Sports Island Freedom
Sports Island Freedom is the sort of carbon-copy product of a game that we’d hoped would never come to Microsoft’s new motion peripheral, Kinect. But who were we kidding!? Like the deluge of cheap mini-game sports collections on the Wii before it, which evidence why the Wii got such a bad rap to begin with, these types of shovelware titles that litter bargain bins just weeks after their release are precisely what we wanted to avoid.
No doubt looking to cash-in on what they see as the next big pull into the mainstream, Hudson here publish a game which not only looks unremarkable and cheap, but it also plays out like exactly that. It doesn’t give you the least bit of hope when placing both hands directly in front of your body, together (a good 7 feet away from the sensor) and seeing both hands appear on opposite sides of the screen, wriggling and shuddering like they’re afraid of the horrible ride they’re about to take. The menu might well be the start of your plight with the game, as Microsoft’s smooth transition through the 360’s dashboard is replaced by a horrific attempt at the same design (i.e. placing your marker over a selection for a brief amount of time) that, with that same shuddering, makes it a mini-game in itself to try get into the 10 sports on offer.
While the inclusion of 10 different sports to partake in may sounds initially impressive, Sports Island Freedom’s cumbersome menus give way to shallow, dry replications of the real world events, only backed by gargantuan cock-ups with the implementation of Kinect. Those who buy the game to try out their new Kinect may well be put off the device immediately. In fact, if it weren’t for the stronger Kinect titles such as Kinect Adventures and Dance Central, we might well have condemned the peripheral as a failure ourselves.
Some of the sports on offer, such as tennis, just about work with the motion-based gestures, but the game offers very little reason to actually get deeper into the challenge, with ever minute spent with the game making you wish you had a controller in our hands, if only to vent your frustration. Never does the game test you above tackling its pot-luck motion-sensing software that never seems to track identical gestures in exactly the same way…and often fails to track them at all.
Like Wii Tennis before it, Sports Island Freedom’s presentation of the sport pulls it back to its most basic of levels, which, while understandable, is incredibly tedious and just plain dull; throw the ball up to serve and hit back until the other character makes a mistake. If Kinect is going to be a success, developers need to move away from such mediocre attempts at sport that move on your behalf, removing any of the skill that might otherwise have leant itself to the game. Add in considerable amounts of lag, times where the sensor completely fails to recognise your half-assed swipes and swerves and ridiculous AI, and you go a tiny step of the way to describing the sense we got from playing with the game.
The range of sports on offer is otherwise great to see, stepping away from the more traditional (table tennis, for example, which makes its way to Rare’s Kinect Sports) and replacing them with more extreme sports. Unfortunately, this wonderful idea is, in practice, a flop. Who out of their right mind thought paintball would suit controller-free motion gaming? Extending your dominant arm to control gaze (imagine the use of the right thumb-stick in FPS’s), walking forwards and backwards, crouching, and firing through a throw of the arm is far from intuitive. And if you’re questioning whether it works, the answer is no, it really doesn’t. The tracking of your arm is sluggish and barely works, whilst navigating an arena using such techniques is insanely difficult and often just plain ridiculous. This is genuinely the worst sport of the set, and that really is saying something. Outside of the Paintball travesty, Hudson do a good job in picking sports that might suit the actual device they’re developing for (you begin to question whether it was initially being developed for the Wiimote), where figure skating (matching stances in a rhythm-action type fashion as your 360 avatar skates around the ring), snowboard cross (leaning forward and backwards to control speed, left and right to direct), Archery and Kendo somewhat successfully transfer such an experience well. Of course, it’s still far from satisfactory, and we pick these out not for their quality, but for the mere fact that they’re not broken, unlike much of the rest of the game.
The game offers a number of multiplayer modes including Vs. Mode, League and Tournament events. League sees you to competing against another 3 teams in all 10 sports, whilst Tournament allows you to pick one sport to battle it out for victory against 8 rival opponents. The developer also try to suggest that the game is more complex than it really is, with you picking which team you want to play as, each with differing skill levels and qualities (‘Boost Force’ focus on power and speed – you get the idea), but just try and tell them apart from on-field. And if you want a real challenge, you can try to battle with the menus long enough to create your own team of like-for-like ’superstars’.
You have probably gathered that we didn’t have a great time with Sports Island Freedom; it stands at the moment as the worst game we’ve played for Kinect, presenting little to promote or demonstrate the device’s abilities as well as offering no competition to the now aging Wii Sports. We can only hope that its unenviable position at the bottom of the pile is one that it doesn’t lose any time soon; gamers – and Kinect – deserve so much better. Defintely one to avoid.
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