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Tycho / on Fri, Nov 22 2002 at 7:43 am

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An Excellent Question

As is our solemn vow, we have produced another strip.

I can say without reservation that the box for Steel Battalion is very large. It is so large because it must house the completely custom control yoke, which comes to you in three large chunks - each with the surface area of Australia.  Indeed, once we had it together, a tiny group of surveyors could be seen trudging its proud slopes, their voices small but distinct.  They had, by consensus vote, decided to call it Mount Big.

Gabe put fifty bucks down to guarantee our preorder, though when it actually hit the store we paid largely in trade-in credit.  I got the balance on it, about sixty bucks, which makes me feel like the whole enterprise was fairly economical on an individual level.  You might be wondering if the game itself is worth it, worth that kind of money.  I tell you with conviction that it is.   

First of all, it comes with a beautiful, large-format manual that never breaks character and is loaded with lucid illustrations.  It covers absolutely everything you’ll need to know, which is a lot.  Understand this up front:  if you’re thinking that the whole thing is kind of a gimmick, as we did, you will be completely shocked.  We were simply not prepared.  The game and the controller are not two separate things, which you’ll see right away.  One could not exist without the other.  They have gone for a photorealistic approach to the robots themselves, which is uncanny at first.  It looks like a video feed from some place in the world where huge machines do all the fighting. 

I figured that it would be changed for the American market, but I was wrong - if your Vertical Tank goes down, you’d better get the fuck out of that mech if you don’t want to die and lose your save game.  That shit will put the fear of God in you.  The game is not safe, it does not feel safe to play it, and it deliberately creates tension throughout.  Your assorted HUD elements take up a truly vast proportion of your viewpoint - every mission begins as though you have climbed up a ladder into the cockpit, and the start-up sequence (all manual - it requires no less than eight interactions with your console) closes and seals you into this thing.  I may be easily led, but it is sobering when the sky goes away and you are clamped into a dark machine.     

It has many of the things people want from their mech games - some configuration, though on the whole the configuration options are on a lesser scale than a Mechwarrior game.  One element that I appreciate quite a bit is the Supply Points system, another tension-producing mechanism.  For completing missions successfully, you earn Supply Points which are used to purchase new robots as they become available, things like Boom Boxes, mission supplies that can be airlifted in, they’re essentially your currency.  Let’s say you fail a mission, which is going to happen.  You eject safely, so you can start that mission over.  You certainly can’t do it on foot, so you’ll have to requisition a new VT from base - using supply points.  If you run out of supply points, the game is over.  How well you do on a mission literally determines your chances of success on future missions, so each conflict is connected to the next in a way that feels more like a genuine campaign.       

How does it play?  It’s a lot like learning to drive at first, and the bank of three pedals helps make that point.  Don’t get discouraged, experiment with acceleration, turning, and braking at different speeds until you get the hang of it.  The Slide pedal is probably the most fun to use, pushing the left stick in a direction and slamming that pedal down lets you pull quick strafing moves to avoid missiles and is fairly natural once you get the hang of it.  Being quick with it will also help you recover from falls, too - when your VT starts to tip over, just sliding in the opposite direction can stabilize you.  Once you get comfy with it - it took us about an hour - you’ll be able to appreciate the game on a different level.  The game is just so fanciful, I can’t imagine how a project like this got the green light - although I would imagine that Green had something to do with it. 

It’s been a good couple weeks for the Xbox, huh?  It went from something I could mostly do without to something I use every day in the space of like eight days.

(CW)TB out.

seventy-two in a minute


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