Platform: Xbox 360
Microsoft's much hyped Kinect for Xbox 360 promises to turn the player into the controller. Think Minority Report's Tom Cruise interacting with his computer by waving and swiping at it - except for games.
The small sleek black device looks and sounds like a futuristic video camera. It plugs into the USB port of the Xbox 360 and, depending on the version of the console, a power socket. You wave in front of Kinect to turn it on and the device moves up and down as you walk towards and away from their TV. If you complete a five minute set up Kinect remembers who you are and logs you in automatically in once you stand in front of it. Yes, Kinect is clever and it delivers on its promise
The entire experience is far more intuitive than the Wii and more innovative than Playstation Move. Once you pay the admittedly expensive €150 admission fee there’s no need to buy any additional controllers and Kinect captures the players movements seamlessly. The bundled Kinect Adventures might be nothing more than a series of mini-games but it's great fun flapping your arms trying to burst bubbles in a zero-g environment or jump from side to side to navigate down a waterfall. And a second player can join in simply by walking in front of the screen. There's a few demos included too and although everything is family orientated there's real potential for drunken shenanigans. The boffins who developed Kinect have even included a camera which snaps pictures of gamers in action which can be (rather embarrassingly) uploaded to Facebook.
There’s also support for video chat and a voice navigation system. The former works rather well but unfortunately, Microsoft isn't supporting voice navigation in Ireland until 2011. Players can try it out if they change their locale to the United Kingdom and disconnect their console from the internet. This rather awkward workaround ups the Xbox's calibre as a media centre – why get up for the remote when watching a film when you get say "Xbox, pause" ? - but voice control isn't as integrated into the Xbox dashboard as it could be. Most of the voice commands are only available from within the Kinect dashboard.
The biggest problem with Kinect is it's incredibly demanding about space. It insists on six to ten feet of unobstructed space between the user and the TV. The device is pitched – and belongs – in the living room underneath a large television. That might be fine for our American friends but lots of Irish games use their console in their bedroom, box room or apartment and Kinect simply doesn't work properly in small rooms.
The navigation methods from one game to the next aren't consistent either. In the rather excellent Dance Central I had to swipe from side to side to select a menu items while in Kinect Adventures I had to make a closed fist. Microsoft must be placing faith in game developers to explore the best ways to interact with Kinect but it makes the a little disjointed; Apple certainly wouldn't have done it this
way. Hopefully these are issues that will be sorted as the device matures.
Kinect is ideal for kids, those who don't play computer games and even those who can't use controllers. This is going to be the present for Christmas and there’s already a €300 Xbox 360 and Kinect bundle. Hardcore gamers might scoff at the tameness of the launch line-up but it's the technology itself that's exciting. There's already a Star Wars game in the works – think light sabre duels – and there's great potential here for the oft neglected real time strategy genre. In fact there's great potential for most genres.
Microsoft is reportedly spending half a billion dollars marketing this device and they clearly have big plans for it. Considering they've got the infrastructure, i.e. Xbox Live, and the technology down it's clear Kinect isn't a brand new games system which may or may not succeed, it's going to become part of the Xbox experience and that can only be a good thing.
Now about those pictures...
Reviewed By: Bryan Collins