your savegame if you died in-game; I think if you pressed the Eject button, it had the same effect.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      That is so goddamn awesome.

    • JosephHilgard says:

       Ejecting mid-battle would save your life (and the save file) but you’d still lose the veet and have to try the mission again.  It was cool.

      The controller was the main thing the original Steel Batallion had going for it, and it wasn’t really that complicated – all the toggles are only used for the startup sequence, and the radio dial could be all but ignored.

      Having a “sidestep” pedal was kind of an odd choice. I’m a fan of dodging projectiles rather than weathering them through cover and regenerating health, but the nimble sidestep felt a lot less WWII and a lot more Gundam.  It did feel good to stomp your feet and yank the sticks for a well-timed slide though.

      • dreadguacamole says:

         Thanks for clarifying that!
         You have no idea how much I envy you having played this when it came out…

        • Gus Mastrapa says:

          I’m not sure if they still do it, but at PAX in Seattle they set up the max number of controllers / Xbox systems in a local network for tournaments. It was like a pop up Battletech center.

      • Reifidom says:

        I still own my original Xbox just to keep Steel Battalion on hand. The controller, once you had it down, was just crowded enough to keep you on your toes. A few times my VT was hit so hard it shut down and I had to restart mid-battle. I would give a very great deal to have a solid remake of this game with the original controller on a current-gen console. 

  4. Boonehams says:

    That header image says way more than any review can.

    • stakkalee says:

      I keep wanting to ask “What happens to Natch!?!  WHAT HAPPENS TO NATCH!?!”

      • Boonehams says:

        “He will get shot if he goes out there!  I’m going to grab him!”

        *puts down controller, reaches forward at NOTHING, Kinect doesn’t read motion, Natch gets shot and killed*

      • Drew Toal says:

        I felt really bad about letting Natch go, because earlier in the game, he all but asks you for your autograph. He’s always trying to fist-bump you and be buddies, but because of the Kinect I think that he thinks I just hate him. Which isn’t untrue, but it’s not like I wanted him to run out into the kill zone. Happy trails, Natch.

        • Boonehams says:

          Natch *sniff* went to go live on a farm. He’s… much happier there.

        • stakkalee says:

          RIP Natch.  He’s dodging bullets with the angels now.

          It was a Kinect motion?  You actually needed to reach out to stop him?  That just seems so, so sad.

        • Drew Toal says:

          If only I had been able to negotiate the fist bump…

        • Destroy Him My Robots says:

          @stakkalee:disqus Maybe even in a good way. What better dramatic motion can you think of for a camera-based system than one where you try to reach out to save a live, but, no matter how hard you wish it wasn’t so, ultimately just grab emptiness?

          Apart from maybe a game where you can throw relatives of the player character at bosses and when the bosses kill them you can drop to your knees and shake your fists at the sky and then you enter EX MODE.

        • stakkalee says:

          @DestroyHimMyRobots:disqus I would play the hell out of an emoting game.  Perhaps some Futurama-based minigame where you need to act like Calculon…

  5. George_Liquor says:

    Well, seems as good a place as any for this:

    I want my Mechwarrior 5 now, dammit! I don’t want some stupid MMO that’s been stuck in development hell for nearly 10 years!

    • JosephHilgard says:

       We all miss proper mech combat, George Liquor.

    • Chris Holly says:


      I stand with George Liquor!

    • HobbesMkii says:

       It’s coming soon. They just sent me an e-mail about how, for only $120, I can get a bunch of premium mechs, three months of premium, in-game cash, a special icon, and my name in the game credits. There’s no way I’m paying that, but if they’re actively soliciting money, it’s got to be on its way.

    • Drew Toal says:

      I’m still waiting for an ExoSquad game to update the Genesis version.

    • Mookalakai says:

       I’m doing this as a public service, because I have no real interest in this game, but I spend too much time reading video game news and I might as well do as some good. There is a free to play game called Hawken which is just mech to mech combat, and it looks really good, and probably even better for someone desperate for some Mechwarrior.

  6. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    If this were to work perfectly, absolutely perfectly, I’ll bet the immersion would be awesome.   …If not necessarily the game play and story.

       But I can’t possibly imagine Capcom had any illusions about the capabilities of the Kinect before making this game, and yet they went ahead and put resources into this disaster.
       It’s akin to some agrarian Babylonian attempting to craft an Intel chip out of a block of clay and sharpened reed.

    Heh.  Cuneiform binary.

    • ShitMcFuckensteinAVC says:

      Yeah, they are some great ideas and everyone is trying to pretend they don’t know the tech isn’t there yet.

    • Effigy_Power says:

       I prefer my Linear B iPod… mind you, it tends to melt.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

        Yeah, but it’s got that awesome bull/uterus logo on the back so everyone knows it’s authentic.

        • Electric Dragon says:

          My clockwork “Android on Antikythera Mechanism” works just fine, as long as I oil the gears every day.

  7. Electric Dragon says:

    Do the enemy forces have pen shaped radios which they command to “open channel D”?

  8. Effigy_Power says:

    Could the premise be any more fucked up? What is this fascination with WW2 type invasions into the United States? Homefront was probably the least subtle and in many ways most racially derogatory game of the last few years. At least this game here has the benefit of not making me shoot indiscriminate groups of non-white soldiers yelling at me.
    Unless wargames find a way to refresh their arsenal of idiotic and downright insulting premises, they should just stick to making the nth version of the storming of Omaha Beach…
    The UN invading America… seriously… We’re a hair away from getting games where we have to free Rhodesia for the British or something.

    • HobbesMkii says:

       Greatest Generation FTW.

    • Merve says:

      I’d heard that the plot was preposterous, but the UN invading the States? That’s a whole new level of “are you fucking kidding me?”

      • HobbesMkii says:

         No, see, it makes sense, because in order for the UN to take military action, the UN Security Council has to approve and the US…has a..a…veto vote…on that council…

        • Effigy_Power says:

           I never thought they’d make a premise for invasion any more ridiculous than “North Korea invades US”.
          Apparently our highfalutin’ Aegis defense doesn’t protect us from cartoonishly large bombs hurled by a thousand impoverished peasants.
          What’s next? Europe taken over by Luxemburg?

        • Merve says:

          @Effigy_Power:disqus: Well, Luxembourg has one of the highest GDP per capitas in the world, so it’s not totally out of the question that they’ve been setting aside a portion of their wealth to prepare for their plan for world domination. I’m bracing myself for the day when I’ll have to bow down before the Grand Duke.

        • HobbesMkii says:

          @Merve2:disqus On the plus side, I think it’ll be pretty cool when someone with the title “Grand Duke” is ruling an entire continent. It’ll certainly make the news more interesting.

        • Electric Dragon says:

          @Effigy_Power:disqus : I refer the honourable lady to The Mouse That Roared.

      • Electric Dragon says:

        Not to mention that Manhattan Beach seems a rather silly place to be attempting an amphibious landing. Are they seeking strategic control of Coney Island?

  9. Merve says:

    The sad thing is: this is the friendliest review of the game that I’ve read. Congrats, @andrewtoal:disqus, on successfully wrestling with your Kinect.

  10. rvb1023 says:

    So wait, the Kinect didn’t end up improving a game?  Color me surprised, even though I wanted this game to do well.  Oh well, I guess I’ll blindly hope that not-Panzer Dragoon game doesn’t suck.


    these are the same developers I think that once upon a time made the game Metal Wolf Chaos where the President of the United States straps himself into a mech to fight off a coup de’tat led by an evil Vice President (also in a mech)

    and of course, said game never actually game out in the US