Ed calls for more imagination and fewer glorified QTEs
If God's a gamer, I'm not going to heaven. After all, I'm a firm, if occasional, fan of games that rely exclusively on the Kinect sensor, and Kinect is clearly a device assembled by Dark Powers to lure the Righteous from the Way of Ironsights. Developers have taken several stabs at the notion of pure gesture control, most of which haven't really panned out, and some of which have proven utterly dreadful. Here's why I don't think Kinect-only gaming is a busted flush, and to hell with any bickering about the resilience of your elbow tendons.
In a nutshell, the problem with most Kinect games is that they secretly want to be controller-based games. Deprived of those precious buttons and analogue sticks, they'll sullenly demand that you tackle mechanics and scenarios that were conceived with controllers in mind, thus opening a can of unflattering comparisons.Sega's abysmal Rise of Nightmares, for instance, wants to believe that the human torso is a giant, latency-free analogue stick, as opposed to (in my case) a bunch of potatoes held together by elastic bands. Far better to throw all those controller-based paradigms out the window and start from scratch - that way, you won't have to worry about your ungainly motion-controlled shooter being measured against the chilly finesse of an Operation Flashpoint.
There's an odd literal-mindedness to the way many developers tackle Kinect, an imaginative caution that doubtless owes something to the tech's limitations, and something to a fear of deterring the reactionary husks who thought giving Devil May Cry to Ninja Theory was a colossal insult. Faced with the boundless possibilities of being able to stick two fingers up at a videogame character and have her retaliate by breaking your face, they'll opt for nice, safe, inoffensive mechanics like "tilt head to lean" or "push button to push button" or "wave arms to not die".
True, this kind of fine-grained interaction is more palatable now that Kinect has been treated to a power boost, but that doesn't make it any more entertaining. Here's an act to follow: Xbox Live Arcade's Leedmees, in which you stretch out your arms to create platforms so that tiddly Lemming-style critters can amble to safety. There's also the recently announced Fru, above, in which the player's motion-captured silhouette exposes parts of the level for your character to jump on.
Or how about Lionhead's Fable: The Journey? Now there's a game that isn't trying to beat a dead horse. The secret to this first-person caravan 'em up's success is that much of the time, your character doesn't actually move - he's just the guy holding the reins. Thus, any problems of latency or misrecognition can be easily glossed as quirks of equine behaviour. The game isn't a triumph, mainly because it keeps insisting that you wash your horse, but it comes a lot closer to the mark than Rise of Nightmares.
It also comes closer to the mark than Steel Battalion: Heavy Armo(u)r, an immensely ambitious project that appears to have overestimated how accurate the first-generation Kinect sensor would be. And yet, the most enduring of Heavy Armor's problems have nothing to do with Kinect. If you manage the admittedly rare trick of perfecting the setup, the motion recognition is entirely workable; moreover, the kinks are completely compatible with the fiction, which puts you in charge of a cramped, lumbering, ergonomics-averse coffin. I'd genuinely class it as an unreservedly Great Game, were it not for the designers' habit of continually throwing enemies at you till you memorise the spawning pattern. An Xbox One remaster could be just the thing.
Kinect gaming on Xbox One isn't off to a terrific start. Yes, Kinect Sports Rivals is a reasonably safe bet - watch out for our review very soon - but there's also Fighter Within to consider, and the horizon is troublingly free of Kinect-only projects. Hopefully, an injection of indie know-how care of the [email protected] self-publishing program will set precedents for larger, more risk-averse developers to follow. There's a Kinect in every Xbox One-owning household now, so let's make sure we give the damn thing something to do.