A future history of Vertical Tanks…
I thought about waiting until E3 this week to write this post. Initially it has been in the works for several months, I just never got back to it. When Steel Battalion: Heavy Armour was announced at TGS last year I got super-excited. I was one of those rare gamers who went out and bought a game and controller that was worth more than the console that played it, and this at a time when I had nary a pot to piss in. I was just so taken that somebody would build such a unique control system for a console game that I had to be a part of it. Price, ambition, and technology ultimately doomed Steel Battalion, but not before leaving an indelible imprint on the gaming industry. So much so that, as I just mentioned, a new game is being developed for the Xbox 360. But not just for the 360, but a Kinect game, so Steel Battalion has gone from 40 buttons to zero!
With the onset of a new Steel Battalion I thought it would be a good idea to look at the franchise history, its games, its future, and perhaps some impressions to boot. So as they say at the end of the Heavy Armour trailer…Here we go!
Steel Battalion – Prologue:
2080 A.D. Technical and political progress since the turn of the 21st century have quickly approached critical mass. The United States, while still the richest nation, has lost the militaristic might that once made it the leader of the free world… Coalitions between culturally similar countries… dissolutions between former allies… political and economic blocs… are all crumbling as new, more powerful nations arise. The world is at a crossroads.
The prologue above describes the gaming world that Steel Battalion takes place in. A near future where the political and technological climate has drastically changed, and where Vertical Tanks (or VTs) are the weapons of choice. As they say in the Fallout game series “War never changes”, and that appears to be true in 2080, the difference though is that now tanks have legs!
Clearly much story fodder for the game series. As for the game itself, Steel Battalion offers gamers their first (and perhaps only) opportunity to pilot a mech/VT. As with most games, the basics, are fairly basic. You can jump in and operate the VTs with a general amount of ease, but to become an expert, will take you hours as the systems and variety of VTs use that 40 button, twin stick, one shifter, 3-pedal controller to its maximum.
This was a game where you really just should be trained or have to earn a license on because Steel Battalion does something that no other game does…when you die, you DIE! You lose all your progress and have to start over. Very fortunately the game designers at New Maker did give you a chance, they included an ejector seat so that you possibly could escape before you met your untimely end. Talk about pressure!
Ultimately Steel Battalion beat me. Between the steep learning curve and the massive controller that I would require a several minute set-up to play the game, I soon retired the game. It was sad because the game was extremely hard to come by, and once I did I just couldn’t make it happen for me. This was not the end of my Steel Battalion adventure on Xbox though…
(On)Line of Contact:
Steel Battalion: Line of Contact – It’s War!:
Ending with the death of Gomit Shin, it has been two years since the second Ocean City Island Conflict. The aggressive government policies of the Pacific Rim Forces toward Ocean City Island have provoked strong reactions from the inhabitants of that community.
The forceful, uncompromising way in which the Pacific Rim Forces dealt with the Ocean City Conflict has drawn accusations and criticisms from other regions of authority. As a result, the post-war Ocean City Island government has faces vehement resistance.
An interim administration, created under the thumb of the Pacific Rim Forces, has issued a statement of independence. As a final step, the temporary government has declared war!
With assistance from other regions of power, the interim government has now launched a relentless counterattack against the occupation forces on Ocean City Island…
That now brings us to 2082 A.D. War is still on, this time Line of Contact, Steel Battalion’s Online-only expansion had gamers take part in a persistent war where each battle you take part in effects the overall state of the war! Unique for its time, Line of Contact ensured everything you did mattered, and everything had a consequence…
Line of Contact breathed new life into Steel Battalion. Instead of running through story mission in the original game, now you could play in 5-on-5 battles over Xbox LIVE. If playing online wasn’t enough for you, you could play on a faction in a persistent war, where as I mentioned above, everything mattered.
If you have read my previous posts or hears me talk about LoC, I would often gush about the greatness that was this game and how it was years ahead of it time, in some ways it still has not been matched. The online modes and persistence were huge draws, but the developers did not stop there with innovation. LoC sported chat rooms where gamers could meet and discuss there battles, perhaps even strategize there next missions. VTs would have to be acquired with earnings, but with all the VT’s numbered and recorded server-side, you would have to watch as limited numbers of powerful VTs would only be sold at certain times of day! This concept is absolutely crazy and wonderful all at the same time.
Rare items could be discovered on the battlefield. Have a duplicate, set up an auction house within the game and notify players as such. Create your own symbol for your team or VT, trade it, sell it, or give it away via your store. Create replay videos and share them with the world. The list literally goes on and on with the depth of this games commitment to its players to fulfill its world vision. These systems were so advanced that their ambition stripped the consoles and connection ability to use them to full effect, hence difficulty in setting up and keeping games connected, at least it was my experience.
Regarding my experience, even with the extended periods in lobbies and the inability to run full rooms, Line of Contact was a singularly amazing online experience. You could literally ‘tune-in’ to your enemies chatter, or my favourite, was to shut down your VTs systems and go dark so you would not appear on radar. You had to be careful because your life support would go down as well and you would begin to suffocate and fog up your display!
Steel Battalion’s commitment to realism was again its downfall for me. My pilot was having a great career, I had some serious VTs and rare items to boot. I got caught in a bad way, tried to eject my VT but failed…I was K.I.A. And in Steel Battalion when you die…you DIE! Game over, I lost everything. I do not think I ever had such a feeling of lose from an in-game action. To me that is worth something. I never did continue with the game, I guess there was a finality in that. I closed the book on Steel Battalion…
Heavy Armour: You are the Controller!
Steel Battalion – Heavy Armour: Invasion U.S.A.:
Manhattan, 2082. In a world where computers and almost all modern technology has been lost, the greatest nations of the world continue to battle for hegemony. The American army lands in New York to begin it’s first big offensive of a long ground war. Soldiers fire from the trenches as scorched bunkers belch black smoke. As comrades continually fall to the unrelenting crossfire of bullets, the Vertical Tanks make their laborious advance…
Who would have believed this would happen? The long dormant Steel Battalion franchise, famous for its massive and complicated controller would re-emerge from the ashes as an Xbox Kinect game, where there is no buttons, no controller…you are the controller!
Personally, it is great to see Steel Battalion continue in some way, shape, or form. I suspect the hard-core Steel Battalion fans would be put off by this as it may not have the complexity or depth that Line of Contact sported, but really it is too early to tell exactly what Heavy Armour will be like. I am hoping that next week’s E3 will provide some answers, and as we have not heard anything about this game in some time, I would even accept confirmation that this game is still in the pipeline. I purchased Kinect for new and interesting ways to play games and I cannot imagine a better game to take that challenge to the next level.
If Steel Battalion: Heavy Armour has a presence at E3, or if ultimately comes out, I will be very interested to see how it is received. you may have figured out that I will buy it, day one, sight unseen. I do not even care if it is one step above Sewer Shark, I just think this will be, for me, an important title to get behind. Steel Battalion has an interesting legacy, from custom-made cockpits and helmets to a still-functioning community of gamers who still wage battles via Xbox/PC connection methods since Xbox LIVE was cut from the Xbox classic.
Do yourself a favour, check out the links below, see what Steel Battalion is, and what it was, and you should see for yourself that there was something very special back then, and I hope that translates to the future.