This week, Zero Punctuation reviews the Kinect.
There are only so many pretend human beings I can pretend-murder before I start getting pretend-jaded, which is like normal jaded but you sort of ironically roll your eyes while you're doing it. So let's take a break from shooters this week. I have a lingering thread to resolve before the pre-Christmas release glut really kicks in.
Now, there's nothing worse than people who condemn from ignorance, with the possible exception of people who attempt to masturbate their sexual partners after eating buffalo wings. You'd call the Conservative party a bunch of out-of-touch old scrotes, but it'd be slightly hypocritical if you don't at least take the time to take a few of them mini-golfing. And while I was able to deduce that the Microsoft Kinect would be a crap gaming system simply by using my magnificent brain, I recently picked one up anyway, because Pope Urban VIII probably thought he was very clever when he condemned Galileo, but who got the last laugh there? Well, he did, when Galileo died in poverty and dishonour, but what I'm saying is that I'm basically like the Pope.
What's always been the problem with the Wii is the lack of physical feedback. You'd swing your little white dongle and Link would swing his sword, but maybe his sword would glance off a wall or piece of armour and yours would keep going, flying right out of your hand and embedding itself in the cat. The Kinect is all of that with no controller and therefore even less feedback and slightly healthier cats. But I'd be lying if I said that there wasn't appeal in the idea of sifting through interfaces by making regal, dismissive gestures from my couch, like with those computers in Minority Report. But if the Kinect is like the computers from Minority Report, then that explains why they cast Tom Cruise in that film.
I have a decent-sized living room, and I couldn't get further away from the sensor without physically merging with my couch, and it'd still have trouble reading all six foot five inches of solidified handsome. Most crushingly, it threw a hissy fit if I tried using it sitting down, because to the sensor, me sitting down might as well have been me having recently fallen off a fifty-story building. No one can get immersed in a game while standing up, except maybe the guards at Buckingham Palace.
First of all, I tried out Child of Eden, the polygon murder spree from the creators of polygon murder spree Rez, essentially a rail shooter about the Internet being under attack by an amassed army of forgotten screensavers. Certainly a spectacular display, but even a cosmic dance with a hundred large-breasted space fish loses something when you have to replay it for the third time because you weren't clear on what you supposed to be doing. Yeah, I know, game, use my left hand to shoot down the purple projectiles before they hit me. Now, in what specific way did you envision me using my left hand, 'cause that could mean anything from waving it to sticking a bowling pin up a gorilla's arse. Eventually, I figured out that "use" meant "do the same thing you do with the right hand to use your normal weapon but keep your right hand pinned to your side because I might think you're trying to strangle me and go into a panic". And even then, the usual delay motion sensors have before registering your action led to several frustrating game overs, and every now and again the game would pause itself right as it was getting excited, because it assumes that any ambiguity of motion on your part means that you have been suddenly abducted by space monsters.
But doing panicky, improvised Tai chi to amuse graph paper is not gaming. It's more like therapy for geometry-phobics. So let's move on to how the Kinect does with an actual gamer game, Rise of Nightmares, which seemed like exactly my kind of thing: dark, grungy horror like the kind one gets cleaning in between the bathroom tiles after you put it off for three years.
You play a character whose name I forget, so we'll just call him Phineas K. Douchenstein, who's riding a train through Europe with his sexy wife when it crashes in the middle of nowhere and the wife is kidnapped and taken to a nearby Gothic castle, and your only option is to go off in pursuit while all around you, young attractive people with a broad variety of European accents get murdered in nasty ways. So basically it's Donkey Kong as directed by Eli Roth if he spent most of the production locked in his trailer playing Resident Evil 4. The main villain turns out to be a mad scientist who kidnaps people to replace their body parts with machinery, and somehow he must have done this to you before the game even began, because you control like you've been partially merged with a forklift.
It's entirely Kinect controlled, but they had to figure out a way for you to request movement without leaving the one square centimetre of floor it's happy for you to stand on, so to move forward you put one foot in front of the other and to turn, you rotate your shoulders like a passive-aggressive depressed person who has been dragged onto a dance floor. And I don't know if you've ever tried standing off-balance for as long as it takes to drive a very slow forklift down a corridor, especially when you're top-heavy like me and my aforementioned magnificent brain, but after a couple of hours of play my feet felt like I'd been trying to riverdance down Giant's Causeway. And after spending all that time extending a hand at full arm's length to open doors or hoping I'm making the right kind of wild flails to make Phineas K. Douchenstein smack zombies in the unarmoured parts, my shoulders ached from all the enforced physical activity with none of the gratification I'd have had if I'd spent the same energy wanking.
Thinking about it, maybe there is something to be said for a survival horror game that becomes genuinely physically painful to play. You can't say it's off-message, but I doubt Health and Safety would see it that way. Otherwise, the game occasionally limbers up your stiffened muscles with a nice, traditionally quick-time event, generally ducking or sidestepping to avoid a surprise trap. Wait, sidestepping? You throw a fucking shit fit if I'm more than six inches to either side of where I was when I started playing, game. Where am I supposed to sidestep to? Or do I cock my leg out to one side like I'm pissing on a fire hydrant?
You know, funnily enough, I actually quite like the game's atmosphere, and it's not incompetently-paced. I could get into it if I could use a controller that didn't give me veruccas. But the environments are kind of small, so if I could just pop out my slow-ass forklift and jog to the exit, then it'd probably lose a lot of its pacing.
I think it's a mistake to entirely control a game like this with Kinect. Motion controls haven't gotten any less unimmersive now that it can vaguely tell whether or not you're trying to strangle yourself. But if you had a game that mostly used a normal controller but there where one or two nonessential things you could do by doing a little noncommitted gesture from your couch, that might add something. Like maybe if it was just for spellcasting or brushing curtains aside or greeting people in the street when you're only vaguely certain that you know them.
A mover and a shaker: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
If people have to dance it should be in an environment where they can be judged and mocked by their peers
Exercise is for people who intend to live past forty
Child of Eden
Rise of Nightmares