Kinect may be stretching budgets around the country just before Christmas, but we managed to get our hands on this new motion-control piece of hardware for the 360 that sees your whole body transformed, 1:1, into the game. Ever since it’s E3 2009 debut (when it was code-named ‘Natal’), it has been hailed as a revolutionary addition to videogames in general, with its own fair share of features (facial recognition, voice control, motion-gesture control schemes) giving developers another output in transforming our game experiences beyond more traditional motion controllers, Wii’s MotionPlus and PS3’s Move.
Of course, such forward-thinking technology has already had its fair amount of doubters, and our hands-on time (or rather, hands-off) has proved some of these doubts, while also extinguishing others. You see, the first time in front of Microsoft’s new little black bar is a phenomenal experience, much the same way that that first flick of the Wii remote felt. And while you’re immediately impressed with even controlling the 360’s dash and menus with a wave of your right hand and holding it still on selections to ‘click’, getting fully into a game is exceptional, with all the ducks, weaves and jumps that a launch title is always expected to offer, giving a chance for the tech to leap from the screen.
We’ve had the opportunity to play the bundled Kinect Adventures and Harmonix’s Dance Central so far, both launch titles, and both work well with the tech at hand, particularly Dance Central. It’s also going to open up gaming to larger audiences, with accessibility and ease of use key phrases when referring to Kinect. Dance Central is our current highlight, with Kinect accurately projecting your full body on-screen with a good sense of what each limb is doing. Sometimes it seems that Kinect does do a kind of guessing game in sensing what your body is doing, what with your arms, legs or whatever often flying off in the most strangest of ways. We’re also slightly worried about the levels of lag (yes, it is noticeable) but never does such latency affect the game-playing action. Most of the time, it will be down to the developer to do the utmost to make this as insignificant as possible, and we’ve already been pledged that such middleware advancements can make lag less trouble in the future.
It is also worth stressing the point of play space and the distance from the TV that Kinect requires in order to get the most out of the device. Microsoft have been recommending between 6-8 feet and that seems to be spot on, with single player requiring a good 6 feet of space from Kinect’s standing to play area, and a couple of steps back for two-player gaming (Kinect will also zoom and pan to get the best viewing angle, splitting the screen into two as soon as another player enters the play space.) The distance issue is really what you’ll have to take from this review if you are thinking about buying Kinect. Because yes, Kinect is brilliant when it works, but the irritation that can derive from the cameras losing your positioning – even though the game does hint to where you should move – can considerably affect your time with the hands-free kit.
But from what you’ve all no doubt heard about Kinect, and for the very reason that many of you will be contemplating or have already bought the device, that feeling of flailing around and being represented on-screen, in-game, exactly how you are moving is transgressive and breaks down boundaries in game development. Of course, we shouldn’t be looking towards Kinect with a desire for controller-free schemes entirely replacing modern control methods, but that’s not to say that we should be looking down upon it for its casual-friendliness either. Whether it’s worth its £130 price tag at this moment in time (especially in light of the somewhat underwhelming launch title line-up) is another matter entirely. That said, it’s got the potential to be even bigger than Nintendo’s Wii, and how well casual and core gamers will take to it is really dependent on what titles are announced in the months to come. For our part, we’re impressed with Kinect; though there are a few niggling doubts as to how sensitive its motion-sensing capabilities really are and what role lag will play, overall it’s a considerable success.
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