#504 Steel Battalion

Posted: 4th September 2012 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , ,

176th played so far

Genre: Action
Platform: Xbox
Year of Release: 2002
Developer: Capcom, Nude Maker
Publisher: Capcom

As we’ve discussed before, there are some games on the list that worry us. Some games, like Reset Generation, because they seem to be impossible to play now. (Actually, due to several issues, this is currently the only one we currently fear are lost, but it’s a constant threat). Others require us to venture out further, such as recently Final Furlong and at some point in the next few months, Golden Tee Live. Then there’s games like this, where not only the game is rare, but you need a special peripheral. We’ve seen this before with Donkey Konga and DJ Hero, and there’s a few more that’ll follow.

We want to get these done, obviously. They’re the hurdles in our way to finish this – Civilization might be more time consuming, Infamous more complex, Flywrench more… strange – but we can play them, do them in whatever order we want – they’re there or will be there. We need to go through them to finish this project, but we know we will be able to. Steel Battalion not as much.

Steel Battalion, due to its nature, is a rare game. It was limited edition, requiring a special controller, and sells for a lot of money. It’s also a game that’ll stay on the list for a long time. In other words, we need to play it. And experience it… We’re getting it over with.

Our Thoughts

First of all, let me discuss the big special feature, the controller: It is AWESOME. It may sound geeky, but this is a geek’s game anyway (I prefer ‘gaming connoisseur’ to geek). There’s just something awesome about sitting behind a console of 30-something buttons, switches and joysticks, most of which flash and light up when appropriate, moving by using the pedals. The game makes full use of that, every button its own function, no dual use, it is actually copying the cockpit. Starting your mecha alone is awesome – press the buttons, flip switches to start systems, go through the procedure before you’re allowed to start. It’s one of the small touches in the controller, but it’s awesome (the buttons even light up!) Who doesn’t want to do that switches thing?

But in the end, the controller is the major, awesome part of the game that defines its boundaries – or rather, removes them. Few console games can have this number of controls, and even on the PC this might come with an overlay or cheat sheet, something to help you remember them. Here, they’re all labelled and in the right and logical order.

There are also buttons for the fire extingusher and wind screen wipers which, whilst they serve a purpose ingame, are a whole lot of fun to mess around with. It’s just a pity that the ‘open cockpit’ button doesn’t open mid-battle. That had the opportunity to be hilarious. Another great thing about this console is the eject button. We will go into this a bit later but it is the only button conceived as ‘last resort’ that it has it’s own plastic cover that can be flipped open before pressing.

Add to that how the graphics work. Only about a third of the screen is the actual outside world, the remainder is the interface – mostly dynamic, though replicating a few indicators on your panel. It’s surprisingly effective, making you feel you’re inside the action, but it makes it difficult to see what’s going on. The mechas – enemy and friends – can be vaguely identified, while the more minor enemies barely show up. You can use a separate cam to get some information, but it’s limited.

You don’t really need to, though. The screen gives you some information on what to do, but with the tools your mech gives you, you can perform your actions based on your instruments and some vague visual clues. It feels a bit more complicated, but it’s possible.

With that said, that really is part of the learning curve. It’s steep and tough, and the first few times you go out will cost you. There are so many options, things you can and must do, and things to keep track of, that the game will overwhelm you at first and it takes time to get far enough. Not helping here is a rather major addition to up the difficulty of the game: No reloads. If you die, you die, that’s it. There’s sort of a way out: If you are about to crash, you can press the eject button. You lose your mech and have to get a new one, but you don’t have to start from scratch. If you don’t press it on time… your savegame is deleted and you have to start from scratch, who cares how far you got. Yes, that’s brutal. Yes, it’s evil. Yes, I suppose it’s realistic. It makes for something quite interesting.

Another way that this game makes life difficult is the credit system. You get some free ammo to begin every mission but it’s limited, very limited. So whilst there is the temptation to go nuts a la Ripley in Aliens you have to be more conservative whilst you blast enemies out of the sky. Later in the game you are able to order in supply drops of ammo and other such things (I liked the flamethrower) which, again, cost credits. Credits which are required to buy a new mecha if you have to eject at some point… a bit of a vicious cycle really.

Unfortunately, the game doesn’t hold your hand (I actually quite liked that). You don’t get a tutorial – you just have the manual to read (quite a tome it is too), hoping you remember it. The missions are tough from the start – good AI from your opponents, you need to hope you manage, and obviously they’ve got piloting skills good enough that they don’t fall over. It is difficult and takes time, you need to learn how to play the game. What also doesn’t help is that the AI of the guys on your side is pretty pants. There was a time that I observed a fellow member of the panzer division caught on the corner of some scenary… idiot.

In the end, this is a labour of love, and a game of love. It’s showing what games can do and be, how far you can go, if you’re willing to spend on it. And it expects you to spend time on it, to understand it, to get to know it, get used to it. You are expecting to invest the time in it – to love it, if you wish – to get in far enough to finish the game. And yes, that’s strangely awesome.

Final Thoughts

The game itself is good, complex, fun. But it’s the controller that makes this and makes it awesome. And you can’t separate the two, they’re so far integrated. But this is the single game that puts you in the cockpit, gives you all the buttons, just cool. It really is an extension of those control panels that you see in movies, the idea where you see a button and want to press it, want to be in front of that machine with all the buttons and play with them. Steel Battalion allows you to, and that’s awesome.

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