Kinect: The Road to Redemption - August 31st 2011

In principle, Kinect is a wonderful, albeit wholly unoriginal, idea. The controller free concept has clearly resonated and found an audience, and the sales figures are undeniably strong. There's also something magical about the idea of hybrid gaming, where traditional controller input is melded with gesture based motion and vocal interactivity. However, the average Xbox owner has not embraced Microsoft's next big thing.

10 million plus units shipped might look good on a PowerPoint presentation, but there are many gamers who think that it's nothing more than a self tilting paper weight with dodgy sensitivity. This stigma is fuelled by a shocking abundance of mediocre software that has done little to endear this curious device to the hardcore faithful. One does seriously wonder how it has managed to achieve so much, given its high end asking price and lack of must have games. And following an extremely limp E3 showing, the future looks unplugged and very dusty for this latest gaming revolution.

I'm very suspect of Microsoft's assertion that Kinect will extend the life of the Xbox 360 by another five years. Releasing it at this point in the cycle is more a test of its potential appeal for future hardware integration than anything else. In fact, the sooner they do away with the current model, the better. It takes a good solid minute for the device to boot up in the latest Dashboard iteration. And then you have to wave at the thing and sit there while it scans your face and loads your Live account. Alternatively, you could give the left analogue stick a couple of nudges, select your profile, and sign in the "old fashioned" way.

The road to redemption is going to be a long one...

Then of course there's menu interaction and the small matter of swapping disks or starting a game. It takes longer to perform these tasks using your voice or hand gestures than it would if you were using a physical controller. On that basis, shelling out 130 to actually increase the time it takes for you to do anything with your games console isn't a very attractive proposition. It's intuitive yes, and for the most part it works, but it's also slow and unrefined. Of course, if we are to assume that Microsoft are going to incorporate this technology right into chassis of their next box (and there's very little evidence to suggest that they won't), a faster processor and a built in power supply would solve a lot of these issues.

But that's not going to happen any time soon. For now, we're left with a device that creates more problems than it solves, at least until after the initial "I can't believe Minority Report is really happening" sensation has worn off. And so our attention turns to software. Dance games, party games, and fitness games have so far represented the best that this machine has to offer. Dance Central, Kinect Sports, and Your Shape are easily the three most accomplished entries in their respective genres. But for a device so young, there's still a shocking amount of absolute drivel. Even the most devout Kinect believer must be disheartened by the sheer amount of lacklustre content that has been made available since launch.

So who else are Microsoft trying to target? Hardcore gamers, or so they'd like to believe. I suppose they think that there's already more than enough family friendly content out there (and in the pipeline) to keep the casual players happy, so why not expand their horizons? The problem is, the hardcore are a knowledgeable, opinionated, and generally tech savvy bunch, with high expectations and low tolerance for failure. The limitations of the user interface is reason enough for them to hate on Kinect. And shoehorning motion functionality into their favourite franchises is not going to score Microsoft any points either. Why can't you do voice commands in Mass Effect 3 with a headset, instead of it being a Kinect exclusive feature? And although Gunsmith for Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is a nice enough idea, the "combat" aspect of the game looks fiddly and unsatisfying. There's absolutely nothing compelling these players to drop 130 on a device that has done very little if anything to warrant their allegiance.

Outside of Halo, Gears and Fable (the proper ones, not the on-rails cop out), what is there to look forward to if controller free gaming just isn't your thing? I want sequels to Project Gotham Racing, Midtown Madness, and Quantum Redshift, not Kinect Joy Ride and tacked on Forza head tracking. I want Rare to make proper sequels to Perfect Dark and Banjo Kazooie, instead of focusing solely on Kinect Sports and avatar clothing. It feels like Microsoft are abandoning the very players that made them a credible name in the home console business. They are pushing Kinect in such a way that those of us who don't adopt are going to get left behind. And those that do jump in are being rewarded with two or three truly standout dance or party games, and not much else. The road to redemption is going to be a long one, and I fear that it won't be until the next generation rolls around that any meaningful progress will be made.

Jon Titmuss

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