Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Console Post of the Week

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor was released this week.

After waiting what feels like a decade for a Kinect game that was of serious fare, and having played the original game (with the most ridiculous and wonderful controller ever, which you can see here), I was looking forward to the reboot.

Actually, it's not correct that I haven't played a Kinect game with an intended audience of adults. I played Tiger Woods, and while 100% Kinect integration must have looked great in the whiteboard sessions, in practice it was a large dose of fail.

Kinect is absolutely one of the coolest ideas I've ever seen. It's problem, though, is that it doesn't actually work, at least not reliably. So trying to use five or six gestures to set up a shot and swing in Tiger Woods was utterly frustrating, because at least one of those gestures wouldn't register, often multiple times.

Recognition accuracy of 90% might not seem like such a bad number, but in practice, it's infuriating. Plus, many times the accuracy is actually far less than 90%.

Look, bitch about the Wiimote all you want, but that damn controller worked. I can't remember a single game where I had a problem with gestures being detected. Not one.

Kinect is far, far more interesting as a technology than Wiimote the, but it has to work.

Which brings us back to Steel Batalion. Here are a few review excerpts:
It’s a showcase for the worst that Kinect has to offer, where nearly every gesture is either ignored or misinterpreted – often with game-ending repercussions...Like any reasonable person, I expect a baseline degree of functionality when I play a game. Just because a game uses Kinect, players shouldn’t dilute their expectations. Nobody would rally around a game that registers a button press 25 percent of the time, and you shouldn’t do so here.
Game Informer

Numerous times I found myself desperately trying to vent the cockpit of smoke, only to idiotically swing the ventilator control panel into and out of place or activate the headlights instead. The ammo selector buttons are equally finicky and are made even more maddening when you can actually see Powers' hand floating over the correct button, only to watch it whack the wrong one.

Another frustration: selections become very "sticky" once Heavy Armor thinks you've made up your mind. So, after you've "grabbed" the handle on the viewport shutter, it's very hard to let go without closing it first. On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes one gesture can be mistaken for another. For example, when I raise my hand to open the shutter I've accidentally closed, I might activate the periscope instead. Keep in mind that, for every second lost to fumbling with some internal mechanism, your VT is being pummeled by computer-controlled enemies that are not equally encumbered. As you desperately flail, the enemy will kill you with no compunction, sending you back to the beginning of the mission or one of Heavy Armor's few checkpoints.

...there’s no overstating how utterly broken Heavy Armor’s motion controls are, even if you follow the draconian setup directions to a tee. Because the game interprets such a wide variety of gestures, the slightest miscalibration can render the game completely unplayable. On more than one occasion, I sat perfectly still while my onscreen avatar weaved around the cockpit, pawing wildly at the air in front of him like a 13-year-old girl in a slap fight.

...First and foremost, a game is meant to be played, and Heavy Armor’s unbelievably inept Kinect controls make that a far more difficult prospect than it has any right to be.

Overall Metacritic rating (13 reviews): 41.

This, unfortunately, is the problem with Kinect, at least in this iteration: it doesn't really work, if by "work" you mean 95%+ recognition accuracy. I'm not even sure 95% should qualify as working, but since it never even hits that target, it doesn't really matter.

The 360 has done remarkably well, and for a remarkably long time. It was the first HD console. There are a long list of positives. But that doesn't alter the fundamental fact that for the first two years, the hardware was almost guaranteed to eventually fail, and its "second wind" has been provided by a piece of hardware with incredibly compromised functionality, limited to usage in endless mini-game collections.

Depressing, really.

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