Steel Battalion sets itself apart from other games in two distinct ways, the hefty controller, and the even heftier price tag. However, for gamers who have dreamt of piloting their own mech-type vehicle, Steel Battalion is a dream come true. The initial production run sold out quickly, and players who had bought it were able to sell it on Ebay for as much as they had paid for it.
Steel Battalion is a simulation where the player pilots mechs called Vertical Tanks, or VT’s for short. These behemoths prod along slowly across the landscape as they engage in battle. Firefights ensue in a grand display of pyrotechnics. Does this game live up to the hype and the price tag?
At first, when I loaded the game, I was a bit turned off by the graphics in the intro. The aliasing was high, and the character in charge of training the player was made up of a few picture graphics. I was afraid that this would be the case for the rest of the game.
Once entering the VT, the attention to detail is instantly noticeable. Every step of the VT ignition sequence will change the view inside the VT. Once the VT exited the hangar, I noticed how detailed the buildings and plant-life are. The weapons of each VT are easily distinguishable. Rockets fired towards the VT are visible long before they hit.
The graphics do suffer from some issues though, the first being the graininess of the graphics. Some of the graininess could be accounted for by the fact that you are using a monitor to navigate the VT, instead of looking through a window. Also, the color palate used is rather dark and bland, almost like Quake. The blurriness is a bit disappointing.
The last issue is a problem that has existed for a long time in video games, one that some would think wouldn’t happen these days with such powerful hardware. That issue is pop up. The draw distance of the game is far too short for long-range weapons. It’s almost as if you are playing through a constant heavy San Francisco fog.
The interiors of the VT have several subtle touches, such as showing gauges on the screen relating to the controller and how the display will switch when changing weapons. The graphics are good, but a few niggling problems prevent it from getting a higher score.
Steel Battalion doesn’t disappoint in the sound department. While the VT moves, the crashing of each foot hitting the ground rumbles throughout. Pushing down on the accelerator while the VT is in neutral will cause the gears to spin. Each gear has its own distinct sound, and the faster the VT moves, the higher the gear spinning will be. Even the launch sequence has specific sounds for each step.
The voice acting is done very well, even if the character does sound a little green. Communications for the game come in loud and clear. The intensity level is just right for each situation.
The music for the intro is a heart-pumping adrenaline rush, setting the tone for the game. However, in game is another story. To hear music, you have to purchase a Boom Box with credits you have earned throughout the game. I did this a few times, but I couldn’t hear any music, at least not audibly enough to care.
Control is a huge issue with this game, especially since the game comes with its own controller…a VERY EXPENSIVE controller. If the control isn’t tight, then the money paid for on the controller is wasted, and no matter how good the game is, it will become frustrating quickly. Good thing Capcom designed this controller well.
Two sticks are used to control movement, as well as foot pedals. The pedals are made of metal and feel sturdy. They have great range, allowing the player to feel more control of the speed of the VT. Controlling the speed of the VT is more like driving a stick-shift than an automatic. To get up to the higher speeds, shifting gears in order will be essential. Shifting doesn’t require a clutch, as one isn’t included with the controller.
The sticks have a good solid feel to them. The left stick controls left and right movement, with a hat to change the view. The right stick controls aiming with a lock on button, a button for the main weapon, and the trigger for the secondary weapon. Both sticks have a sturdy feel to them, instead of the cheap, flimsy feel of a lot of third-party controllers.
Other buttons are used to change the displays, change weapons, set off chaff, and clean the display, among other things. This controller really makes the player feel like he has complete control of the VT, immersing him in the game.
There is one issue with the controller though, and that is finding a good setup to put the controller on while using the foot pedals. Most people don’t have a table the right height in their living room for this setup. Those that can set it set up will have a great experience with it though.
Missions are laid out at a briefing screen. Then the player selects the VT’s, weapons, and ammo for the mission. Once this has been completed, the startup sequence starts and the mission begins.
Steel Battalion has several missions, but most of them focus on blowing up the enemy. While there is an occasional reconnaissance mission or mission to destroy a building, most of the time the mission objective focuses on destroying a certain percentage of the enemy forces. While the mission objectives might be dry, the mission locations are varied. Each mission has a varied field of battle. Some will start out in the water, while others will take place over a hill. Plants and buildings enhance the look of the landscape and give each mission a different feel.
The AI of the squad mates is adequate at times, but sometimes they aren’t very helpful. Instead of feeling as a part of the battle, the player feels like the one who is tipping the scales in each battle.
Some gamers will have mixed feelings about one of the features of the games. Should the VT get damaged too severely, it will be destroyed. At this point the ejection button needs to be used. If it isn’t used, your character will be killed in action, as well as the progress made in the game. This will cause much frustration with some people. Apparently there is a cheat that can be used to unlock all of the levels, so gamers might want to use that to get some practice in on missions before going into battle.
Finally, no tutorial is included in the game. It would have been nice to have a tutorial at the beginning to get accustomed to the controller because it does take a while to get used to the controls.
The price of the game is $200, which includes the controller. The biggest problem in grading the value of this game is that the controller can only be used for Steel Battalion and Steel Battalion: Line of Contact. However, the gameplay is addictive, even if the game deletes your progress if you don’t eject before the VT is destroyed. The controller does feel well built and not cheaply made. If the controller had more games it could be used with or had a smaller price tag, then the value would have been rated higher.