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Xbox Review - 'Steel Battalion'

by Chris "Fozz" Breci on Dec. 6, 2002 @ 8:58 a.m. PST

Steel Battalion is an exciting battle-mech simulator that uses the most elaborate controller interface ever created. Take a seat inside the cockpit of a mechanized VT (Vertical Tank) and enter into futuristic military warfare, where you pilot 20 different mechs in a multinational task force operation in an effort to overthrow the government. Included with the game is an exclusive 40-button controller to completely maximize the gaming experience, making you feel as if you were actually piloting a mechanized Vertical Tank! Was the gaming experience worth the $200, or was it a waste?

Genre: Action Mech
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: November 20th

It’s the year 2080 A.D. As the century turned, the United States is slowly falling away from its status as the strongest military power in the world. Conflict is rising in the world as smaller countries are banding together to outnumber the “big guys.” A small country called Hai Shi Dao is becoming a very strong militant force whose power easily rivals that of the United States’. Rough edges between countries are slowly becoming crevices for hate and war. The standard of weapons is rising: the VT (Vertical Tank) is the new king-of-the-hill on the battlefield and, standing at a mammoth 40 feet, towers over the competition. The only thing that stands a chance against the VT is an Entire Steel Battalion composed of other VTs.

Steel Battalion will launch you into the world of a 40 foot machine the very second you open the box. The gameplay gives the rush of being at the arcade, while staying in the comfort of your own home. From the first step to the very second you crash your machine (and believe me, you WILL crash and fall), you are kept on the edge of your chair. It instills a permanent rush of adrenaline into your blood. Not only does this game provide the “arcade” feel, but it also has the game depth that you have come to expect from a console title. The sheer size of the controller itself is enough to make a gamer nervous. A 2 1/2-foot controller with 40 buttons, two joysticks, three pedals, a gear-shift, and a tuner dial spanning across three blocks ... it’s quite the intimidator. Among some of these buttons are: main and sub (changing primary and secondary weapons), magazine change, chaff (throwing off lock on rockets), night scope, and my personal favorite, the windshield washer! On the left and right block, there are two joysticks; the left one, only moving left and right, controls the torso movement of your vertical beast. Also on the left stick, is a smaller joystick (much like the one on the regular controllers) controlling head movement. On the right block, there is another stick that moves in all directions. This accomplishes the task of weapon operations. This stick holds the lock-on, primary, and secondary fire buttons. In order to move your VT, you move the pedals on the floor. There is one block that holds the three pedals: brake, gas, and slide. There are, much to my displeasure, no jump jets in this game.

As the story begins to grace the gamer with his/her character's appearance, it will slowly dawn upon you, “Hey, wait a second!! My guy isn’t the big hard-ass I was expecting.” You are, more or less, some fresh meat. The commander explains to you that the training you will be going through is not a walk in the park. Then he assures you that this will be a rigorous six-month training period. It made me feel good to hear that the VR training alone would be eight weeks. The next few steps you take will introduce you to the M7 Decider, the next-generation mech that not only replaces, but also far surpasses its predecessors. Your character seems in disarray. As your commander continues to show you around the base, a siren blares. It’s an air raid!! The enemies of Hai Shi Dao have effectively taken out all the defenses except for one, the M7. Somewhere in the bombing run, the enemy has wounded your commander. Of course, being the hero that you are, you run for the hangar and launch straight into mission one. Now, if you’re the type of person to jump right into a game without reading the instructions, we here at WorthPlaying suggest you make some minor alterations to your plans. Rest assured that this game will throw you directly into the cockpit without any training whatsoever.

As you sit in this hangar, you are faced with the one problem you feared from day one. Starting this thing! As you will come to find, it’s really not all that complicated. The creators were generous enough to make the proper buttons light up in sequence. Once you’ve closed the hatch, turned on the ignition, a screen comes up with five empty bars. Personally, I sat there for a couple of minutes trying to decide what I was supposed to press. Eventually I flipped the five switches. This, much to my pleasure, filled up the five bars and initiated the “Start” sequence. Once you have successfully made the VT fully operational, you are able to marvel at the wicked interface you will have to master. There are three main fuel gauges. The first two, the smaller ones, are for your sub-tanks, while the third and larger one is your main tank. The secondary tanks are put to use before the main tank is, which is very logical because smaller tank empties faster. “What?? Sub-tanks depleted??” It is at this time that you push the “Tank Detach” button to drop it, thus making your VT weigh less and move quicker. The first several steps out of the hangar launch you into combat with another VT (vertical tank). Initially, the combat is a little hectic; you have to spend a minute or two in the hangar figuring out how to aim the guns, how to move, and figuring out how best to control your mech.

The VT actually moves like a car in the sense that you have to shift gears to go faster, and you can go all the way up to fifth gear. Once the VT gets moving that fast, however, you can forget about anything else but the lock-on shots. Of course, if you do get going that fast and try to turn too quickly, you’ll find that your view will quickly fall to the left, right, or straight up in the air. You, my friend, have just tipped over your VT. The slide pedal is one of the most crucial instruments in this game and can save your life on many occasions. If you are approached with an incoming missile, you can use a hefty amount of gas power to slide your VT out of, or into (should you so desire), the path of enemy fire. When the combat starts getting down and dirty, one must learn from Snake and use his surroundings to evade enemy fire. Learning how to quickly change the person you’re locked onto will seriously improve your success rate. Always keep an eye on the radar because it will tell you if there is an incoming missile and where it came from … in case the fact that your HUD turning red from enemy lock-on hasn’t already clued you in. There are several other ways to evade imminent death: utilizing the tuner dial to call for backup, changing your sub-cam view to lock-on view while you are trying to haul ass through a field while dropping some Hai Shi Dao punks, or changing the mode of your map so you can see the “bigger picture.” If all of these battle strategies fail you, you are forced to use another one of our favorite buttons, encased in glass ... EJECT. Yes my friends, the rumors are true. You will, in fact, lose your save file if your VT goes kaboom and you are still in it.

As you start, you are equipped with a 315 smooth bore gun, a 120mm machine gun, a 270 rifle (weaker machine gun used for destruction of tanks and such), and a plasma torch. The secondary machine gun is useless against the enemy VTs. Secondary guns are mainly used to deter any smaller enemies, such as tanks and rocket trucks. Your plasma torch is basically a sword for melee combat. There are, however, other ways to take out the smaller things. The most entertaining way is to turn on your manipulator, which is a robotic arm that more or less manipulates to pick up items and such. The only time I have used it, thus far, is to pick up enemy tanks and kill ‘em. You will come to find when trying to truck-it across the battlefield that lock-on is very useful.

After a mission is completed, depending on how many enemies you destroy and how much damage you take, you earn supply and battle points. The supply points are used to call for supplies, and the battle points are used to upgrade to new guns, and new add-ons. Also, once you have gained enough battle points, you will achieve higher ranks, which in turn opens up new generations of VT’s. Aside from the new HUDs, the newer VTs have special features like the beautiful “Forecast Shooting System,” which allows the VT to utilize its location system to approximate where the enemy will be after you’ve fired.

The graphics to this game are nothing short of amazing. Every -- from rain effects to the mud on your windshield -- is done in great detail. I especially enjoyed the fact the VTs are not just six polygons for head, body, legs, and arms, but the game developers actually took the time to model each individual part. The attention to detail is also very noticeable in the gun models, upgrades, destruction of buildings, and particle effects. I was having some serious doubts before I got to play this game and thought, “What if they spend too much time on the controller and forget the animations?” Well you can rest assured that you will not be cheated out of graphics on this title. The animations are fluid ... well, as fluid as they should be for VTs. Every time you watch an enemy VT blow up, you'll appreciate the time put into this game.

Overall, Steel Battalion provides hours of entertainment. I know a couple of people, myself included, who have acquired what we have kindly deemed “Battle Butt” and “War-Back,” acquired from sitting in the same uncomfortable, hunched-over position for hours on end. We do this because we care. Okay, okay ... we also do it because we have an intense hatred for the Hai Shi Dao. The only drawback about this game is that it is rather difficult to find a place to store the controller while it's not in use.

Score : 9.3/10

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