I don’t want to be the controller anymore. When Kinect launched, Microsoft told us that hands-free controls would revolutionize our gameplay experience. They promised to put us in the action in ways we had only ever dreamed of. What they didn’t say was that the Xbox peripheral is prone to such infuriating bouts of unresponsiveness that it could make players hate a game for nothing more than its control system. Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor has a decent core concept – a silicone-eating virus has wiped out all computer circuitry, forcing a warring planet to regress to Forties-era blood, sweat and iron. War is now waged by walking tanks that lumber across the battlefield, blasting buildings, vehicles and infantry back to the stone age. As silent protagonist Winfield Powers, you command one such behemoth, and must pick your way through a war-torn America in an attempt to take your country back. Moving and firing is handled by the standard Xbox controller, but everything else relies on Kinect gestures. Switching ammo, sighting down the periscope, venting smoke from the cabin and accessing your map are all accomplished by waving your arms about – an experience that would be totally immersive if it actually worked After the brief tutorial, you’re sent storming up a nameless beach to retake your homeland, and you’ll need all the bells and whistles to make it off the landing craft. But the gestures are unresponsive, and are usually misunderstood by the sensor. For several minutes, Steel Battalion refused to even let me start my engine, and when I tried to look through my aiming port to open fire, the game assumed I wanted to exit through the roof hatch, and I had my head blown off. The levels, which range from bewilderingly easy to impossibly hard, are exercises in frustration. After my 15th attempt to switch to the right ammo, a wayward round caused my cabin crew to die of smoke inhalation. Three minutes later, when I finally managed to aim my weapons, another enemy blew my reticule to opaque shards, leaving me blind, defenseless, and pretty pissed off.
I won’t labor the point. This is a great idea for a game, but the lack of any responsiveness denies all attempts at immersion in the story or the setting. You’ll be so fed up of playing within the first hour that, even if you possessed the sheer bloody-mindedness required to see Steel Battalion through, you just won’t want to.