E3 2002Steel Battalion impressions

Capcom's Xbox mech simulator is fully playable at E3, and we got strapped in.


Steel Battalion

We have no idea who Mikami coerced at Capcom Japan to get Steel Battalion (known as Tekki overseas) approved for development, but we're sure glad he did so. The game is fully playable at Capcom's booth at E3, and it's fully equipped with the ridiculously complex, three-paneled controller that's made it quite infamous. After spending some time with it, it's safe to say that all of the controller's functions thus far implemented indeed add cool elements to the game, though not all of them are quite as essential to the gameplay as they are for maintaining the illusion. The game itself plays quite well at this point, if a little touchily, and it's very, very impressive to behold.

At the beginning of the demo, we had to start up the mech we were piloting. The process involves hitting the ignition button on the right panel, flipping a bunch of switches on the left, and waiting for the appropriate systems to power up. Once there was sufficient juice, we had to hit the start button on the right panel to get going. The door to the hanger then opened, and there was an enemy mech less than twenty yards away. Combat ensued.

Fighting things in Steel Battalion involves using both of the controller's sticks. The one on the left lets you move laterally and controls your facing at the same time, while the one on the right controls your guns. In the E3 demo, we were able to fire both our machine guns and our missiles with the right stick; the machine guns were shot with the inside trigger, while missiles were deployed with the thumb button on the back. A secondary button on the back of the controller lets you lock on to distant targets. Overall, targeting was a little overprecise at this point, but it might just take some getting used to. In any event, we had a good time blasting everything around us--from enemy mechs and tanks to buildings and other structures--to smithereens. The demoing producer made it quite clear to us that everything in the environments was fully destructible, and the rising smoke and the rubble laying on the ground after five minutes of play made his point quite clear.

There are a few other functions on the panel that we were able to use, some of which are more essential than others. There's a gearshift on the left panel that controls your speed, which also has reverse and neutral settings. There are two pedals as well, one of which is gas, though we couldn't quite discern whether or not hitting the second one served as a brake. Finally, there is one button on the middle panel, called "wash," which would literally splash water on your window when the dirt and gristle of combat became too restrictive. It's a nice touch. The dial in the center panel wasn't working, though were told that it would let you flip through radio frequencies in the final game. As for the rest, we'll have to wait on a later build to find out exactly what they do.

As you'd imagine, gameplay was pretty heavy and plodding, though it was also very fast-paced. The feel was very "real war," as your commanders will constantly be barking orders through the radio, and things will blow up around you in disturbingly photo-realistic ways. It's quite easy to be impressed by it all, and it's quite immersive. It's also a bit off-the-wall in regard to practicality, so ultimately, we're hoping that the final game warrants the insane controller and its likely-to-be-insane price point. We'll keep you posted.

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