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Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor

Tank controls.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

Steel Battalion was more famed for its controller than it was for its detailed, if dry, take on mech combat. Its 40-button, three-part centrepiece came in at three times the size of the Xbox console itself; its heft and intricacy pushed the price of the game beyond the reach of many, ensuring its status as a coveted curio and the stuff of legend.

Those who've been lucky enough to sit behind this loving tangle of hardware speak wistfully of the complex boot-up procedure that had you flicking multiple switches before you could even get moving, or the eject button that cruelly wiped your save file when pressed. (A button that was, originally, to be sheltered by a glass case that had to be shattered in order to get to it - Capcom, in a rare bout of level-headedness when designing this game, ultimately decided against it.)

The controller was the heart of the experience, so it's strange that for this sequel it's been completely ripped out and replaced with something that's just as novel - but hardly as stirring.

It's a messy transplant that's not entirely convincing at first. Kinect works in tandem with the standard Xbox controller, and the countless functions it enables are an assurance that this is a successor to one of the most brilliantly complex games ever committed to a console.

Bring two hands down and you'll pull on the periscope, allowing you a wider view of the battlefield. Stand up and peek around and your character will open the tank's hatch to gain a better vantage point - at the risk of being caught in the crossfire of Steel Battalion's noisy battlefields.

Reach a hand out and the tank's crowded cockpit can be interacted with; a monitor can be pulled out which gives access to four cameras placed around the exterior, and reach down to your right and there's a lever can be heaved to switch between gears.

It's a brilliantly mechanical interface, all whirring steel, cheap LEDs and occasional spouts of steam; a future war told with the trappings of World War 2-era machinery.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor's narrative provides a perfect set-up for its enchanting aesthetic. In 2020, a silicon-eating parasite has wiped out all the world's computers, kick-starting a technological dark age that, by that time of the game's setting some 60 years later, humanity is just beginning to crawl out of.

So Steel Battalion's stars, its vertical tanks (or VTs), are more Panzer than Robotech. Emblazoned on the sides of these bipedal steel dinosaurs are personalised artworks that you'd usually expect to see on a B-52's fuselage; the VT we see has been dubbed by its occupants The Creeping Death, and there's a cute picture of the grim reaper drawn there to hammer that home.