Kinect Finally Has Its Hardcore Game

Capcom's Steel Battalion might have just become the flagship game for Microsoft's motion-sensing camera.

There's a moment in Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor where you and a crew manning a large bipedal tank are making landfall on a beach assault not unlike the storming of Normandy's beaches during World War II. A member of your crew, unable to handle the pressure of the situation, loses his mental faculties and makes his way for the hatch--not completely aware of the mortars and bullets waiting for him on the other side. You reach with your left arm to pull the deserting member of the crew back into the cockpit. A few attempts bring him back down, but he's not sold on staying--you then proceed to repeatedly punch him in the face until common sense finally gets knocked back into his skull.

He reluctantly goes back to his position. You resume your command. It's one of the game's many tense moments, and all of it happened using the Kinect. You have to reach at the crew member and beat him, but in the real world where he doesn't exist.

The original Steel Battalion was intended to be a simulation of something that didn't actually exist, and bets were placed firmly on Capcom attempting to re-create that sensation and its most notable quality--the massive dual-stick controller that came with the game. But what Capcom has actually done is integrate a very human element into a very technical experience. Along with the aforementioned freak-out, there's a scene in which a very thirsty crew is on the hunt for a remote oasis in the desert. A crew member hands you what's left of his water--what you do with it or who you give it to is entirely up to you. Just know that your actions can have unforeseen consequences.

As mentioned, while all of this is going on, you still have to worry about what amounts to being commander of a bipedal tank. The number of handles, levers, bars, and other sorts of functional interactive objects within reach is almost daunting, including the popular self-destruct button re-created in virtual form--activated only by lifting the glass and punching the button inside. A periscope is available for sighting long-range targets. There's a separate map console to pull in front of your face and a separate lever to engage a higher gear speed. You can swing around inside the cockpit to talk and (sometimes inappropriately) interact with other crew members. You can even stand up out of your chair and raise a hand to your forehead--this lets you peek from the top hatch to survey the surrounding areas with binoculars that don't actually exist. It's one of the more surreal options in Steel Battalion, if only because it's one of those things you try as a joke to see if it works, only to find that it actually does.

Admittedly, getting adjusted to the Kinect-enabled parts of the game take some time, but it's not because they aren't responsive. It's because you have to train your brain to move your hands and body around as if they were in an actual cockpit. For example, when you reach for the bars in front of you to pull your face to the blast window, your motions have to mimic that. To return to the default camera view in the cockpit, you have to physically push yourself away from the window with the opposite motion. It's not quite as easy as it sounds at first, but we started getting the hang of it after a dozen or so minutes.

The reason this particular move is a sticking point is that it's how you switch from the cockpit view with Kinect controls to the blast-window, first-person view, which uses the regular Xbox 360 controller. Indeed, despite the heavy Kinect integration, movement, targeting, and shooting are still executed through the traditional first-person shooter setup, and surprisingly it's not all that jarring. In fact, the transition between the cockpit and first-person view is long enough that it gives you more than ample time to get readjusted, or to pick up your controller if you happened to put it down--though, it's worth pointing out that Steel Battalion's Kinect functionality has been designed to anticipate the occasional nose itch or various other sorts of unintentional movements that would otherwise cause problems.

From just about every perspective, Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is the game that you will probably use to show off how a typically hardcore game can be used to properly harness the Kinect when it's designed specifically for it--as opposed to just adding Kinect functionality onto a game as an afterthought. We'll be seeing more of the game before its release on June 19.

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