Friday, December 31, 2010

Should you get yourself Kinected?

Staring back at me as I write this sits my shiny new Kinect camera - Microsoft's new gadget that brings motion control to the Xbox masses. The larger-than-you'd expect unit had been tucked beneath our Christmas tree only a few days ago and now sits silently below our television, as though watching our every move.

The slightly more paranoid among us may have reservations about exactly how much information Kinect sends over the internet when seemingly dormant, or how many embarassing poses and jumps are captured and digitally distrubuted while actually playing the games. But rest assured, nothing is beamed anywhere without your say so - and there are plenty of settings to protect your privacy! Forget those initial concerns... after a painless set up process you'll soon be jumping about like an absolute lunatic without a care in the world.

In all my gaming years I've hardly seen any other launch split public opinion quite as much as Kinect. The so called hardcore feared it was the beginning of the end for their beloved console, and that an influx of shovelware would start to dominate the charts. As Megabits found out when we raised a few concerns several months ago, there are also those who won't have a bad word said against it.

In recent months, there has been plenty of criticism about the 360's foray into "casual gaming" and about the hardware itself... The cost has been a major hurdle for many prospective buyers, as has the much-discussed space required for it to function correctly. But after some extensive playtesting since I unwrapped it, I must admit I'm a complete convert and envisage great things for the little black box.

It's never going to replace the conventional controller - but what it does, it does extremely well. As mentioned above, it's extremely simple to install and set up. There are few cables so there will be little confusion, and it's compatible with all versions of the console - the older models requiring an extra plug socket for the power supply that is included in the box (Kinect can suck power from the new Xbox Slim's USB ports).

After a quick Live update you'll soon be negotiating the Kinect Hub on your dashboard. A simple wave makes the camera active and signs you in. It's all pretty impressive - uttering "Xbox" pulls up a list of commands and gives you voice control over your Xbox. Minority Report style swiping actions are also pretty cool, allowing rapid scrolling through the various menus. Watching a movie through Sky and telling it to pause or fast forward without physically touching a remote feels strangely satisfying.


Accompanying your new toy is a compilation of mini games in the form of Kinect Adventures. You've no doubt seen the advertisements of happy family members jumping about on virtual rafts, dodging barriers and plugging leaks. Effectively, it's a teaser to show what Kinect is capable off - and as an added bonus, it spews achievement points at you. It's by no means a taxing game, and it may have only limited replayability - but it's definitely good fun alone and excellent with another player. I was initially a little dubious that a few mini games would require much physical exertion, but after just a couple of plays, I was sweating like a good 'un. Next morning, every part of me ached, and muscles I never knew I had were begging me not to boot up my Xbox again. I ignored them. It's damn addictive and adds an entirely new dimension to gaming. What's more, there's barely any noticeable lag! When the developers start applying the new technology to their triple A titles, this is truly going to be something special. In the meantime, Kinect Adventures and the handful of other decent launch titles will do just fine.

What are they you ask? Kinect may only have been with us for a matter of months but there are already plenty of weak titles on the shelves so you should choose carefully. Here is Megabits' pick of the launch games:

Kinect Adventures
A collection of five varied mini games guaranteed to get you sweating. A great introduction to the technology but perhaps a little too juvenile and has limited replayability. Read our review after the jump. (Muscle ache factor next morning: 3/5)

Kinect Sports
Try your hand - or entire body - at various sports including boxing, table tennis, track & field, football, bowling and beach volleyball. It's effectively a glossier, more exhausting version of Wii Sports. Great for party play. (Muscle ache factor: 1/5)

Dance Central

You've no doubt seen the commercials on TV and you'll recognise all the music tracks. This is arguably the best of the first few titles to emerge - but to fully appreciate it, you'd got to lose all those inhibitions and get in the groove. Check out our review. (Muscle ache factor: 2/5)

Your Shape: Fitness Evolved

This "game" shows exactly what Kinect is capable of. Accurate tracking and a mulitude of activities and mini games make this a really worthwhile and rewarding package. (Muscle ache factor: 5/5)

VERDICT:
Kinect is certainly an impressive bit of kit, albeit a little on the pricey side. Remember, however, that unlike Sony's Move and the Wii controllers, only a single purchase is necessary for you to get all the benefits and play with your friends - there's no need to buy additional wands or nunchucks!

Regarding space requirements, this will obviously be an issue if your Xbox lives in a tiny, cluttered room. Saying that however, I hardly live in a palatial home but have ample space to do my jumping about. My advice, get a tape measure and ensure you follow Microsoft's guidance for 6ft (1.8m) from the sensor for one player, or 8ft (2.5m) for two people - this seems more than adequate for all the games I've tried to date.

Calibration is painless. The fears about rooms being too cluttered, noisy or well-lit are overblown - it's all common sense. Obviously, the camera will struggle to pick you up if you can't move for debris - but a "lived in" room is fine... you just need to ensure that nothing is obscuring you or the camera, and that you have a clear play space for you to move about a bit. Noise wasn't an issue either. Clearly, when you're running the initial setup, you need silence so only your dulcet tones are picked up but after that, children, pets or bystanders pose few problems while you play. Finally, the lighting issue is hardly problematic. It beggars belief that people can be that surprised that direct sunlight or extremely dark conditions will affect the camera's ability to detect you and your movement... just use common sense.

I really don't see the harm in a few "family-oriented" games coming to the Xbox, and so what if some so-called shovelware emerges? The fact of the matter is that most consumers are pretty circumspect when handing over their money for a full-price game anyway, and will most likely read the occasional review to see whether the purchase is worthwhile - Kinect games are no different. What Kinect does do is open up the console to an entirely new audience and offer more established gamers a new avenue to explore.

Within just a few weeks since it's launch, Kinect has sold several million units and Microsoft is reportedly well on it's way to exceeding it's sales targets by the end of the year. With the user base broadening and more developers getting onboard to work with the new technology, the future is looking incredibly exciting. It's a great purchase and real fun - but for the more hard core, pehaps wait to see which games emerge in the coming months...

2 comments:

I am not as positive as you are about the kinect. I wrote a similar article on my hubpage here Don't buy the Xbox Kinect yet!

I think it's best to wait for some better games unless you like to dance or want to buy some of the fitness games like Biggest Loser. Although many people already bought it for Christmas. So they might as well use it.

Well, as this is designed to get you off the sofa and moving around I think dance/exercise games are the best place to start!