Friday, July 9, 2010

Kinect Impressions

Microsoft's Kinect seems to be all the talk lately. Some find it interesting, some find it passable. I found myself initially falling into the passable crowd, but began to question the reason. What is it about the Kinect that has some gamers turning away and rolling their eyes?

The hardware itself does not seem to be in question. Let's face it, the Kinect is a pretty impressive piece of equipment. Speech recognition, a motion control camera that tracks active people, sleek design and look; the pieces seem in place.

The main thing driving me away is included as the pitch in the title: You are the controller. While this is something completely new and it something that you really want? In certain applications this idea makes total sense. The menu navigation remains one of the high points of its function, allowing you to simply wave your hand around to choose what you want like something out of a sci-fi flick. Even the video chat and voice commands are something that would be incredibly fun to show off to friends. When it gets down to the gaming function, I find myself stepping away.

I will feel confined without a control stick, stuck in one single place. With the Wii or PS Move, the control stick lets my character walk around freely in 3D space, going where I want and exploring what that shiny thing could be in the corner or placing my character in their desired position for a sports title. With the Kinect, it seems like I might be rooted into the ground, my limitations being the window I am included in. It does make me wonder, are we to expect on-rails titles for the majority of releases? Perhaps an RTS could utilize a lot of the functions, but at the moment all we have really seen are stationary titles and on-rails applications.

I have always been big on exploring in any game that allows me to, checking those empty corners for anything of interest or stepping near the cliff to get a good overview of a town before I trudge through the streets. The Kinect could hinder this desire, but at the same time, save me from wasting my time looking through dark alleys for items or setting me in the prime position for a sports game.

I also feel like the Kinect is essentially making me pay to play "pretend". Allow me to explain: The Kinect is really pushing sports games and driving simulators. I don't know about you, but pretending to have a steering wheel in my hand for a driving game is really bizarre. Want to practice for the Kinect? Hold you hands up right now, turning right and left like a steering wheel would. Understandably a bunch of pretty visuals will accompany me along the way, but having the feeling of a tangible object in my hand makes the experience much more satisfying and I get closer to the feeling of driving. The same can be said for Kinect table tennis, golf, or any other sport requiring equipment to accomplish the goal. Without the actual item in my hand or something representing that item, it feels weird. Would you rather use your finger as a pretend gun or have a wooden one add weight and shape?

Not to say the Kinect does not have any titles going for it at all. As cheesy and stupid as Dance Central sounds, it is the one game utilizing Kinect's technology in the best way. Having controllers in my hand while trying to dance would get in anyone's way, and the tracking capability of the Kinect promises to accurately depict my dancing ability (oh yes, it exists). The same can be said for the fitness titles and the boxing games. Even a few of games from Kinect Adventures look to be an enjoyable time with a slew of minigames at your disposal, and the in-game snapshots seem like it could make the perfect party game. They make great use of the technology at their disposal.

Another huge point driving gamers away from the Kinect? Price. Amazon had released a price point of $150. The price point could be seen as expensive, but acts more as a medium for comparison. People will ask themselves this holiday season, "Well I could get the Kinect, or for 50 bucks more a PS3 slim." To be fair, throw in a few controllers and games and the consoles are quite a bit more expensive, but that is not what the typical consumer will have in mind. Tacking on the rumor that the games would also run about $59.99 did not help either. Let's face facts, these are no high-end developer title games at launch. With the exception of a couple of titles, much of their initial line looks like a series of mini-games that could hold a person's attention for a few days.

To be fair, there are developers on board. Activision Blizzard, Bethesda Softworks, Capcom, Disney Interactive, Electronic Arts, and even Konami to name a few. While the launch titles may seem shrug worthy, the names listed could provide some truly incredible software to utilize the Kinect to its full potential.

So will the Kinect totally flop this holiday season? Of course not. While many are shaking their heads now, the lack of any new console announcements and bundle packaging with the new Xbox 360 Slim leaves me confident that the Kinect will in fact sell pretty well. However, the software launching with the system left me unimpressed, and I began to wonder what kind of reviews we could expect for the initial titles. Without a hands-on demo at my disposal, this is all really speculation and observation. After watching the demos and reading more about it, I am still on the fence about a purchase.

So how about you? Is the Kinect on your Holiday wish list?

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