When Steel Battalion first came out for the original Xbox a few years back, it was noteworthy.  Not only was it the most accurate simulation of a mechanized assault game that you were ever likely to see, but it came with a sophisticated 50+ button controller, with dual grip sticks, an eject button, and much more.  This thing was so huge that it practically covered a kitchen table.  Nowadays, it’s a collector’s item, but if you somehow missed out on the experience, don’t worry.  Capcom’s got you covered with an upcoming sequel, Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor.  The company recently invited us to try the game out on the show floor at PAX East.

If you’ve never played the game before, don’t worry, you don’t need to be an expert at it.  Capcom’s simplified the controls a little bit, and it no longer requires a controller that bumps the game’s price up to $250.  Instead, it utilizes features that work on both a typical Xbox 360 controller and with the motion sensitive Kinect device.  The combination between the two is actually quite good, as you seamlessly switch between functions depending on what you’re doing with your hands.

The opening demo for the game takes us through the tutorial.  It first introduces us to the members of the crew that will be riding in our mech unit, including the side gunners and the operator.  You can actually switch between your crew members at any time by taking your hand and swiping it across, changing your perspective from left to right.  They’ll usually have something to say, and in the heat of battle, you might need to calm them down to prevent them from losing their cool.

Functions vary depending on what you’re doing with the mech.  For instance, when it comes to firing weapons, they’re left to the triggers on your control pad, with the left trigger firing your mounted gun and the right trigger executing blasts from your tank cannon.  The machine gun fire is perfect for smaller targets, while your cannon is useful for bigger ones, like tanks and other enemy mechs.  Turning is controlled using the left and right analog sticks on the controller.

So where else does the Kinect prove useful?  Mostly with pulling switches.  In order to activate a mech’s higher speed, for instance, you’ll need to switch from your front perspective (by shifting your hands) so that it’s back in the cockpit, then pull the necessary lever to activate it.  You can also activate a sub-panel that lets you modify other things in your performance and, if necessary, hit a self-destruct button.  Word of warning, though: only hit this if you’re serious, because any other time, your crew might freak out and wonder if you’re suicidal.  Remember, keeping them in the right frame of mind is just as important as keeping your mech from getting rusty in combat.

Though there were times not all the functions were read properly (switching between cockpit and front view takes some practice), Steel Battalion is actually quite responsive between Kinect and controller functions.  We were worried for a moment that everything would run through the motion device, but we’re happy to see that isn’t the case.

As for the visuals, they’re definitely a step above the previous Steel Battalion games.  The character models are quite impressive, and the interior of your mech is a lot more detailed than you can imagine, with a whole lot of space to move around in and different things to tune.  Granted, you don’t want to do it in the middle of combat.  Speaking of which, the firefights are excellent, with lots of realistic throttling effects and explosions to make you feel like you’re really in the heat of battle.

Between its intuitive gameplay and nice presentation, Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is definitely more accessible than the Xbox games that preceded it.  Plus, you can save your kitchen table for more important things – like Cheetos.  Look for the game to create havoc sometime this summer.